In physical anthropology, forensic anthropology and archaeogenetics, Australo-Melanesians (also Australasian, Australomelanesoid or Australoid)[1] form a large group of populations indigenous to Maritime Southeast Asia and Oceania.

Left to right: New Caledonian women; Fijian musicians; a boy from Vanuatu; an Ati girl from the Philippines; Papuan girls; Aboriginal Australian dancers; Andamanese men.

The group includes Papuans, Aboriginal Australians, Melanesians (mainly from Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu) and the populations grouped as "Negrito" (the Andamanese, the Semang and Batek peoples, the Maniq people, the Aeta people, the Ati people, and certain other ethnic groups in the Philippines).

The Vedda people in Sri Lanka and a number of dark-skinned tribal populations in the interior of the Indian subcontinent (mainly Dravidian-speaking groups and some Austroasiatic-speaking peoples, like the Munda people) are also suggested to belong to the Australoid group,[2][3] but there are controversies about this inclusion. A research involving cranial morphology, made by Indian anthropologists, however, suggests that the South Asian Indian populations have different cranial characteristics from Australoid groups. This difference has possibly been strengthened in recent times due to intermarriage with peoples of different origins.[4][5][2][3] A genetic study in 1985 suggested connections between tribal peoples of Southern India and Sri Lanka and Negrito populations of the Philippines and Malaysia.[6] Nevertheless, a more recent study sustains that the Southern Indian populations are not closely related to the classic Australo-Melanesian groups.[7]

The term "Australioid race" was introduced by Thomas Huxley in 1870 to refer to certain peoples indigenous to South and Southeast Asia and Oceania.[8] Terms associated with outdated notions of racial types, such as those ending in "-oid" have come to be seen as potentially offensive[9] and related to scientific racism.[10][11]

Terminological history

The term "Australoid" was coined in ethnology in the mid 19th century, describing tribes or populations "of the type of native Australians".[12] In physical anthropology, Australoid is used for morphological features characteristic of Aboriginal Australians by Daniel John Cunningham in his Text-book of Anatomy (1902).

An Australioid (sic, with an additional -i-) racial group was first proposed by Thomas Huxley in an essay On the Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind (1870), in which he divided humanity into four principal groups (Xanthochroic, Mongoloid, Negroid, and Australioid).[13] Huxley's original model included the native inhabitants of South Asia under the Australoid category. Huxley further classified the Melanochroi (Peoples of the Mediterranean race) as a mixture of the Xanthochroi (northern Europeans) and Australioids.[14] Huxley (1870) described Australioids as dolichocephalic; their hair as usually silky, black and wavy or curly, with large, heavy jaws and prognathism, with skin the color of chocolate and irises which are dark brown or black.[15]

The term "Proto-Australoid" was used by Roland Burrage Dixon in his Racial History of Man (1923). In a 1962 publication, Australoid was described as one of the five major human races alongside Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Congoid and Capoid.[16]

In The Origin of Races (1962), Carleton Coon attempted to refine such scientific racism by introducing a system of five races with separate origins. Based on such evidence as claiming Australoids had the largest, megadont teeth, this group was assessed by Coon as being the most archaic and therefore the most primitive and backward. Coon's methods and conclusions were later discredited and show either a "poor understanding of human cultural history and evolution or his use of ethnology for a racialist agenda."[10]

Bellwood (1985) uses the terms "Australoid", "Australomelanesoid" and "Australo-Melanesians" to describe the genetic heritage of "the Southern Mongoloid populations of Indonesia and Malaysia".[17]

Since the 1980s, anthropological terms in "-oid" have come to be avoided in some disciplines, especially in the United States, where the term Australo-Melanesian is now preferred. In other areas, specifically in anthropological literature in India, the term Australoid continues to be preferred.[18]


Besides the Papuans, Australian Aboriginals, Melanesians, and Negritos, the "Australoid" category is often taken to include various tribes of India. The inclusion of Indian tribes in the group is not well-defined, and is closely related to the question of the original peopling of India, and the possible shared ancestry between Indian and Australian populations of the Upper Paleolithic. The American Journal of Physical Anthropology (1996, p. 382) by American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza in their text, The History and Geography of Human Genes (1994, P. 241) all use the term.

