How Europeans white skin evolved is now in question thanks to a new finding. A new genetic analysis of an ancient European hunter-gatherer man has revealed that he had dark skin and blazing blue eyes which have lead scientists to rethink how white skin evolved. The new analysis of that DNA now shows the man had the gene mutation for blue eyes, but not the European mutations for lighter skin – and since the man, who lived in modern-day Spain only about 7,000 years ago, may mean that light-skin genes in Europeans evolved much more recently than previously thought. The experts were astonished to find a combination of African and European genes in the ancient caveman, and they christened him La Brana 1. Scientists studied the hunter gatherer’s DNA after they found his frozen skeleton buried in a subterranean cave in Cantabria in northern Spain.
Nature – the journal – published the study which suggests that light skin evolved not to adjust to the lower-light conditions in Europe compared with Africa, but instead to the new diet that emerged after the agricultural revolution. “It was assumed that the lighter skin was something needed in high latitudes, to synthesize vitamin D in places where UV light is lower than in the tropics,” says co-author Carles Lalueza-Fox, a paleogenomics researcher at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain.
“What seems likely, then, is that the dietary changes accompanying the so-called Neolithic revolution, or the transition from food collection to food production, might have caused, or contributed to cause, this change,” said Guido Barbujani, president of the Associazione Genetica Italiana in Ferrara, Italy. In this food-production theory, the cereal-rich diet of Neolithic farmers lacked vitamin D, so Europeans rapidly lost their dark-skin pigmentation only once they switched to agriculture. It was at this point that they had to synthesize vitamin D from the sun more readily.
In the food-production theory, the cereal-rich diet of Neolithic farmers lacked vitamin D, so Europeans rapidly lost their dark-skin pigmentation only once they switched to agriculture because it was only at that point that they had to synthesize vitamin D from the sun more readily.
Another study presented at the 84th annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists offered dramatic evidence of recent evolution in Europe and shows that most modern Europeans don’t look much like those of 8000 years ago. So while most of us think of Europe as the ancestral home of white people the study shows that pale skin, as well as other traits such as tallness and the ability to digest milk as adults, arrived in most of the continent relatively recently.
- The modern humans who came out of Africa to originally settle Europe about 40,000 years are presumed to have had dark skin, which is advantageous in sunny latitudes. And the new data confirm that about 8500 years ago, early hunter-gatherers in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary also had darker skin: They lacked versions of two genes—SLC24A5 and SLC45A2—that lead to depigmentation and, therefore, pale skin in Europeans today.
- But in the far north—where low light levels would favor pale skin—the team found a different picture in hunter-gatherers: Seven people from the 7700-year-old Motala archaeological site in southern Sweden had both light skin gene variants, SLC24A5 and SLC45A2. They also had a third gene, HERC2/OCA2, which causes blue eyes and may also contribute to light skin and blond hair. Thus ancient hunter-gatherers of the far north were already pale and blue-eyed, but those of central and southern Europe had darker skin.
- Then, the first farmers from the Near East arrived in Europe; they carried both genes for light skin. As they interbred with the indigenous hunter-gatherers, one of their light-skin genes swept through Europe, so that central and southern Europeans also began to have lighter skin. The other gene variant, SLC45A2, was at low levels until about 5800 years ago when it swept up to high frequency.