J.M. Vidal Encina
Blue eyes may have evolved before blond hair and pale skin, a genetic analysis of a 7,000-year-old Spanish skeleton suggests.
The Stone Age skeleton of a hunter-gatherer was found in 2006 in a cave at the La Braña-Arintero archaeological site in northwestern Spain. DNA from one of the skeleton’s teeth shows that the man, called La Braña 1, is genetically different from most present-day Europeans, Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona and colleagues report January 26 in Nature.
The hunter-gatherer was lactose intolerant and carried few copies of genes involved in breaking down starch. Those findings are further evidence that the ability to digest milk and starch probably evolved after the advent of agriculture.
La Braña 1’s eyes were blue (or at least not brown), but his hair and skin were dark, the researchers deciphered from the skeleton’s pigment genes. The finding indicates that light-colored skin wasn’t the norm everywhere in Europe by the Stone Age, and that eye color changed before skin pigmentation did.
I. Olalde et al. Derived immune and ancestral pigmentation alleles in a 7,000-year-old Mesolithic European. Nature. Published online January 26, 2014. doi:10.1038/nature12960.
B. Bower. Ancient farmers, foragers kept genes to themselves. Science News. Vol. 184, November 16, 2013, p. 13.
B. Bower. DNA tracks ancient Mediterranean farmers to Scandinavia. Science News Online, April 26, 2012.
T.H. Saey. Frozen mummy’s genetic blueprints unveiled. Science News. Vol. 181, March 24, 2012, p. 5.
Note: To comment, Science News subscribing members must now establish a separate login relationship with Disqus. Click the Disqus icon below, enter your e-mail and click “forgot password” to reset your password. You may also log into Disqus using Facebook, Twitter or Google.