What humans may have looked like 7,000 years ago

Hunter-gatherer roots, Paleo diet and some possible traces of African genes

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
Mesolithic
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A 7,000-year-old man from the Mesolithic Period had blue eyes and dark skin. (Pelopanton/CSIC)

Dark skin. Blue eyes. Beard. Thin and borderline lactose-intolerant.

That's what scientists say man may have looked like 7,000 years ago, after studying DNA from bones discovered in a Spanish cave. The Mesolithic skeleton found at the La Brana-Arintero site in Leon in 2006 is thought to be the first recovered genome of a European from that period.

According to a study published on Sunday in the journal Nature, pigmentation genes extracted from a tooth of the man — dubbed La Brana 1 — reveal he had dark skin like an African-American but the blue eyes of a Scandanavian, "suggesting the light skin of modern Europeans was not yet ubiquitous in Mesolithic times."

"The biggest surprise was to discover that this individual possessed African versions in the genes that determine the light pigmentation of the current Europeans," Carles Lalueza-Fox, a researcher from the Spanish National Research Council, said in a press release accompanying the findings.

While the man had dark skin, Lalueza-Fox said, "we cannot know the exact shade."

La Brana 1 was a hunter-gatherer subsisting on a low-starch diet and had trouble digesting milk.

"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," the study noted. "Among these is the ability to digest lactose, which La Brana individual could not do."

But the 7,000-year-old also had an advanced immune system normally associated with modern Europeans, the study found.

The researchers added that more genome analysis is necessary from the Mesolithic Period to determine whether La Brana 1's looks were common. The group is preparing to study the remains of "La Brana 2," another male found in the same cave.

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