Origins of the Austro‐Asiatic Populations


The Austro‐Asiatic linguistic family, which is considered to be the oldest of all the families in South Asia, has substantial presence in Southeast Asia. The origin and expansion of the Austro‐Asiatic populations have been a contentious issue and so far there has been no formidable archaeological or linguistic evidence in favour of any of the hypotheses suggested. In recent years there has been a couple of genetic studies assessing the genetic unity, history and migration of Austro‐Asiatic groups. In this article we examine different hypotheses, based on both the genetic and nongenetic evidences. We infer a common paternal origin of Austro‐Asiatics and the migration of paternal ancestors of Austro‐Asiatic populations from East to South Asia, followed by the origin of Austro‐Asiatic languages which subsequently spread to Southeast Asia, with primarily male‐mediated migrations.

Keywords: Austro‐Asiatics; migration; origin; phylogeography; genetics

Figure 1.

A tree representing the relationships between different branches of Austro‐Asiatic languages and a map depicting the distribution of the sublinguistic families of Austro‐Asiatics. The photos on the branches of the tree represent one of the tribal groups from that linguistic branch. Adapted from Diffloth and Kumar et al..

Figure 2.

A genetic tree based on 31 traditional genetic markers of 25 populations in South and Southeast Asia. The relevant populations are in bold letters. Reproduced with permission from Cavalli‐Sforza et al..

Figure 3.

A structure of 76 populations (including four HapMap populations) based on 15 inferred clusters. Each individual is represented by a thin vertical line, which is partitioned into 15 coloured segments representing the individual's estimated membership fractions in 15 clusters. Black lines separate individuals of different populations. The Khasi‐Khmuic, the Negrito and the non‐Negrito Mon‐Khmer populations are indicated by the black, red and blue arrows encompassing the names of the populations. Adapted from Pan‐Asia consortium (unpublished).

Figure 4.

The isofrequency maps portraying spatial distribution of O‐M95 and O‐M122 haplogroups in Asia and Oceania (see Kumar et al. for references of comparative data of 214 populations). For O‐M95, Nicobarese samples were excluded. The dots indicate the populations and the regions from where they were sampled. Reproduced from Kumar et al..

Figure 5.

Maximum‐parsimony tree of Y‐chromosome haplogroups with their frequencies in Japanese and Korean populations. NEA, Northeast Asia; SEA, Southeast Asia and CA, Central Asia. Mutation names are given along the branches. The length of each branch is not proportional to the number of mutations or the age of the mutation. Dotted lines indicate internal nodes not defined by downstream markers (i.e. paragroups). The names of the haplogroups are shown to the right of the branches. Data from Hammer et al. and Kim et al..



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Mohan Reddy, B, and Kumar, Vikrant(Jul 2008) Origins of the Austro‐Asiatic Populations. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020816]