January 28, 2014

Blue eyes, brown skin in ancient European

Russell Crowe with a tan?
Greg Cochran has been talking for awhile about how ancient European hunter-gatherers didn't look much like modern Europeans. Karen Kaplan writes in the Los Angeles Times:
Surprise! Ancient European had dark skin and blue eyes, DNA reveals
Blue-eyed people have been living in Europe for at least 7,000 years, scientists have discovered. 
A man who lived on the Iberian peninsula before Europeans became farmers probably had blue eyes but dark hair and skin, according to scientists who have sequenced his DNA. This surprising combination of eye, hair and skin coloring may have not have been unusual during his lifetime, but it is no longer seen among modern Europeans, the team reported Sunday in the journal Nature. ... 
The man, a Neolithic hunter-gatherer known to scientists as La Braña 1, is of great interest to scientists because he offers a snapshot of what was in Europeans’ DNA before agriculture spread through the continent. Experts have theorized that certain genetic traits spread quickly among humans after they adopted the farming lifestyle. La Braña 1 shows that at least some of their predictions were correct.

The man’s skeleton, along with that of a male companion, was discovered in 2006 in a cave in what is now northeastern Spain. The site, known as La Braña-Arintero, sits about 5,000 feet above sea level, and the cave provided a cold, refrigerator-like environment that preserved his DNA. 
In the lab, scientists were able to extract enough DNA from a single tooth to reconstruct La Braña 1’s entire genome. They compared it to the DNA of other ancient Europeans (including Otzi, the 5,300-year-old mummy found in a Alpine glacier) and determined that he was a closer match with hunter-gatherers than with farmers. 
Two specific genes — one for digesting lactose (the sugar found in milk) and another for digesting starch — offered further evidence that La Braña 1 was not a farmer. New versions of both of these genes spread rapidly among Europeans after agriculture took hold and people began milking their livestock and growing crops. And in both cases, La Braña 1 had an older version of these genes. ...
When it came to genes that would influence La Braña 1’s appearance, the researchers found that their 7,000-year-old subject had versions of two skin pigment genes that are either very rare or nonexistent among Europeans today. Then they looked at other places in the genome that influence pigmentation and found a mix of ancient and modern gene variants. Taken together, La Braña 1’s DNA “is likely to have resulted in dark skin pigmentation and dark or brown hair,” they wrote. 
However, his DNA indicates that his eyes were most likely blue, the scientists found. This suggests that gene variants for light-colored eyes and skin did not spread together, they wrote, adding that La Braña 1’s combination “of dark skin and non-brown eyes is unique and no longer present in contemporary European populations.” Today, a blue-eyed person would typically have fair skin.

Here's the article in Nature.

One thing to keep in mind is that recovering ancient DNA is extremely delicate work and it's possible for the scientists' own DNA to accidentally get mixed in with the sample. They've gotten better at this during this century, but do not construct entire worldviews based on one paper.

At West Hunter, Cochran has been arguing that the modern skin lightening mutation of the gene SLC24a5 that's found in Western Eurasia must have had some other effect that provided a sizable fitness benefit beyond the usual theories about Vitamin D and the like.

Razib says that Caveman Moviestar above is missing the modern European variant of this skin-lightening gene.

Keep in mind that a gene variant can do multiple things that don't appear on the surface to be related. For example, the great Russian experiment in breeding silver foxes to have the temperaments to be pets resulted in a variety of changes in how they looked, such as floppy ears.

I'd guess from Greg's posts that he thinks he finally has an idea what that pleiotropic effect of fair skin is, but he isn't saying yet. From the hints he's dropping, it sounds like this gene version, which originated in the Middle East, might have something to do with digesting wheat-type grains. Or maybe not.
   

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

>La Braña 1’s combination “of dark skin and non-brown eyes is unique and no longer present in contemporary European populations.” Today, a blue-eyed person would typically have fair skin.<

I've seen a number of photos of Afghans with dark Mediterranean like complexions and blue eyes.

Nick - Pretoria

Anonymous said...

The Afghan girl with the green, kaleidoscope eyes made the cover of National Geographic twice!

IHTG said...

There are people in North Africa and the Levant who have that appearance, although they're pretty rare (people with light eyes and light skin might actually be more common, although both are rare). In North Africa, light pigmentation often comes in conjunction with a quasi-"Celtic" facial appearance.

Volksverhetzer said...

Blue eyes is an arctic trait, do be able to see better in the bright arctic nights.

It is very logical, as you move from bright days, and dark nights around the Equator, you need a lot of melanin to protect from the sun, while it is to dark at night to see anything anyway.

As you move towards the north, the days become darker and the nights become lighter, so it is advantageous with lighter eyes.

Blue eyed people get (red eyes) reflections when you use flash, like the other night adapted animals, because their retina do not contain melamine.

