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Blue Eyes are Stone Aged

By Dave Armstrong - 27 Jan 2014 7:49:0 GMT
Blue Eyes are Stone Aged

The discovery of a blue-eyed man with African characteristics has led to a storm in Stone Age genetics! How the Europeans were formed from potentially 3 groups of varied appearance and when they left Africa will always cause controversy; eye image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Out of Africa, new human populations formed in the Middle East. How did they look, how healthy were they and how did they behave? The interest in such humans is likely to be high, as cultures formed and disappeared. This very first surge to the north must have been a great step for mankind and womankind, too!

It occurred before European and Asian populations formed, apparently about 110,000 years ago. With a possible failure there, later migrations were more successful. Carles Lalueza-Fox, one of the many authors of a new paper on a Stone Age curiosity, reveals his caution when he states, "It's going to be lots of different migrations and movements," he says. "There's going to be plenty of room for investigation in the next few years."

The curiosity lies in the tooth of a 7,000 year old Spanish hunter/gatherer, found deep in a cave at La Braña-Arintero near León. His blue eyes, from the gene HERC2, are the first known, as the trait only seemed to appear about 10,000 years ago, near the Black Sea. Our farmer ancestors appeared later than his hunter/gatherers in Europe, tending to be brown eyed and of Middle-Eastern origin while there was a third sub-group of "Europeans," found so far only in the north (eg. Scandinavia) and in Siberia. Their interbreeding might seem to have been almost compulsory!

Evidence for such apparently-conclusive genomes has come from the remains of 8,000 year old hunters from Luxembourg, Germany and Sweden (7 people were found there.) In Barcelona, there is further evidence.

These basically brown-skinned individuals probably had blue eyes, except for the German lady who was definitely brown-eyed and had lighter skin. She probably belonged to a farming group, related to the Middle Eastern "agricultural technologists" who had brought farming to Europe for the first time. Other genetic discoveries indicate lactose intolerance and salivary amylase traits, which all adds to the inevitable mystery of who bred with who, almost in the manner of ancestry-tracing!

Examples of how these ancestors created a modern population, including those of the Americas and Australia, show, for example, how Scots and Estonians have northern ancestry (from that third group of Siberians and Scandinavians). Understandably, Sardinians are the most closely related to Middle-Eastern farmers.

Getting out of Africa seems to have involved, first, reaching the Middle East (110,000 years ago). Perhaps these populations failed to survive, as we seem to have ancestors who left Africa after that date Our Stone Age Spaniard remains the blue-eyed boy of any project so far. He was 1.7m (5ft 7in) tall and around 33 years old. He had curly dark-brown hair, too, and his whole skeleton provides much more information than many other remains. Deep in his cave, the temperature allowed perfect preservation of DNA, whereas in the Middle East, where we really need a sample, temperatures would probably make this level of preservation impossible.

He certainly has made a modern mark, whether or not his unusual blue eyes were the cause of some success in the Stone Age! Federico Sánchez-Quinto of Institut de Biologia Evolutiva and several colleagues published this paper in Current Biology.