Aboriginal people in Australia have been living continuously in their homeland for about 50,000 years — well before Europeans began showing up in the 17th century. DNA from aboriginal hair provided the genetic proof of their connection to the land.

Artifacts have pointed to that long a settlement in the country in the southern Pacific Ocean, but scientists confirmed the consistent lineage of today’s aboriginal people when they analyzed DNA in hair samples taken decades ago. According to their research, published in the journal Nature, the finding that modern aboriginal people are all descended from a single population that settled Australia so many years ago is “in agreement with the notable Aboriginal Australian cultural attachment to their country.”

Read: Early Aborigines in Australia Faced Giant Killer Lizards

One of the reasons there was a question about native lineage was the variation between language and physical traits between different communities. But the study authors say the DNA samples allowed them to “reconstruct” the historical movements of people living in Australia before Europeans began settling the area. There was a “single, rapid migration along the east and west coasts that reached southern Australia” by 45,000 to 49,000 years ago, at which point those “strong regional patterns developed” and then persisted through changes in climate and culture.

The University of Adelaide explained in a statement that at the time the aboriginal ancestors spread into Australia, the country had not yet separated from New Guinea, which is now a large island hovering above the northeastern side of Australia that is shared between the countries of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

“This is unlike people anywhere else in the world and provides compelling support for the remarkable Aboriginal cultural connection to country,” project leader Alan Cooper said in the university statement. “We’re hoping this project leads to a rewriting of Australia’s history texts to include detailed Aboriginal history and what it means to have been on their land for 50,000 years — that’s around 10 times as long as all of the European history we’re commonly taught.”

According to the university, the findings are tied into a larger project that is geared toward helping people with Aboriginal ancestry to trace their origins. Part of what has made that difficult is previous government interference, like the policies through most of the 20th century of removing young native children from their families, people who are now referred to as the “Stolen Generations.”

“Aboriginal people have always known that we have been on our land since the start of our time,” Lewis O'Brien, an elder of the Kaurna indigenous people in South Australia, said in Adelaide statement. The university described him as “one of the original hair donors,” and he said having science to back up that idea is crucial. “We hope it will help assist those of our people from the Stolen Generation and others to reunite with their families.”

See also:

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