Analysis of Aboriginal Australian mitochondrial genomes shows geographic patterns and deep splits across the major haplogroups that indicate a single, rapid migration along the coasts around 49-45 ka, followed by longstanding persistence in discrete geographic areas.
Aboriginal Australians represent one of the longest continuous cultural complexes known. Archaeological evidence indicates that Australia and New Guinea were initially settled approximately 50 thousand years ago (ka); however, little is known about the processes underlying the enormous linguistic and phenotypic diversity within Australia. Here we report 111 mitochondrial genomes (mitogenomes) from historical Aboriginal Australian hair samples, whose origins enable us to reconstruct Australian phylogeographic history before European settlement. Marked geographic patterns and deep splits across the major mitochondrial haplogroups imply that the settlement of Australia comprised a single, rapid migration along the east and west coasts that reached southern Australia by 49-45 ka. After continent-wide colonization, strong regional patterns developed and these have survived despite substantial climatic and cultural change during the late Pleistocene and Holocene epochs. Remarkably, we find evidence for the continuous presence of populations in discrete geographic areas dating back to around 50 ka, in agreement with the notable Aboriginal Australian cultural attachment to their country.