A study of Asian genetics suggests the original humans in East Asia came from Southeast Asia. The indigenous groups on the peninsula can be divided into three ethnicities: the Negritos, the Senoi, and the proto-Malays. The first inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula were most probably Negritos. These Mesolithic hunters were probably the ancestors of the Semang, an ethnic Negrito group. The Senoi appear to be a composite group, with approximately half of the maternal mitochondrial DNA lineages tracing back to the ancestors of the Semang and about half to later ancestral migrations from Indochina. Scholars suggest they are descendants of early Austroasiatic-speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 4,000 years ago. They united and coalesced with the indigenous population. The Proto Malays have a more diverse origin and had settled in Malaysia by 1000 BCE as a result of Austronesian expansion. Although they show some connections with other inhabitants in Maritime Southeast Asia, some also have an ancestry in Indochina around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago. Areas comprising what is now Malaysia participated in the Maritime Jade Road. The trading network existed for 3,000 years, between 2000 BC to 1000 CE.
Anthropologists support the notion that the Proto-Malays originated from what is today Yunnan, China. This was followed by an early-Holocene dispersal through the Malay Peninsula into the Malay Archipelago. Around 300 BCE, they were pushed inland by the Deutero-Malays, an Iron Age or Bronze Age people descended partly from the Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam. The first group in the peninsula to use metal tools, the Deutero-Malays were the direct ancestors of today's Malaysian Malays and brought with them advanced farming techniques. The Malays remained politically fragmented throughout the Malay archipelago, although a common culture and social structure were shared.