DNA shows ancient hunter had blue eyes, dark skin

BERLIN — A hunter-gatherer who lived in Europe some 7,000 years ago probably had blue eyes and dark skin, a combination that has largely disappeared from the continent in the millennia since, scientists said Tuesday.

The discovery, published in the journal Nature this week, was made by scientists from the United States, Europe and Australia who analyzed ancient DNA extracted from a male tooth found in a cave in northern Spain.

“We have the stereotype that blue eyes are found only in light-skinned people but that’s not necessarily the case,” lead researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Lalueza-Fox, who works at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, said the man’s skin would have been darker than most modern Europeans, while his eyes may have resembled those of Scandinavians, his closest genetic relatives today. The combination of blue eyes and dark skin, which is sometimes seen in people with mixed European and African ancestry, may once have been common among ancient European hunter-gatherers, he said.

The researchers also found the man had genes that indicated he was poor at digesting milk and starch, an ability which only spread among Europeans with the arrival of Neolithic farmers from the Middle East. The arrival of this group was also believed to have introduced several diseases associated with proximity to animals — and the genes that helped resist them.

But the hunter-gatherer whose remains were found in the La Brana caves, near Spanish city of Leon, already had some genes that would have helped him fight diseases such as measles, flu and smallpox. This came as a surprise to researchers, indicating that the genetic transition was already under way 7,000 years ago, Lalueza-Fox said.

The lack of such genes among pre-Columbian populations in the Americas was one of the reasons they were so susceptible to these diseases when the Europeans arrived.

Researchers are hoping to make further discoveries from a second skeleton found at the site, said Lalueza-Fox.

Beth Shapiro, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California Santa Cruz, said the paper showed how old DNA could be used to learn more about the appearance and traits of ancient populations.

“I anticipate that this is just the beginning and am excited to see these sorts of analyses taking place,” said Shapiro, who wasn’t involved in the study. “I look forward to what else we will learn once we have population samples of paleogenomes (ancient DNA).”

More in Local News

Mayor tries new tactic to curb fire department overtime

Stephanson says an engine won’t go into service when the only available staff would be on overtime.

Jamie Copeland is a senior at Cedar Park Christian Schools’ Mountlake Terrace campus. She is a basketball player, ASB president, cheerleader and, of course, a Lion. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cedar Park Christian senior stepping up to new challenges

Jamie Copeland’s academics include STEM studies, leadership, ASB activities, honor society.

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Paine Field fire chief will be allowed to retire

In his letter, the airport director noted Jeff Bohnet was leaving while under investigation.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Woman, 47, found dead in Marysville jail cell

She’d been in custody about four days after being arrested on warrants, police said.

Lynnwood man allegedly cuts Marysville’s 911 dispatch wires

The man reportedly told police he intended to trade the wires for drugs.

Ian Terry / The Herald Westbound cars merge from Highway 204 and 20th Street Southeast onto the trestle during the morning commute on Thursday, March 30 in Lake Stevens. Photo taken on 03302017
Pay a toll on US 2 trestle? 10,000 say no on social media

A GOP lawmaker’s chart shows theoretical toll rates of up to $6.30 to cross the trestle one way.

Most Read