Bit of a surprise, apparently, because it was generally thought that Europeans had developed light skin not long after arriving there around 40,000 years ago. Since this guy was a hunter/gatherer, it supports another theory that the change in diet brought about by agriculture is what led to light skin.
Of course, this is just one person. We have no way of knowing if blue eyes were common, or how much skin color varied at the time and location. Ideally we’d like to be able to do this for multiple individuals.
The starch part seems strange to me, as it would make so many vegetables be the nutritional equivalent of lettuce; no point in gathering roots. And the current ability to digest starches is universal AFAIK. Can anybody with access to the full Nature article confirm whether that bit was reported accurately?
It seems to me that if light skin was advantageous to such a degree that it displaced dark skin completely, it would do so rather quickly. So if this guy was dark-skinned, I would think most if not all of his contemporaries would be too. Also, if agriculture drove the change in skin colour, which this finding supports, then all hunter/gatherers presumably would have had dark skin. I say this with the usual disclaimer that IANAExpert in any of this, just an interested observer.
A recreation of Otzi the Iceman, who lived 2,000 years later in northern Italy, depicts him as white, but I don’t know if that was just an assumption or if his DNA indicated it.
Unless, of course, someone with dark skin wandered into the area and left some genes behind. After all, people did move around even back then. You could have light skinned and dark skinned people living close proximity to each other during a transition to predominantly light skin and this guy just happened to be among the darker Europeans.
The dark skin/blue eye combination is unusual these days even if not unheard of. It might have been more common in the past (or not).
Considered in isolation, we have no way of knowing if this guy is average or an outlier. We tend to assume isolated individuals are average because the odds favor that, but there can be exceptions to that general rule of thumb.
In Otzi’s case we still have his actual skin, which probably figures into the calculation as well.
In either case, we’re looking at an individual and we should be cautious about drawing assumptions about all of Europe from just one person.
Oh yeah, I agree with all that. I’m just speculating on it with my limited knowledge. But is it odd that there doesn’t seem to be any trace of the dark-skin gene left in Europe? We still have Neanderthal DNA in us, although I don’t know if that’s comparable or not.
The blue eyes are quite striking in that dark face. I’m not aware of seeing that combination anywhere today, and I think I’d remember if I noticed it.
As for Otzi, he’s actually missing the outer layer of skin from being submerged in ice and water for 5,000 years. But you’d think there’d be an indication in his DNA. I searched for an hour tonight but couldn’t find anything about his skin colour.
In college I was acquainted with a guy who had blue eyes, blond hair, and skin the color of a Hershey bar. He was an unlikely mix of ethnicities including Dutch, African, and Sri Lankan, but it’s possible.
There are dark skinned Europeans even today. Sicilians for example can be quite dark and Turkey is part of Europe as well. The skin tone shown in the recreation is roughly the same as millions of people classified under the Caucasian heading today and some of them have blue eyes as well. I think all scientific findings of this type are interesting but the implied implications of the news articles on this one person leave me underwhelmed.
I don’t think anyone thought that people thought that people that lived in Spain 7000 years ago looked like a modern day Scandinavian in the first place. I had the same reaction when a big deal was made about what Jesus would have really looked like. Of course he had dark skin and wiry, dark hair. He was a Jew from the Middle East. Any tourist can go to the same area today and figure most of that out on their own in 10 minutes or less.
Maybe I am missing something or I just know more about human origins than most of the public but I don’t see why this finding is getting any popular press. It is a good data point to build on but it doesn’t mean much on its own and it is hardly shocking if everyone in his local tribe looked just like him either.
There many Europeans who have olive to darker skin and fair colored eyes, including:
[li]Italians - Particularly Sicilians and Calabrians[/li][li]Slavs - Especially those from the Balkans[/li][li]People from the Iberian Peninsula - Spaniards,Porteguese,Basques,etc[/li][li]People from the Trans-Caucasus - Chechens, Dagestanis, Circassians, Armenians,etc[/li][/ol]
Why would it surprise people today that Europeans of the past would look different than they do today?
Exactly. That is the part that is confusing me too. I am glad they have good new tools to trace human origins and migration patterns but I don’t see anything special or surprising about this individual.