Mesolithic Europeans had blue eyes ... and dark skin

31 Jan 2014

At first I thought this might be a bit of modern politikking but the research is published in Nature which would put that idea in the car park. The Out of Africa theory has a strong political connection but it seems we are not necessary looking at Mesolithic people with an origin in Africa - but in Siberia (where one branch went west and another went east, the latter colonising the Americas and the former, Europe. As such, brown skins are almost certainly involved - especially in the group that colonised the American continent. Its an interesting piece of research - and see also

The genome sequence came from a skeleton dated just 7000 years ago, and it has been found he was not pale pink or pasty white - but he did have blue eyes. Study of the genome suggests the closest modern parallel is in Scandinavia - where blue eyes and blondes, and very pale features, are very often the rule. This is intriguing - were Palaeolithic Europeans brown (or reddish brown)? No particular reason why not - and if so scientists and geneticists now have to discover how they changed (within the last 7000 years). Just how quickly can skin colour change. Are modern West Indian immigrants (who already possess European genes through admixture) destined to become pale imitations of themselves? 

The scientists themselves are blaming dietary changes as a result of the Neolithic revolution (the introduction of farming into Europe) for the switch to paler skin colour - but this might be clutching at straws. They don't know. For instance, farmers from Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent are thought to have migrated in large numbers into the Balkans, central and northern Europe (plotted archaeologically) and many modern Europeans have features in common with Indo European speakers in the Near East (and in India), yet skin colour differs. As farming was endemic in these countries before it reached Europe is the dietary connection really valid?