Based on 83 human samples from the Holocene Europe as analyzed under the 1000 Genomes Project, a team of international researcher headed by Harvard University revealed that for the majority of the time that humans have lived in Europe, people had darker skin tones.
In fact, it wasn’t until the about 8,000 years ago that light skin likely appeared into the mix.
It appears the traits associated with the skin color were rapidly advantageous within the environment, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) concludes.
The samples were derived from a wide range of ancient populations, supplying researchers with five specific genes associated with skin color and diet.
AAAS reports that “modern humans who came out of Africa to originally settle Europe about 40,000 years ago are presumed to have had dark skin, which is advantageous in sunny latitudes.
And the new data confirms that about 8,500 years ago, early hunter-gatherers in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary also had darker skin.”
Early European ancestors lacked versions of the two genes leading to depigmentation—SLC24A5 and SLC45A2.
When the first farmers from the Near East arrived in Europe, they carried both of these genes.
“As they interbred with the indigenous hunter-gatherers, one of their light skin genes swept through Europe, so that central and southern Europeans also began to have lighter skin,” AAAS notes.