Primarily located in: Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, Fiji, Aboriginal Australia
Also found in: Solomon Islands, New Caledonia
Including the continent of Australia, New Guinea and the island chains of the Bismarck and Solomon Archipelagos, the Melanesian region is home to some of the worlds’ best-preserved primitive societies. The ancient populations of Melanesia remained mostly separated from the rest of the world for tens of thousands of years. A combination of geographical isolation, rugged terrain and few crops and animals suitable for domestication led to the perpetuation of ancient technology and culture.
How Black Sovereign compares to the typical person native to the Melanesia region
Genetic Diversity in the Melanesia Region
The people living in the Melanesia region are less admixed than most other regions, which means that when creating genetic ethnicity estimates for people native to this area, we rarely see even small amounts of similarities to DNA profiles from other nearby regions. We’ve found that approximately 100% of the typical native’s DNA comes from this region.
We have used our reference panel to build a genetic profile for Melanesia. The blue chart above shows examples of ethnicity estimates for people from this region. For Melanesia, we see a very narrow range—most people have very little (if any) DNA shared with neighboring regions. However, there are some exceptions—a small minority of people have DNA showing only 81% similarity to this profile. In addition, about 43% of individuals from this region have at least some DNA similar to the Polynesia region. (See chart above, in green.)
The first settlers
The Melanesia region includes Papua New Guinea, Australia and the island chains to the east including Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. The word “Melanesian” is more of a geographical name than a description of an ethnic group, so its meaning in this context is somewhat vague. But, in general, the indigenous population of the region can be broken down into pre-Austronesian (including Papuans and Aboriginal Australians) and Austronesian.
As early as 50,000 years ago, the first modern humans made the narrow sea crossing from Southeast Asia to the Melanesia region after following the southern coastal route out of Africa. About 25,000 years ago, at the height of the last glacial period, Australia, Tasmania and Papua New Guinea were part of the same landmass, called Sahul. They were separated about 10,000 years ago, when melting glaciers caused the sea level to rise.
Papua New Guinea is one of the few places in the world where agriculture was developed locally, rather than being imported from elsewhere. But the wild plants available to the indigenous inhabitants did not lend themselves to intense cultivation. The main crop grown by the Papuans, prior to the arrival of sweet potatoes, was taro. Papua New Guinea is also home to more than 850 distinct languages, making it one of the most diverse countries in the world. Australia also once had hundreds of unique indigenous languages, particularly in the tropical northern regions, although most are now extinct.
Although the Aboriginal Australians aren’t technically considered Melanesian, the groups that initially populated Papua New Guinea and Australia probably arrived from Southeast Asia at roughly the same time. There was some interaction among the Melanesians, Australians and other islanders in the area, but the Aboriginal Australians did not adopt agriculture to the same extent as most other Melanesians (possibly due to their harsher climate). With the exception of some tribes along the coast that relied more heavily on fishing, most Aboriginal tribes remained semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers until the arrival of Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries.
A second wave of settlers, the Austronesians, arrived much later, around 3,500 to 3,000 years ago. Most scholars believe that their homeland was the island of Formosa, or modern-day Taiwan, off the east coast of China. Accomplished sailors, the Neolithic Austronesians settled the north coast of Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck and Solomon Islands, bringing domesticated chickens, pigs and a few additional crops. They are probably the ancestors of the Lapita culture, which reached as far east as Tonga, most likely giving rise to the Polynesian culture that spread throughout the Pacific Ocean.
Additional genetic facts about the Melanesia region
The Denisovans were “archaic humans,” similar to the Neanderthals, who lived in Siberia and Asia more than 40,000 years ago. There was a significant amount of interbreeding among Denisovans, Neanderthals and modern humans. In fact, it is possible that all non-African humans possess a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. Similarly, Denisovans may have interbred with modern humans, but the Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians may be among the only existing populations to possess Denisovan DNA. The ultimate fate of the Denisovans is unknown. It is possible that they were killed off by modern humans, or that they were outcompeted and assimilated.
Among the interesting characteristics of Melanesian and Aboriginal Australian populations is the evolution of blond hair, which is believed to have developed independently of the blond hair seen in Europeans.
Did You Know?
There are possibly more than 40 tribes in the mountains of Papua New Guinea that have never been contacted by modern society.