Friday, February 9, 2018

Early Brits had Dark Skin, Blue Eyes

DNA from a 10,000-year-old skeleton found in an English cave suggests the oldest-known Briton had dark skin and blue eyes, researchers said Wednesday.

Scientists from Britain's Natural History Museum and University College London analyzed the genome of "Cheddar Man," who was found in Cheddar Gorge in southwest England in 1903.

Scientists led by museum DNA expert Ian Barnes drilled into the skull to extract DNA from bone powder. They say analysis indicates he had blue eyes, dark curly hair and "dark to black" skin pigmentation.

The researchers say the evidence suggests that Europeans' pale skin tones developed much later than originally thought. "Cheddar Man subverts people's expectations of what kinds of genetic traits go together," said Tom Booth, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum who worked on the project.

"It seems that pale eyes entered Europe long before pale skin or blond hair, which didn't come along until after the arrival of farming."

"He reminds us that you can't make assumptions about what people looked like in the past based on what people look like in the present, and that the pairings of features we are used to seeing today aren't something that's fixed," Booth said on the museum website
Bear in mind that 10,000 years ago was not long after the beginning of the end of the last glacial period (which peaked about 14,000 years ago), so the first inhabitants of Europe were relatively fresh immigrants from the tropics, where a darker skin is more advantageous.

Incidentally, 10,000 year is the far limit of a previous estimate of the time of origin of blue eyes in Europe.

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