According to "science", humans don't have a reflective layer in the retina, so the red eyes among the blue eyed humans, is just some freak accident, because everybody knows eye-color have no adaptive advantage when it comes to humans.

Anonymous said...

There were white Libyans in North Africa nearly 4000-5000 yrs ago, so were they lighter-skinned than Europeans?

http://mathildasdiary.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/enemies6.jpg

http://www.touregypt.net/images/touregypt/enemies7.jpg

Dan said...

So he looked Spanish? Or Portuguese? Big fugging deal.

Anonymous said...

I think that it's reasonable to assume that light skin among Europeans is a fairly recent evolutionary development. Caucasian peoples spent most of their evolutionary period in the Middle East or Central Asia, where temperatures are warmer and the sun shines brighter (fewer overcast days than in Europe). Because Northern Europe was covered in ice for most of that time, the Caucasians didn't move there in great numbers until later, and it was that climate which led to lighter skin.

For similar reasons, the Mongoloids had lighter skin much earlier. Curiously, if you look at maps of where the ice sheets were, a big swath of Eastern Siberia was ice-free for most of the Ice Age. This is undoubtedly the ancestral home of the Mongoloid peoples, and where they developed most of their traits. People often ask why, if Europeans and Mongoloids are both cold-adapted, how come Europeans don't have epicanthic folds (widely considered an evolutionary adaptation to cold). The answer is that Mongoloids lived in that cold climate for much longer (and the fact that Northern Europe has more cloud cover than Eastern Siberia - less sun glaring off the snow, which is probably what led to epicanthic folds).

Anonymous said...

"The man's skeleton, along with that of a male companion..."

How long before Teh Gays get ahold of this. No, I kid, but seriously...

-SonOfStrom

Eric Rasmusen said...

I know it's from DNA evidence, but the picture alone would suggest another explanation: lack of a bath.

NLA said...

"Keep in mind that a gene variant can do multiple things that don't appear on the surface to be related. For example, the great Russian experiment in breeding silver foxes to have the temperaments to be pets resulted in a variety of changes in how they looked, such as floppy ears."

Wouldn't it be funny if we finally figure out how to manipulate genes to increase IQ and a side effect is that the kids come out looking European. I wonder if blacks would want to increase their IQ at the expense of their African looks.

Reg Cæsar said...

The man’s skeleton, along with that of a male companion…

If he was a "longtime" male companion, they wouldn't have passed on those genes.

Anonymous said...

Middle Easterners are typically Caucasoid (Caucasian face/body and straight hair) with olive skin.

Indians are Caucasian/Dravidian mixtures with olive-brown skin, straight/wavy hair and more Caucasian faces/bodies (on average).

George said...

These scientists are clearly confused, Russell Crow just needs to shave and take a bath.

I think Arnold looks the same way for have the Conan movie, right?

Anonymous said...

>>Steve Sailer wrote:
"""One thing to keep in mind is that recovering ancient DNA is extremely delicate work and it's possible for the scientists' own DNA to accidentally get mixed in with the sample. They've gotten better at this during this century, but do not construct entire worldviews based on one paper."""



In other words, it's so simple that even a caveman could do it.

Come on, everyone was thinking it.

Anonymous said...

I once worked with a blue-eyed Nigerian, but his facial features weren't really negroid; I'd guess that he had some North African or other non-black ancestry.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the gene has something to do with signaling cooperativeness.

Anonymous said...

I've seen a number of photos of Afghans with dark Mediterranean like complexions and blue eyes.

Dark Mediterraneans tend to have the skin lightening gene in question here.

Anonymous said...

A man who lived on the Iberian peninsula before Europeans became farmers probably had blue eyes but dark hair and skin, according to scientists who have sequenced his DNA.


Conan The Cimmerian! Robert E Howard was ahead of the scientists.

2Degrees said...

Lots of Tuareg have blue eyes and they are not at all white.

Some Aborigines have blond hair when their very young.

New Zealand may or may not have been inhabited by people called the Moriori before the Maori arrived. When the first Europeans came, the Moriori had been driven to the Chathams and many are reported as having blond hair.

Little is known about the Moriori now because the Maori ate most of them - really!

Simon in London said...

'Black Irish' with grey-blue eyes, black hair, and a tanned complexion (much darker than the usual fair Celtic complexion, especially in summer) is common in Northern Ireland, where I'm from. My mother is one. The dark Welsh Tom Jones/Catherine Zeta Jones look is similar. This look seems to cluster with groups that are more than usually descended from the first post-Ice Age arrivals in the British Isles from Iberia, who would have been these early hunter-gatherers. I guess my mother (etc) have some of these skin-lightening alleles, but not as many as the fair Celts do?

Anonymous said...

Brown skin is already "light" skin relative to the Africans they descended from, so that suggests some skin lightening was under way over a long period of time when this man lived.

Or, this could just be sloppy use of words by the reporters and "brown" could mean anything from a light tan to West African black.

Steve Sailer said...

