New publication: Papuan mitochondrial genomes and the settlement of Sahul

Members of the Papuan Past Project published a study on June 1st 2020 in the Journal of Human Genetics which explores the maternal genetic history of northern Sahul populations, and reveals the pattern of settlement and migration into and from the New Guinea Island region over the last 50-60 kya.


New Guineans represent one of the oldest locally continuous populations outside Africa, harboring among the greatest linguistic and genetic diversity on the planet. Archeological and genetic evidence suggest that their ancestors reached Sahul (present day New Guinea and Australia) by at least 55,000 years ago (kya). However, little is known about this early settlement phase or subsequent dispersal and population structuring over the subsequent period of time. Here we report 379 complete Papuan mitochondrial genomes from across Papua New Guinea, which allow us to reconstruct the phylogenetic and phylogeographic history of northern Sahul. Our results support the arrival of two groups of settlers in Sahul within the same broad time window (50–65 kya), each carrying a different set of maternal lineages and settling Northern and Southern Sahul separately. Strong geographic structure in northern Sahul remains visible today, indicating limited dispersal over time despite major climatic, cultural, and historical changes. However, following a period of isolation lasting nearly 20 ky after initial settlement, environmental changes postdating the Last Glacial Maximum stimulated diversification of mtDNA lineages and greater interactions within and beyond Northern Sahul, to Southern Sahul, Wallacea and beyond. Later, in the Holocene, populations from New Guinea, in contrast to those of Australia, participated in early interactions with incoming Asian populations from Island Southeast Asia and continuing into Oceania.


Papuan mitochondrial genomes and the settlement of Sahul. Pedro N, Brucato N, Fernandes V, André M, Saag L, Pomat W, Besse C, Boland A, Deleuze JF, Clarkson C, Sudoyo H, Metspalu M, Stoneking M, Cox MP, Leavesley M, Pereira L, Ricaut FX, published the 1st of July 2020 in the Journal of Human Genetics. doi: 10.1038/s10038-020-0781-3

Papuan Past Project 2019 – Photos: fieldwork in Mount Wilhelm



Project presentations

Data collection


“Speleological knowledge and social structures in a rural community in Sepik, Papua New Guinea”: a presentation at the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale

The 28 February 2020, Sébastien Plutniak was invited to give a presentation at the “Dynamiques relationnelles” seminar, organised by Olivier Allard and Isabelle Yaya MacKenzie at the Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale in Paris. His talk, entitled “Savoirs spéléologiques et structures sociales dans une communauté rurale du Sepik, Papouasie-Nouvelle-Guinée” was an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion about the sociological aspects of the Papuan Past Project. The participants of this seminar are experts in kinship analysis, both from a general perspective and in the use of advanced computing methods applied to the analysis of kinship networks, such as the Puck software, which is also used in the Papuan Past Project.

Simon Puaud

Participation: 2019

Simon Puaud is a geologist specialized in the prehistoric sites geology. He began his formation in Geology in a geologic engineer school. After a Master and a PhD in the Perpignan University. He specialized in Geology applied to Quaternary and Prehistory. He has focused his researches on the palaeoenvironmental interpretation of a sedimentary sequence of a southeastern French prehistoric site. Since 15 years he works on the palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental interpretation of quaternary sequences from the cave and rock shelters sediments analyses. After his PhD (2007), he was hired by the CNRS as a study engineer. He works currently on numerous projects led by searchers of Museum national d’Histoire naturelle and CNRS in France, Crimea, Cyprus, Cambodia, Thailand and Georgia. The possibility to study sedimentary infillings of papuan rockshelters is very important because this kind of approach is new. The high altitude of the Papuan sites is an opportunity to compare them with the European quaternary sites of the last glacial by studying the characteristics of the sediments and the sedimentary dynamics.