Tee suggested Australoid ancestry of the original South Asian populations has long remained an open question. It was embraced by Indian anthropologists as emphasizing the deep antiquity of Indian prehistory. Australoid hunter-gatherer and fisherman tribes of the interior of India were identified with the Nishada Kingdom described in the Mahabharata. Panchanan Mitra (1923) following Vincenzo Giuffrida-Ruggeri (1913) recognizes a Pre-Dravidian Australo-Veddaic stratum in India.[19] Alternatively, the Dravidians themselves have been claimed as originally of Australoid stock,[20] a view held by Biraja Sankar Guha among others.[21]

South Indian tribes specifically described as having Australoid affinities include the Oraon, Munda, Santal, Bhil, Gondi, the Kadars of Kerala, the Kurumba and Irula of the Nilgiris, the Paniyans of Malabar, the Uralis, Kannikars, Mithuvan and Chenchus.[22] but other Indian anthropologists of the post-colonial period, such as S. P. Sharma (1971) and D. N. Majumdar (1946, 1965), have gone as far as claiming Australoid ancestry, to a greater or lesser extent, for almost all the castes and tribes of India.[23] Newer Indian anthropology studies about cranial morphology do not support an Australoid ancestry in South Asian populations.[5]

According to a large craniometric study (Raghavan and Bulbeck et al. 2013) the native populations of South Asia have distinct craniometric and anthropologic ancestry. Both southern and northern groups are most similar to each other and have generally closer affinities to various "Caucasoid" groups. The study further showed that the native South Asians (including the Vedda) form a distinct group and are not aligned to the "Australoid" group. However, Raghavan and Bulbeck et al., while noting the differences of South Asian from Andamanese and Australoid crania, also explain that this is not in conflict with genetic evidence (found by Reich et al. in 2009) showing a common ancestry and genetic affinity between South Asians and the native Andamanese (a group sometimes considered to be related to Australoids), stating: "The distinctiveness of Andamanese and southern Indian crania need not challenge the finding by Reich et al. for an “Ancestral South Indian” ancestry shared by southern Indians and Andamanese" [the latter being a Southern Eurasian population possibly related to Australoid peoples] and that "some populations are craniometrically specialised while others are not...What the present analysis adds is that southern Indians also have specialised craniometrics. Andamanese on the other hand have unspecialised craniometrics...Therefore, southern Indians' craniometric distinctiveness from Andamanese should be interpreted as a result of their craniometric specialisation rather than as evidence against a shared, ancient ancestry with Andamanese.[24]

Physical features

In physical anthropology, the Australo-Melanesian group is characterized primarily by its characteristic dental morphology.[26] In Java, "Australo-Melanesian dentitions" are found in fossils until the mid-Holocene (c. 5,000 years ago), but are replaced by modern "Southern Mongoloid dentitions" (Sundadonty) in the Neolithic, suggesting the displacement and assimilation of the aboriginal Australo-Melanesian population by the Austronesian expansion.[27]


Numerous studies of archaeogenetics performed during 20092016 have suggested that Eurasian populations can be derived from an early division of the non-African lineage into an eastern and a western clade lineage before around 40,000 years ago.[28]

It has been argued, however, that this model of a primary split between eastern and western Eurasians is invalid for Oceania and Southeast Asia.[29] The so-called "southern-route hypothesis" derives an Australasian lineage, comprising Australians, New Guineans, and possibly Southeast Asian Negritos, from an early out-of-Africa dispersal, forming an ancestral lineage which split off the other non-African lineages prior to the Eastern Eurasian vs. Western Eurasian split.[30] A number of 2016 studies have presented a refined model of Australasian ancestry.[31] Reviewing the evidence, Lipson and Reich (2017) present as best-fitting model a derivation of the Australasian clade from the Eastern Eurasian clade at an early time, with substantial Denisovan admixture (of the order of 4%) before the Australasian clade split into the Australian and the New Guinean lineages.[30]

Pugach et al. (2013) find an ancestral association between Aboriginal Australians, New Guineans and the Mamanwa Negritos, with an estimated divergence time of at least 35,000 years, in support of the "southern migration route" scenario. In addition, the study finds evidence of gene flow between India and Australia at a later time, an estimated 141 generations ago (i.e. roughly 3,000 to 4,000 years ago), suggesting a possible late migration wave to Australia.[32]

For Australo-Melanesian populations within Austronesia (the Negritos, Papuans, and Orang Asli), they underwent fairly extensive population admixture with the incoming Austronesian migrants.[33]

