Uncovering Indonesia History through Archaeology and Paleogenomics

Paleogenomics is the study of analysis of genomic information from ancient organism remains. By studying ancient genomics data, scientists are able to have a better understanding of history. In terms of human population genetics, paleogenomics could reveal new insight into human migration, past admixture, and ancient diseases in the past. However, in tropical countries such as Indonesia, it is rather difficult to preserve ancient genetic material since the tropical and humid climates tend to damage archaeological samples and genetic materials within. The role of an archaeologist is crucial in terms of sample collection for scientists to be able to perform paleogenomics analysis.

On 2nd August 2022, Mochtar Riady Institute for Nanotechnology (MRIN), Pusat Riset Arkeologi Prasejarah dan Sejarah, and Organisasi Riset Arkeologi, Bahasa, dan Sastra of National Research and Innovation Agency officially entered a collaborative agreement in Paleogenomic and Archaeological research marked by the signing of MoU. The first event born from this joint research project is a two days capacity building of Indonesian researchers and archaeologists in the paleogenomics field in the form of a seminar and workshop.

The two days event is a collaboration between MRIN, Pusat Riset Arkeologi Sejarah dan Prasejarah, and the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), The University of Adelaide. The Paleogenomic Seminar was held on 2nd August 2022 following the MoU signing ceremony. The first session of the seminar aimed to familiarise the concept of paleogenomics and its importance to understand the history of Indonesia to Indonesian researchers and archaeologists. The first speaker, Prof. dr. Herawati Sudoyo from MRIN, explained the diversity of Indonesian people from a genetic aspect. Afterward, the second speaker, Ph.D. Candidate Gludhug A. Purnomo elaborated on the history of human migration in Indonesia from modern population data. Finally, the third speaker, Assoc. Prof. Bastien Llamas from ACAD emphasized the power of ancient DNA to reveal the history of the past.

Ahmad Arif_Kompas

The afternoon session of the seminar aimed to disclose the potency of archaeological and paleogenomics research in Indonesia from archaeologists' point of view. Ph.D. Candidate Agus A. Oktaviana revealed the significance of archaeological findings in Gua Harimau, Sumatra to enlighten the prehistoric culture in Indonesia. While archaeologist Dr. Hasanuddin from Sulawesi and archaeologist Dr. Zubair Mas’ud from Papua said there are many potential sites and samples in both Sulawesi and Papua waiting to be genetically analyzed for paleogenomics study.

The second day of the event was a workshop about paleogenomics brought by Assoc. Prof. Bastien Llamas. This workshop aims to teach archaeologists how to handle archaeological samples so they can be processed for paleogenomics analysis. In the morning session, Assoc. Prof. Bastien Llamas explained the basic theory of paleogenomics and ancient DNA and in the afternoon session, he demonstrated how to take samples from tooth and bone samples for paleogenomics analysis.

Up to date, there is still little to no data about ancient human DNA from Indonesia. Tropical climate, lack of facilities, and human resources limit paleogenomics study in Indonesia. The collaboration between MRIN, Pusat Riset Arkeologi Prasejarah dan Sejarah, and Organisasi Riset Arkeologi, Bahasa, dan Sastra is a first step in developing the paleogenomics field of study in Indonesia.

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