After more than two years with limited international travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the team members of the Papuan Past Project from France and Papua New Guinea could finally work together again in person!
From the 20th – 30th of April 2022, Francois-Xavier Ricaut, Nicolas Brucato, Hubert Forestier and Justin Guibert (our newest team member and PhD candidate) flew from Toulouse to meet with Matthew Leavesley, Christopher Kinipi, Jason Kariwiga, Kylie Sesuki and Teppsy Beni in Port Moresby. During this visit the team had four main objectives:
to discuss with our Papua New Guinean partners the next phase of the project,
to recruit master’s students in archaeology and biological anthropology,
to analyse and collect anthropological and archaeological data at the University of Papua New Guinea,
to meet with the new French Ambassador (Mr Guillaume Lemoine)
This phase of the project will last for five years. It will include the continuation of the Archaeological excavation of the Manim site (Western Highlands province) which was stopped in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. We also agreed to investigate the archaeological and anthropological potential of the southern lowlands of Papua New Guinea (Gulf and Southern Highlands provinces).
Members of the Papuan Past Project published a study on June 30th 2022 in iScience. The researchers detected signals of selection on genes involved in immunity and diet, and dated them to the initial settlement of Sahul around 50k years ago, in agreement with archaeological data.
As human populations left Asia to first settle in Oceania around 50,000 years ago, they entered a territory ecologically separated from the Old World for millions of years. We analyzed genomic data of 239 modern Oceanian individuals to detect and date signals of selection specific to this region. Combining both relative and absolute dating approaches, we identified a strong selection pattern between 52,000 and 54,000 years ago in the genomes of descendants of the first settlers of Sahul. This strikingly corresponds to the dates of initial settlement as inferred from archaeological evidence. Loci under selection during this period, some showing enrichment in Denisovan ancestry, overlap genes involved in the immune response and diet, especially based on plants. Pathogens and natural resources, especially from endemic plants, therefore appear to have acted as strong selective pressures on the genomes of the first settlers of Sahul.
Chronology of natural selection in Oceanian genomes. Brucato N., André M., Hudjashov G., Mondal M., Cox M.P., Leavesley M., Ricaut F.-X. 2021, published the 30th of June 2022 in iScience, 104583, doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.104583
Christopher KINIPI is a general medical practitioner with 20 years of clinical experience in primary health care and counseling in Papua New Guinea. He currently performs the duties of Director of Health Services at UPNG (2008-2022) and has taught Health Psychology and Techniques of Psychotherapy as a guest lecturer in Semester 2 of 2018 to undergraduate Psychology students in PNG. He has extensive knowledge and experience in managing both company and government-run primary health facilities in PNG. Recently, he coordinated the efforts of the UPNG COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team (2020-2021) to improve Infection Control and Prevention (IPC) Measures on campus. He will bring to the project his knowledge and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of PNG patients with psychosomatic disorders. He has research participation as a member of the “Papuan Past Project” team.
Avis Babalu was born in Port Moresby, National Capital District, PNG. Ms Babalu holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, Sociology and Archaeology from the University of Papua New Guinea. Avis has been employed for 10 years in the Oil & Gas industry, specifically in the Land Access, Compensation, Resettlement and Community Affairs divisions. She has social, anthropological and archaeological fieldwork experience in PNG. Avis is currently preparing to start her master’s degree in Archaeology at the University of Papua New Guinea. Avis will bring to the project her fieldwork skills, her knowledge of the Papuan Gulfs, physical and social landscape, and her connections within the extraction industry, particularly those who operate in areas that are of interest to prehistoric studies.
Justin Guibert is a prehistorian who specialises in lithic tool analysis of Palaeolithic periods. Currently, he is a PhD candidate at the TRACES laboratory of the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès under the direction of Professors Hubert Forestier (MNHN) and François Bon (Univ. Toulouse). He is joining the project to participate in the fieldwork in collaboration with the University of PNG and the study conducted by Hubert Forestier on the lithic industries of Papua New Guinea.