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Ancient Europeans revealed to be dark skinned, blue eyed

PARIS -- The DNA of a hunter-gatherer who lived in Spain some 7,000 years ago suggests that Europeans were dark-skinned until much more recently than previously thought, researchers said Sunday.

Genetic material recovered from a tooth of La Brana 1, an ancient man whose skeleton was dug up in a deep cave system in Spain in 2006, revealed a strange combination of dark skin and blue eyes, according to a study in the journal Nature.

Europeans from the Mesolithic Period between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago, when La Brana lived, were thought to have already been fair-skinned due to low ultraviolet radiation levels at these high latitudes.

“Until now, it was assumed that light skin color evolved quite early in Europe, (during) the Upper Palaeolithic ... But this is clearly not the case,” study co-author Carles Lalueza-Fox from Spain's Evolutionary Biology Institute, told AFP.

“This individual had the African variants for the pigmentation genes.”

The Upper Palaeolithic or Late Stone Age stretched from 50,000-10,000 years ago, followed by the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age that lasted until about 5,000 years ago, when it was followed in Europe by the Neolithic or New Stone Age.

Lalueza-Fox said light-skinned Europeans emerged “much later” than once believed — possibly only in the Neolithic era when erstwhile hunter-gatherers became farmers.

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