Scientists have shed light on what ancient Europeans looked like.
Genetic tests reveal that a hunter-gatherer who lived 7,000 years ago had the unusual combination of dark skin and hair and blue eyes.
It has surprised scientists, who thought that the early inhabitants of Europe were fair.
The research, led by the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, is published in the journal Nature.
According to the “Nature”, ancient genomic sequences have started to reveal the origin and the demographic impact of farmers from the Neolithic period spreading into Europe.
The adoption of farming, stock breeding and sedentary societies during the Neolithic may have resulted in adaptive changes in genes associated with immunity and diet.
However, the limited data available from earlier hunter-gatherers preclude an understanding of the selective processes associated with this crucial transition to agriculture in recent human evolution. Here we sequence an approximately 7,000-year-old Mesolithic skeleton discovered at the La Braña-Arintero site in León, Spain, to retrieve a complete pre-agricultural European human genome.
Analysis of this genome in the context of other ancient samples suggests the existence of a common ancient genomic signature across western and central Eurasia from the Upper Paleolithic to the Mesolithic.
The La Braña individual carries ancestral alleles in several skin pigmentation genes, suggesting that the light skin of modern Europeans was not yet ubiquitous in Mesolithic times. Moreover, we provide evidence that a significant number of derived, putatively adaptive variants associated with pathogen resistance in modern Europeans were already present in this hunter-gatherer.
The lead author, Dr Carles Lalueza-Fox, said: “One explanation is that the lighter skin colour evolved much later than was previously assumed.”
Scientists had thought the first Europeans became fair soon after they left Africa and moved to the continent about 45,000 years ago.
“It has been assumed that it is something that happens in response to going from Africa to higher latitudes where the UV radiation is very low and you need to synthesise vitamin D in your skin. Your skin becomes lighter quite soon,” explained Dr Lalueza-Fox.
“It is obvious that this is not the case, because this guy has been in Europe for 40,000 years and he still has dark skin.”
Source: The Nature