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1 April 2014
European hunter-gatherers had blue eyes and dark skin

A study conducted by Carles Lalueza-Fox, a researcher at the Spanish National Research Council's Institute of Evolutionary Biology, says that the individual known as La Braa 1, whose 7,000 year old remains were recovered at the La Braa-Arintero site in Valdelugueros (Castile and Léon, Spain), had blue eyes and dark skin.
     In 2012, a team of scientists led by Dr Lalueza-Fox recovered part of the genome of two individuals - the first of European hunter-gatherers from the Mesolithic Period. The two are not directly connected to current populations of the Iberian Peninsula, but were closer to current populations of northern Europe, such as Sweden and Finland, and La Braa 1 has a common ancestor with the settlers of the Upper Paleolithic site of Malta, located in Lake Baikal (Siberia).
     The Mesolithic period ended with the spread of agriculture and livestock farming from the Middle-East. The arrival of the Neolithic period, with carbohydrate-based diets and new pathogens transmitted by domesticated animals, resulted in metabolic and immunological challenges that were reflected in genetic adaptations such as the ability to digest lactose, which the La Braa individual did not have.
     Dr Lalueza-Fox notes the biggest surprise was that this individual possessed African versions in the genes that determine the light pigmentation of the current Europeans, indicating he had dark skin.
     A researcher who works at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, adds: "Even more surprising was to find that he possessed the genetic variations that produce blue eyes in current Europeans, resulting in a unique phenotype in a genome that is otherwise clearly northern European."
     Dr Lalueza-Fox concludes that "there is genetic continuity in the populations of central and western Eurasia. In fact, these data are consistent with the archeological remains, as in other excavations in Europe and Russia, including the site of Malta, anthropomorphic figures called Palaeolithic Venus have been recovered and they are very similar to each other."

Edited from BioNews Texas (11 March 2014)

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