A 2006 CFSL research article which assessed "3522 individuals belonging to 54 (23 belonging to the Austroasiatic, 18 to Dravidian, 7 to Tibeto-Burman and 24 to Indo-European linguistic groups) endogamous Indian populations, representing all major ethnic, linguistic and geographic groups" for genetic variations to support such classifications found no conclusive evidence. It further summed that "the absence of genetic markers to support the general clustering of population groups based on ethnic, linguistic, geographic or socio-cultural affiliations" undermines the broad groupings based on such affiliations that exist in population genetic studies and forensic databases.[34]

Another study (Rosenberg et al., 2005), analysing the whole genome of worldwide populations, grouped the South Asians as their own distinct group. The study results suggest that there are 5 major human groups:[35]

  • Subsaharan-African (Negroid)
  • West-Eurasian (Caucasoid)
  • South-Asian ("Dravidoid")
  • East-Asian (Mongoloid)
  • Melanesian (Australoid)

Possible early presence in the Americas

A speculative theory of Walter Neves in the 1990s proposes that an early Australoid population may have been the earliest occupants of the New World. The theory was based on an analysis of the Luzia Woman fossil found in Brazil, and found tentative academic support.[36]

If this hypothesis is correct, it would mean that some Australoid groups continued the Great Coastal Migration beyond Southeast Asia, along the continental shelf north in East Asia and across the Bering land bridge, reaching the Americas by about 50,000 years ago.

Australasian genetic evidence in Native Americans

In 2015, two major studies of the DNA of living and ancient people detect in modern Native Americans a trace of DNA related to that of native people from Australia and Melanesia. Australasian admixture in some living Native Americans, including those of the Aleutian Islands and the Surui people of Amazonian Brazil. Evidence of Australasian admixture in Amazonian populations was found by Skoglund and Reich (2016).[37]

Walter Neves and Mark Hubbe argue that these people descended from an early wave of migration that was separate from the one that gave rise to today’s Native Americans, and drew on a different source population in Asia.[38]

Australasian morphology in Native Americans

Christy Turner states that "cranial analyses of some South American crania have suggested that there might have been some early migration of "Australoids."[39] However, Turner argues that cranial morphology suggests sinodonty, a dental pattern seen in people from eastern and northern Asia in the Native American populations she has studied.

One of the earliest skulls discovered in the Americas by archaeologists is an Upper Paleolithic specimen named the Luzia Woman in 1974 by archaeologist Annette Laming-Emperaire. Anthropologists variously described Luzia's features as resembling those of Negroids, Indigenous Australians, Melanesians and the Negritos of Southeast Asia. Walter Neves, an anthropologist at the University of São Paulo, suggested that Luzia's features most strongly resembled those of Australian Aboriginal peoples. Richard Neave of Manchester University, who undertook a forensic facial reconstruction of Luzia, described it as negroid.[40] According to Walter Neves a Brazilian anthropologist, archaeologist and biologist from the University of São Paulo ( Luzia's Paleo-Indian predecessors lived in South East Asia for tens of thousands of years, after migrating from Africa, and began arriving in the New World, as early as 15,000 years ago. Some anthropologists have hypothesized that Paleo-Indians migrated along the coast of East Asia and Beringia in small watercraft, before or during the LGM. Neves' conclusions have been challenged researchers who argued that the cranio-facial variability could just be due to genetic drift and other factors affecting cranio-facial plasticity in Native Americans.[41]

In November 2018, scientists of the University of São Paulo and Harvard University released a study that contradicts the alleged Australo-Melanesian origin of Luzia. The results showed that Luzia was entirely Amerindian, genetically.[42] It was published in the journal Cell article (November 8, 2018)[43], a paper in the journal Science from an affiliated team also reported new findings on fossil DNA from the first migrants to the Americas.[44] Using DNA sequencing, the results showed that Lagoa Santa remains from a site nearby to the Luzia remains carry DNA regarded as Native American. Two of the Lagoa Santa individuals carry the same mtDNA haplogroup (D4h3a) also carried by older 12,000+ remains Anzick-1 found in Montana and three of the Lagoa Santa individuals harbor the same Y chromosome haplogroup Q-M848 as found in the Spirit Cave genome of Nevada. The bust of Luzia displaying Australo-Melanesian/African features was created in 1999. André Strauss of the Max Planck Institute, one of the authors of the Journal Science article remarked "However, skull shape isn't a reliable marker of ancestrality or geographic origin. Genetics is the best basis for this type of inference," Strauss explained."The genetic results of the new study show categorically that there was no significant connection between the Lagoa Santa people and groups from Africa or Australia. So the hypothesis that Luzia's people derived from a migratory wave prior to the ancestors of today's Amerindians has been disproved. On the contrary, the DNA shows that Luzia's people were entirely Amerindian."[45]

