Aboriginal Heritage Project

A team of researchers has been funded to collaborate with Aboriginal communities to reconstruct their genetic history using ground-breaking techniques.

Scientists and staff from the South Australian Museum, the University of Adelaide, Deakin University and Latrobe University will use ancient specimens, linguistic records and anthropological and archaeological data to construct the first genetic map of Indigenous Australia. Funding from the Australia Research Council will enable research to generate information that will:

  • allow Aboriginal families to trace regional ancestry within Australia when oral or written records might be incomplete

  • reconstruct 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 human migration patterns within the vast history of Australia

  • facilitate repatriation of Indigenous cultural items and human remains held at museums in Australia and overseas.

The project will draw on data and materials collected by the Board for Anthropological Research during expeditions between 1926 and 1971. One of many key figures on these expeditions was Norman B. Tindale who introduced the importance of collecting sociological and cultural anthropological data.

This collection is curated at the South Australian Museum and several Aboriginal individuals and communities have already been involved in a consultative pilot study. The ARC funding now allows the program to be expanded so that many others will soon be equally engaged in discussions as the project progresses. The anonymised genetic results will be made publicly available 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 through the Linkage Grant and Laureate Fellowship programs. It has gained financial support from partner organisations Australian Genome Research Facility and the National Geographic Society. It has additional valuable research support from Bioplatforms SA, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Harvard Medical School.


Our team

The key researchers who will carry out this project are:

Core team in Adelaide:

  • Mr Ali Abdullah-Highfold (Aboriginal Family History Officer, SA Museum)

  • Mr Shane Agius (Community Outreach Officer, SA Museum)

  • Ms Francesca Zilio (Manager, Information Services, SA Museum)

  • Miss Isabel O’Loughlin (Community liaison officer, SA Museum)

  • Miss Amy O'Donoghue (Community liaison officer), SA Museum

  • Associate Professor Jeremy Austin (Researcher, University of Adelaide)

  • Dr Ray Tobler (Geneticist, University of Adelaide)

  • Professor Peter Sutton (Anthropologist, linguist, University of Adelaide)


Partners interstate:

  • Mrs Lesley Williams (Cultural Advisor), Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, Queensland

  • Dr R John Mitchell (Geneticist, Latrobe University, Melbourne)

  • A/Prof Emma Kowal (Anthropologist, consultant, Deakin University, Melbourne)

  • Dr John Stephen (AGRF)


Partners international:

  • Dr Wolfgang Haak (Molecular Anthropologist), Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jene, Germany

  • Prof David Reich (Geneticist, Harvard Medical School, USA)

  • Dr Chris Tyler-Smith (Geneticist, Sanger Institute, UK)

  • Dr Miguel Vilar (National Geographic Society, USA)


Further information

We provide further detailed information in the form of FAQs (frequently asked questions), which will be expanded over the course of the project. You can also find details on participation information here.



Please check the FAQs for details and further information about the project. For specific questions not listed please enquire at aboriginalheritageproject@samuseum.sa.gov.au.


Aboriginal Heritage Project

Coming up next


Up next:
Australian polar research