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, 279 (1739), 2761-8

A Small Cohort of Island Southeast Asian Women Founded Madagascar

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A Small Cohort of Island Southeast Asian Women Founded Madagascar

Murray P Cox et al. Proc Biol Sci.

Abstract

The settlement of Madagascar is one of the most unusual, and least understood, episodes in human prehistory. Madagascar was one of the last landmasses to be reached by people, and despite the island's location just off the east coast of Africa, evidence from genetics, language and culture all attests that it was settled jointly by Africans, and more surprisingly, Indonesians. Nevertheless, extremely little is known about the settlement process itself. Here, we report broad geographical screening of Malagasy and Indonesian genetic variation, from which we infer a statistically robust coalescent model of the island's initial settlement. Maximum-likelihood estimates favour a scenario in which Madagascar was settled approximately 1200 years ago by a very small group of women (approx. 30), most of Indonesian descent (approx. 93%). This highly restricted founding population raises the possibility that Madagascar was settled not as a large-scale planned colonization event from Indonesia, but rather through a small, perhaps even unintended, transoceanic crossing.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
A demographic model of the settlement of Madagascar. An ancestral population splits into Africans and Indonesians. At some time, Tsettlement, a proportion of the Indonesian population, PIndonesian, and a proportion of the African population, 1 − PIndonesian, merge to form the founding population of Madagascar, Nfoundation. This initial Malagasy population grows exponentially until it reaches its current effective population size, Ncurrent.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Likelihood curves inferred for demographic parameters in the Malagasy settlement model: (a) founding effective population size; (b) current effective population size; (c) time since settlement (years); (d) proportion of the founding population with Indonesian ancestry. Grey bars indicate the distribution of accepted Monte Carlo data points; red lines plot local regressions to the probability densities.

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