But is black skin the original? Bushmen don't have black skin (not to say they are the original, just that they are an African counter-example).

Marc B said...

There was test done in a UK village several years ago that matched the DNA of a male specimen found nearby from an archeology dig with the DNA of all of the towns people. Only one match was found. That's one example of how profoundly England has been genetically by it's visitors. "Russell Crowe" resembles the native stock of the UK prior to the mass migrations from the European mainland.

Anonymous said...

"Russel Crowe with a tan ?"

I'm not sure about the eye colour, but they seem to have modelled their reconstruction on the fearsome French rugby forward Sebastien Chabal.

http://sportzpics.photoshelter.com/image/I0000SPsugSQfo5E

http://static1.purepeople.com/articles/2/26/97/2/@/184961-sebastien-chabal-ne-participera-pas-637x0-3.jpg


btw, has Steve ever written about the Tarim mummies ?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarim_mummies

HA said...

Wouldn't it be funny if we finally figure out how to manipulate genes to increase IQ and a side effect is that the kids come out looking European. I wonder if blacks would want to increase their IQ at the expense of their African looks.

I think it would be just as hilarious if a side effect of that manipulation was to render one's appearance more Asian, or else, more like one of those hook-nosed gargoyles that 1930's anti-Semitic cartoons suggest is the quintessential Ashkenazi visage. There's no need to single the blacks out.

Potato said...

Gee, an ancient Spaniard who looks like a...... Spaniard. And only 1.25 million to figure it out.

Dan said...

Zeta Jones or Tom Jones. Colin Farrel doesn't look that far off. Clive Owen anyone?

Then Javier Bardem sorta looms large. This is a load of bollocks.

Dan said...

You didn't get that right. The statistical possibility that you'd find a relative in the same area is extra ordinary. Recall that this descendant had parents and an extended family. You got your info backwards. The aboriginal population is remarkably steady in the UK. The first humans there are related to the pre 1990s Brits.

Dan said...

This is the mug shot of a Portugee or Spaniard, Javier Bardem.

Susan Thorpe said...

Moriori were not driven to the Chathams. they sailed there. They did not have blonde hair or blue eyes. Plenty is known about Moriori - just ask us moriori.co.nz

Anonymous said...

"There were white Libyans in North Africa nearly 4000-5000 yrs ago, so were they lighter-skinned than Europeans?"

They're wrong about La Brana. He looked like Cillian Murphy except with half his face covered with freckles.

SLC24A5 increases IQ via iodine in breast-milk. It doesn't spread in East Asians (and EDAR doesn't spread in reverse) because both do the same thing.

People who don't have either the SLC version or the EDAR version could increase their kid's IQ with iodine supplements but that would mean admitting ethnic differences in IQ.

Anonymous said...

"if Europeans and Mongoloids are both cold-adapted, how come Europeans don't have epicanthic folds (widely considered an evolutionary adaptation to cold)"

Bushmen have epicanthic folds. That's where they came from.

Anonymous said...

A lot of people here seem to be misunderstanding that (judging by the alleles) this guy was darker than ANY currently existing European population.

We are talking darker than the darkest native European person you can find today. Untanned.

Anonymous said...

"But is black skin the original?"

Chimps don't have black skin.

Anonymous said...

I suppose some Hindus are dark-skinned Caucasians.

Anonymous said...

"A lot of people here seem to be misunderstanding that (judging by the alleles) this guy was darker than ANY currently existing European population."

It's nonsense - even without the new stuff about Neanderthal genes.

If the gene for red hair doesn't also de-pigment why did it spread so dramatically in northern latitudes that every ancient writer mentions it?

The second wave into Europe would have been brown imo - like South Indians and dark eyed. The blue eyes and the presence of IRF4 say La Brana was already de-pigmented imo.

Anonymous said...

Chimps don't have black skin.

Adult chimps do have black skin, just like gorillas of any age, and most species of gibbons (even those with white fur).

2Degrees said...

Hi Susan!

I was merely trying to point out that blond hair and blue eyes sometimes crop up in non-Europeans. I never said the Moriori had blue eyes. They seem to have been close kin to the Maori except that they were pacifist, which the Maori most certainly are not. I read somewhere a long time ago that, when first encountered, a FEW of them are reported as having non-black hair, possibly due to a Melanesian influence. I tried to track down the reference, but got bogged down in a load of rubbish about Celtic NZ. Today, they are all mixed with Pakeha, so who knows?

Also, the Moriori are a "People Rediscovered". They had been fairly thoroughly obliterated by Whites, Maori and influenza before WWI. Much of what passes for Moriori culture today is what in European terms is called a "rediscovered tradition".

Does anyone know with certainly why they ended up in the Chathams? You are right. They may have gone there by choice.

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Iam nothing said...

My father and i both black hair blue eyed olive skined im his daughter by the way.my mother cherokee and dutch my siblinging blond and light skined what does this mean? Very interested.