A new research shows that ancient Europeans from around 7,000 years ago may have had blue eyes and dark skin. Researchers involved in the study conducted DNA analysis on the remains of a Mesolithic man found in the Spanish province of Leon. While scientists have known that early Europeans had dark skin, the new evidence shows that this feature may have been present in more recent times compared to previous estimates.
The Mesolithic is an era encompassing the period of time between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago. Due to the conditions in Europe at the time, scientists believed that early Europeans from this period of time had much fairer skin. However, the DNA evidence extracted from the tooth of a Mesolithic man indicates that the advent of fair skinned Europeans may have happened more recently. The DNA analysis showered that Mesolithic Europeans still carried the ancestral alleles responsible for darker skin pigmentation during the time.
"However, the biggest surprise was to discover that this individual possessed African versions in the genes that make clear the current European pigmentation, indicating he had dark skin, although we can not know the exact tone," says Carles Lalueza- Fox from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain.
The 7,000-year-old remains of a man dubbed the brane 1, was unearthed at an excavation site in La Braña-Arintero in Veldelugueros, Leon back in 2006. A tooth from the remains was then analyzed giving researchers their first Mesolithic genome from a hunter-gatherer who lived during the time period. The DNA analysis on the tooth also produced surprising genetic information about the humans living in the region thousands of years ago.
"Even more surprising was the discovery that had the genetic variants that produce blue eyes in Europeans today, resulting in a unique phenotype in a genome that is otherwise clearly northern European," says the research team from the CSIC. CSIC or Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (also known as Spanish National Research Council) is the largest public research institution in Spain.
The study, which was published in the online journal Nature, also indicated that the Mesolithic man might have had different dietary habits compared to people who lived during the advent of agriculture. Back then; humans may have had difficulties digesting food sources that were rich in starch.
"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," says the study. "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."
Moreover, these early humans may also have been lactose intolerant. However, the onset of both agriculture and animal husbandry may have resulted in both dietary and genetic changes during the Neolithic era a few thousand years later.