See also


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  2. T. Pullaiah, K. V. Krishnamurthy, Bir Bahadur, Ethnobotany of India, Volume 5: The Indo-Gangetic Region and Central India (2017), p. 26 names: the tribes of Chota Nagpur, the Baiga, Gond, Bhil, Santal and Oroan tribes; counted as of partial Australoid and partial Mongoloid ancestry are certain Munda-speaking groups (Munda, Gadaba, Santals) and certain Dravidian-speaking groups (Maria, Muria, Gond, Oroan).
  3. Coon, Carleton Stevens (1939). The Races of Europe. New York: The Macmillan Company. pp. 425–431.
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  16. Moore, Ruth Evolution (Life Nature Library) New York:1962 Time, Inc. Chapter 8: "The Emergence of Modern Homo sapiens" Page 173 – First page of picture section "Man and His Genes": "The Australoid race is identified as one of the five major races of mankind, along with the Mongoloid, Congoid, Caucasoid, and Capoid races (pictures of a person typical of each race are shown)"
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  28. "The former [eastern clade] includes present-day East Asians and had differentiated as early as the ∼40 kya Tianyuan individual (Fu et al. 2013), while early members of the latter [western clade] include ancient European hunter-gatherers (Lazaridis et al. 2014; Seguin-Orlando et al. 2014; Fu et al. 2016) and the ancient northern Eurasian Mal’ta 1 (MA1, a ∼24 kya Upper Paleolithic individual from south-central Siberia) (Raghavan et al. 2014). More recent (Neolithic and later) western Eurasians, such as Europeans, are mostly descended from the western clade but with an additional component of “Basal Eurasian” ancestry (via the Near East) splitting more deeply than any other known non-African lineage (Lazaridis et al. 2014, 2016). The timing of the eastern/western split is uncertain, but several papers (Gutenkunst et al. 2009; Laval et al. 2010; Gravel et al. 2011) have used present-day European and East Asian populations to infer dates of initial separation of 40–45 kya (adjusted for a mutation rate of 0.5 × 10−9 per year; Scally 2016)."
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  32. Irina Pugach, Frederick Delfin, Ellen Gunnarsdóttir, Manfred Kayser, and Mark Stoneking, "Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene flow from India to Australia", PNAS January 29, 2013 110 (5) 1803-1808;doi:10.1073/pnas.1211927110.
  33. Lipson, Mark; Loh, Po-Ru; Patterson, Nick; Moorjani, Priya; Ko, Ying-Chin; Stoneking, Mark; Berger, Bonnie; Reich, David (2014). "Reconstructing Austronesian population history in Island Southeast Asia" (PDF). Nature Communications. 5 (1): 4689. doi:10.1038/ncomms5689. PMC 4143916. PMID 25137359.
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  36. Ancient voyage of discovery, Independent, The (London), Apr 8, 1996 by David Keys
  37. P. Skoglund, D. Reich, "A genomic view of the peopling of the Americas", Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2016 Dec; 41: 27–35, doi:10.1016/j.gde.2016.06.016. "Recently, we carried out a stringent test of the null hypothesis of a single founding population of Central and South Americans using genome-wide data from diverse Native Americans. We detected a statistically clear signal linking Native Americans in the Amazonian region of Brazil to present-day Australo-Melanesians and Andaman Islanders (‘Australasians’). Specifically, we found that Australasians share significantly more genetic variants with some Amazonian populations—including ones speaking Tupi languages—than they do with other Native Americans. We called this putative ancient Native American lineage “Population Y” after Ypykuéra, which means ‘ancestor’ in the Tupi language family."
  38. Mysterious link emerges between Native Americans and people half a globe away by Michael Balter published in the "American Association for the Advancement of Science" on July 21, 2015
  39. Turner, Christy (2002). "Teeth, Needles, Dogs and Siberia: Bioarchaeological Evidence for the Colonization of the New World". The First Americans: The Pleistocene Colonization of the New World'. University of California Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-940228-50-4.
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  42. César Menezes (8 Nov 2018). "Estudo contradiz teoria de povoamento da América e sugere que rosto de Luzia era diferente do que se pensava (Research contradicts the theory of the occupation of the Americas and suggests that the Luzia's face was different from what was previously thought)" (in Portuguese). G1. Retrieved 2018-11-09.
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