The genome of a 7000-year old individual from the Mesolithic site of La Brana-Arintero, discovered by a team of researchers seems to have overturned our image of Europeans being light-skinned.
A new study by Carles Lalueza-Fox, researcher from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), in collaboration with the Centre for GeoGenetics (Denmark) found that La Brana 1, name used to baptize a 7,000 years old individual from the Mesolithic Period, had blue eyes and dark skin.
La Brana 1 represents the first recovered genome of an European hunter-gatherer.
The Mesolithic, a period that lasted from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago (between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic), ends with the advent of agriculture and livestock farming, coming from the Middle-East.
The arrival of the Neolithic, with a carbohydrate-based diet and new pathogens transmitted by domesticated animals, entailed metabolic and immunological challenges that were reflected in genetic adaptations of post-Mesolithic populations. Among these is the ability to digest lactose, which La Brana individual could not do.
"However, the biggest surprise was to discover that this individual possessed African versions in the genes that determine the light pigmentation of the current Europeans, which indicates that he had dark skin, although we cannot know the exact shade," Lalueza-Fox said.
Meanwhile, the CSIC researcher said that 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.
Lalueza-Fox concluded saying that these data indicate 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 Mal'ta, anthropomorphic figures -called Paleolithic Venus- have been recovered and they are very similar to each other.
The study was published in the journal Nature.