Spanish National Research Council

7,000-Year-Old Bones Of European Reveal Dark Skin, Blue Eyes

According to researchers, this particular ancient man had a combination of African and European genes that led to dark skin and light eyes.

By Danny Matteson | January 27, 2014

In terms of evolutionary biology, he's not exactly one of the usual suspects.

As you can see here, a dark-skinned, dark-haired, blue-eyed, European hunter-gatherer from around 7,000 years ago. (Via Pelopanton / CSIC)   

What's so strange about that?

Well, typically, scientists have thought of European hunter-gatherers from the Mesolithic era as light-skinned with darker eyes — kind of like the Flintstones. (Via ABC / "The Flintstones")

But according to researchers from the Spanish National Research Council, this particular ancient man bucked both trends by having a combination of African and European genes, which led to dark skin and light eyes.

Quoted by CNN, the study's lead researcher said: "The biggest surprise was to discover that this individual possessed African versions in the genes that determine the light pigmentation of the current Europeans, which indicates that he had dark skin, although we cannot know the exact shade." (Via CNN)

According to The Guardian, another surprise was that the ancient man was already carrying mutations in his immune system that weren't thought to have evolved until humans started living together in farming communities.

Those mutations were confounded by the fact that he was believed to be lactose intolerant and likely had trouble digesting starchy foods — common characteristics of hunter-gatherers from the period.

The bones, dubbed "La Brana 1" by scientists, were found along with another skeleton in a Spanish cave back in 2006, Sky News notes. Information about the man's appearance was discovered by analyzing DNA extracted from the root of the man's third molar.     

"La Brana 1" and the other skeleton were both believed to belong to men in their early 30s and were kept in good condition by the cool climate of the cave. According to NBC, scientists are now hoping to retrieve DNA to study the genome of the second skeleton.

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