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Prehistoric man was dark-skinned with blue eyes, say Spanish archaeologists
By thinkSPAIN Team Wed, Jan 29, 2014
A TYPICAL European citizen 7,000 years ago had blue eyes and dark skin and hair, according to genetic research by Spain's High Council of Scientific Investigations (CSIC).
Biologist Carles Lalueza-Fox says the findings were based upon exceptionally-well preserved DNA from the remains of Mesolithic man discovered at the La Braña-Arintero archaeological dig in Valdelugueros (León province).
Samples taken in the spring of 2012 enabled the CSIC to sequence one per cent of the DNA of the two men whose bones were dug up, which showed that today's population native to mainland Spain and Portugal, or the Iberian Peninsula, are not genetically related to inhabitants from this historical era.
Later, in March 2013, Lalueza-Fox's team analysed the root of a molar tooth from one of the Mesolithic men, whom they had baptised La Braña 1, which enabled them to decipher the complete genome of the individual and create a photo-fit image of what he would have looked like.
Joining forces with the Centre for GeoGenetics in Denmark, the discovery that blue eyes in Europeans pre-dated pale skin genes was published in the history journal Nature on Sunday.
Pale skin genes came later and are a separate factor from those that result in blue eyes, despite its being generally considered they come together.
The scientists found the genetic mutation which is only capable of producing blue eyes was present in La Braña 1, but that in terms of his skin, he had 'African variants' which gave him a dark complexion, reveals Lalueza-Fox.
It had always been hitherto assumed that the pale skin pigmentation gene dated back much further, to the high Palaeolithic era which ended over 10,000 years ago.
As well as eye colour and complexion, the Danish and Spanish research team found out about lifestyle changes and their impact on health in prehistoric man thanks to their analysis of the men's remains.
The Mesolithic era, which started between 7,000 and 12,000 years ago and came after the Palaeolithic period, ended when arable and livestock farming began, which changed man's nutrition and exercise régime.
This new era, the Neolithic, saw an end to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and gave way to a more sedentary form of existence.
Diet also changed from almost entirely protein-based – from hunting animals – to one based upon plant cultivation and the introduction of carbohydrates.
This, and the domestication of animals and closer contact with them led to humans contracting virulent illnesses previously only found in animals – such as influenza.
The CSIC researchers say La Braña 1's genome is that of the hunter-gatherer prior to the Neolithic era.
Their next plan is to attempt to recover the complete genome for La Braña 2, as the other man has been named, although his DNA is not thought to be as well conserved.
The La Braña-Arintero dig was discovered by accident in 2006 and excavated by archaeologist Julio Manuel Vidal Encinas.
It is based inside a cave, in a mountainous area with a very cold climate and stable temperature, some 1,500 metres below sea-level.
As a result of the constant chill, the DNA of the two prehistoric men has literally been 'frozen' in time and is nearly intact, say researchers.
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