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Aboriginal Heritage Project

A team of specialists has been funded to collaborate with Australian Indigenous communities to reconstruct their genetic history via ground-breaking research.

Scientists and staff from the South Australian Museum, the University of Adelaide, Deakin University and Latrobe University will use specimens, linguistic records and anthropological and archaeological data to piece together a genetic map of Australia. Funding from the Australian Research Council will enable research to provide information that will:

  • Allow Aboriginal families to trace regional ancestry with Australia when oral or written records may fail;
  • Reconstruct personal and family genealogical history prior to the arrival of Europeans;
  • Assist people from the Stolen Generation and others, with reunification and/or identification of family origins;
  • Reconstruct migration patterns within Australia;
  • Facilitate repatriation of Indigenous cultural items and human remains held at museums in Australia and overseas.

The project will draw on data and collection material collated by Joseph B. Birdsell and Norman B. Tindale during anthropological expeditions from 1928 and through to the 1970s, which is curated at the South Australian Museum.

Some Indigenous individuals and communities have already been involved in a consultative pilot study. The funding now allows many others to be equally engaged in discussions as the project progresses.


The commercial use of the information gained will be prohibited (e.g. commercial ancestry testing) and indemnified from legal use, which means the genetic information gained will not be of suitable legal value in land right issues or ancestry claims.

Support and partner organisations

The project is funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage Grant scheme. It gained financial support from partner organisations: Australian Genome Research Facility (AGRF) and the National Geographic Society. It has additional valuable research support from Bioplatforms SA, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Harvard Medical School.


The project has been approved by the University of Adelaide Human Research Ethics Committee (Application ID: H-2014-252). The project is guided and overseen by an Aboriginal Advisory Board with members from different states (on a rolling basis), as well as the South Australian Museum Aboriginal Advisory Committee. Both advisory groups provide advice, guidance, and monitoring of the project.

Our team

The key researchers who will carry out this project are:

South Australia National International

Professor Alan Cooper (Geneticist),
University of Adelaide

Professor Peter Sutton (Anthropologist, linguist), SA Museum Dr Wolfgang Haak (Molecular anthropologist), Max Plank Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Dr Ray Tobler (Population Geneticist),
University of Adelaide
A/Prof Emma Kowal (Anthropologist, consultant), Deakin University, Melbourne Dr Miguel Vilar (National Geographic Society), USA
Mr Shane Agius (Community Outreach Officer), SA Museum Mrs Lesley Williams (Cultural Advisor), Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland Dr Chris Tyler-Smith (Geneticist), Sanger Institute, UK
Mr Ali Abdullah-Highfold (Aboriginal Family History Officer), SA Museum Dr R John Mitchell (Geneticist), Latrobe University, Melbourne Prof David Reich (Geneticist, Harvard Medical School), USA
Ms Francesca Zilio (Manager, Information Services), SA Museum    
Dr Keryn Walshe (Anthropologist), SA Museum    
Miss Isabel O’Loughlin (Community liaison officer), SA Museum    
Miss Amy O'Donoghue (Community liaison officer), SA Museum    


Our FAQs are here to answer any questions you might have about the Aboriginal Heritage Project. If you have any enquiries that are not addressed then please email us.

For general personal DNA testing not related to this research, we recommend you visit the following website, which has quite a bit of information regarding ancestry DNA testing.

Australian Centre for Ancient DNA
School of Biological Sciences
Darling Building
North Terrace Campus

The University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


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F: +61 8 8313 4364
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