But scientists have decoded DNA found in the skeleton of an early European and found that he was most genetically related to Scandinavians with a surprising twist — he had blue eyes and dark skin.
“This was a result that was unexpected,” says Carles Lalueza-Fox, lead author of the study published in Nature.
The first Europeans are thought to have migrated from Africa about 45,000 years ago. The genetic material that was examined belonged to a hunter gatherer who lived only 7,000 years ago.
“It has been assumed that [skin lightening] is something that happens in response to going from Africa to higher latitudes where the UV radiation is very low and you need to synthesize vitamin D in your skin. Your skin becomes lighter quite soon,” Lalueza-Fox says.
The analysis of the molar, found in a Spanish cave in 2006, suggests “that the light skin of modern Europeans was not yet ubiquitous in Mesolithic times,” the study finds.
“One explanation is that the lighter skin color evolved much later than was previously assumed,” Lalueza-Fox says.