The 7000-year-old corpse of a caveman discovered in Spain had dark skin and blue eyes, and — like Leonard Leakey Hofstadter in The Big Bang Theory — was likely lactose intolerant. The find of the caveman’s remains revealed that blue eyes came before lighter skin in Europeans.
Previous to the discovery of the caveman’s corpse in 2006, a prevalent theory was that Europeans began to have lighter-colored skin about 40,000 years ago. However, the discovery of the remains of the caveman, known as La Brana 1, appears to indicate that lighter skin came into being only around 7000 years ago.
Also, contrary to the theory that lighter skin evolved to adjust to the lower-light conditions of Europe, it now seems more likely that the lighter skin color was due to “the new diet that emerged after the agricultural revolution,” according to the Pompeu Fabra University paleogenomics researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox.
Lalueza-Fox added that, while the previous theory was that light skin was “needed in high altitudes, to synthesize vitamin D” in the regions of Europe “where UV light is lower than found in the tropics,” The new findings, which were published in the Nature journal, suggest that high altitude was perhaps just one of several factors, like diet, that resulted in lighter colored skin.
The remains of the hunter-gatherer who was dubbed by his discoverers La Brana 1 were found in 2006 at an elevation o 5,000 feet, somewhere in the mountainous region of north-west Spain.
DNA analysis of La Brana 1 prove that he had a combination of European and African genes. The DNA was obtained from a tooth, and the genetic markers the researchers found indicate that La Brana 1 had dark skin and hair and blue eyes, and that eye color changes came before.
The caveman’s DNA was similar to that of present-day Scandinavians, though he also has an ancestor that dates back over 20,000 years ago from the icy reaches of Siberia.
Why isn’t La Brana 2 as well known?
As you might have suspected from reading that the caveman was dubbed La Brana 1, there was a second caveman’s remains discovered — La Brana 2. His body was preserved fairly well, also — he just hasn’t (yet) been studied as much because his body wasn’t as well-preserved as the body of La Brana 1. Eventually, the scientists state that they will also analyze the DNA taken from La Brana 2.
The period of time when the two cavemen lived is known as the Mesolithic period. It concluded 5,000 years ago.
Besides being lactose-intolerant, La Brana 1 would have had trouble attempting to digest starchy foods like potatoes, which were later grown by Neolithic farmers.
According to the findings of the study, it might be that the changing diet of the Mesolithic period to an increasingly agriculturally-based one also “may have resulted in adaptive changes in genes associated with immunity and diet.”
People seem to have evolved, at least in part, as their methods of obtaining and growing food changed over thousands of years. The shift from the Mesolithic period to the Neolithic one and the resultant dietary changes brought about by the transition to a more agricultural lifestyle likely also resulted in fairly rapid evolutionary changes in humans.
Written by: Douglas Cobb