The two skeletons, called La Brana 1 and 2, were discovered in a cave system in northwest Spain in 2006. Scientists at Institute of Evolutionary Biology extracted genetic material from the tooth of La Brana 1, who was well preserved in the cool, dark conditions of the cave system.
The analysis revealed that this hunter-gatherer had dark skin, which surprised scientists who thought early Europeans had fair skin.
“However, the biggest surprise was to discover that this individual possessed African versions in the genes that determine the light pigmentation of the current Europeans, which indicates that he had dark skin, although we cannot know the exact shade,” said lead researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox.
La Brana's blue eyes suggest his genetic makeup was related to people from northern Europe, but he had dark hair and dark skin, not common among people from this region. This is contrary to the thought that Europeans were fair-skinned when they moved to the continent 45,000 years ago.
"It is obvious that this is not the case, because this guy has been in Europe for 40,000 years and he still has dark skin," said Lalueza-Fox.
The discovery also showed that early Europens had shifted their eating habits from forging to farming. The fact that La Brana 1 was lactose-intolerant and had difficulty digesting starch means that humans had already adopted agriculture as the major source of what they ate.
La Brana 1 and 2 are from the Mesolithic era that lasted from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. The study has been published in the journal Nature.
[Institute of Evolutionary Biology]