New Zealanders shed light on Madagascar’s genetic mystery

New research from a Massey University computational biologist has estimated that the island of Madagascar was settled by  just 30 Indonesian women only 1200 years ago.

The finding sheds light on one of the strangest evolutionary events in human history. The people of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, are descended from Indonesians, quarter of a world away. How this happened has never been fully explained.

The research, which was based on genetic analysis  of Madagascans and Indonesians, was led by Dr Murray Cox, of the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, Massey University.

“It has been known for a very long time that there is a really clear Asian signature in the DNA of Madagascans,” Dr Cox says. “What we’ve done is developed a computer model to find out more about that very early settlement history. Our research suggests that around 30 Indonesian women came to the island about 1200 years ago, around the 9th century AD.”

Almost all Madagascans today are related to those 30 founding women. “There has been trading along the Indian Ocean for millennia, and people have assumed that Indonesians settled there as a result of lots of people using this trading route,” he says. “But if it is only 30 individuals, that theory doesn’t make sense. So it appears more likely that this may have been an accidental event – it certainly wasn’t a big, planned movement of people.”

The study, published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has made headlines around the world. Examples include:

MSN News: Indonesian ‘Eves’ colonised Madagascar

Asia One: Indonesian ‘Eves’ colonised Madagascar 1,200 years ago

Global Post: Indonesians colonized Madagascar over one thousand years ago

Physorg: Indonesian ‘Eves’ colonised Madagascar 1,200 years ago

Sydney Morning Herald: Madagascar mystery of how small group of Indonesian women colonised island

LiveScience: 30 Indonesian women founded Madagascar

International Business Times: Madagascar Colonized By Handful Of Indonesians 1,200 Years ago, Researchers Find

Discovery News: Madagascar Founded By Women

The Earth Times: Madagascar about the girls