It made their brown eyes blue..

A recent report in PNAS shows the inhabitants of the Ukraine and its environs had much darker hair, skin, and eyes back in the Bronze Age and earlier.

Assuming population continuity, the selective advantage of the alleles they examined must have been very high. In order to see if there had been population continuity, they looked at the mtDNA frequencies of the ancient populations and compared them with mtDNA frequencies of modern populations in the same areas.  Since they’re different, but not wildly different, they conclude that there has been population continuity, which was their null assumption.

That null assumption might have been reasonable, if someone had burned every history book ever written, while at the same time suppressing all the ancient DNA evidence.

Since that has not yet happened,  I think their assumption is downright embarrassing. People have been moving in and out of this area for all of recorded history (as Razib Khan has also pointed out) : Cimmerians, Scythians, Goths, Khazars, Kievian Rus, the Golden Horde, eventually Russians.

There is no logical reason for geneticists to ignore information outside their field. Ignorance is no excuse. I could say the same for every other discipline.  Cross the streams – it would be good.

Back on the original issue: there really has been a lot of change in the European frequencies of alleles that influence skin, hair, and eye color over the past few thousand years.  Two population turnovers are a big part of the story, but surely selection is as well.  I don’t think we can be sure of the underlying reasons – Vitamin D may not be all of the story. Maybe not even most of the story.


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40 Responses to It made their brown eyes blue..

  1. j3morecharacters says:

    …the estimates of S for the three pigmentation genes examined in this study are comparable to those for the most strongly selected loci in the human genome … (which are the resistance genes to malaria in malarial swamp areas).

    Could people with depigmented skin and colored eyes enjoy such selective advantage? It seems so. Nature is unfair but not daltonic.

  2. dearieme says:

    I’m trying to think of any substantial area in Europe of which it would be dafter to assume continuity since the Bronze Age.

  3. bob sykes says:

    There are an embarrassing large number of charlatans in the NAS, and the PNAS is not refereed. the PNAS routinely accepts and publishes patent nonsense.

  4. dave chamberlin says:

    I’m trying to itemize and separate the the streams of bullshit that are deployed to deny the complex truth that is emerging from paleogenetics. We have
    1)Evolution stopped after the great leap forward somewhere around 50,000 years ago.
    2)We weren’t that violent.
    3)Don’t feed the racists. That is what you are doing anytime you make the ethical error of dastardly implying that we noble and equal humans are recently included in the laws of evolution.

    I can’t help but personalize this information in a very non scientific way. Every generation of male Chamberlin’s is two inches taller than the last going back four generations thanks to the high protein American diet. I have a blond 6 foot 4 inch son who is ridiculously strong as well. Put a stone ax in his hand and turn him into a viking berserker and let him loose on the shrimpy Sardinians that at one time occupied the Danube river basin and he would be successfully splitting heads his whole life.

    • SpaghetiMeatball says:

      Please don’t unleash your viking son upon us shrimpy Sardinian people, we already had enough circa 2,000 BC. Also the Sardinians are very musical people and sing great tenore songs and other canzoni.

      • SpaghetiMeatball says:

        We can entertain greatly if given the chance.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        My English forefathers suffered the same fate at the hands of the over sized vikings. Proof of what they did with the womenfolk is my mirror. I love Sardinia, the place is magical.

  5. j3morecharacters says:

    I understand Greg’s criticism is that the paper mentions the population replacement theory but it goes on ignoring it. But we know very little about the peoples called Cimmerians, Scythians, Goths, Khazars, Kievian Rus, the Golden Horde. We have no idea how the Khazars looked, and the Mongols of the Golden Horde left no genetic traces in Europeans. We cannot say if the Cimmerians replaced the Scythians or if the Goths replaced the Scytians or if the Kievan Rus were Goths as they maintained, and maybe all were the same people known under different names, which is frequent in history. I think the point of the paper was to calculate the selective strength S of three loci, and for that purpose adopted the working theory of population continuity. Anyway, within the time-frame of the paper, somewhere – may be or may be not in the Pannonian-Pontic region – Europeans became whiter. Quod erat demonstrandum. The judges of most beauty contests appear to be in agreement that blue eyed blondes are sexier. They have stronger S if I may say so.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You’re being silly – there was lots of inflow into the Ukraine in the ancient, legendary 1950s, when giants still roamed the Earth. Russians moving to industrial jobs.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Presumably the study sampled local Ucrainian peasants, not Russian immigrant industrial workers. Anyway, they are hardly distinguishable.

  6. anon says:

    Ot, bu interesting…

    As you all know, the Australian aboriginal is totally dysfunctional in modern, Western society. The crime rate differential between aboriginals and non-aboriginals is even greater than the black-white gap in the US. Things are so bad that they are essentially segregated into communities that are illegal to enter without a permit.

    Click to access weatherburn_chapter%201.pdf

    Yet there was a time when aboriginal were successfully integrated into society, albeit a very draconian, Victorian conception of one.

    ” In the mission era, [aboriginal children] went to school and learned spoken and written English, even if not to the standard in white schools. A number of men worked as stockmen on the mainland and were proud of their work and ability to earn income, and they had no difficulty with a complex banking system with passbooks set up especially for Aboriginal workers. As Presbyterian ideology favoured self-reliance, in the late 1960s the island store was successfully run by an Aboriginal man. There was virtually no alcohol. In view of the extreme levels of killings on the island in both pre- and post-missionary times, including seven or eight murders in the 1990s, it is astounding to read that between 1917 and 1975 there was only one homicide (and that was believed by many to have been an accident).”

    Things went down hill when the stringent mores and laws of the town deteriorated.

    What this shows is that African-Americans can make huge improvements in their life and social outcomes if they are exposed to a less liberal conception of society.

    Ironically, liberalism (the champion of African Americans) has been the greatest factor in the deterioration of black social-outcomes.

    BTW, Australian anthropologists are warming to the idea that extremely high levels of violence were already pervasive before colonisation. We should give them credit when they get things right, particularity here where you bash them so much.

    • Sandgroper says:

      No, it isn’t interesting. Quadrant is a platform for self-admitted liars and propagandists like Andrew Bolt. I hardly regard the Guardian as a reliable source. Science is interesting, ideologically driven propaganda is not.

      No one knows what rates of violence were among Aboriginal people before colonisation. Before almost anyone was taking notes, they had already been hugely impacted by disease. They were hunter-gatherers – rates of violence are likely to have been typical of hunter-gatherer societies- high. Anyone who claims otherwise is likely to be an idiot. Early historical sources show that Aboriginal people were also a greatly abused group. Anyone who claims otherwise is likely to be an idiot.

      You evidently have not read any of the work of early anthropologists, before the cultural anthropologists took over.

      Of course Aboriginal people do badly in modern urban societies. In their native state they have a mean IQ of 65. People as dumb as you don’t do notably well either. Of course they are over-represented in the prison population, as are low IQ people generally. The majority of the prison population are still white. There are still examples of Aboriginal people who have done notably well. I have known some. You might want to consider the shape of the distributions of intelligence in all human populations.

      Australia has a toxic alcohol culture. Australian whites have a mean IQ of 98 – hardly a notably intelligent population. It is not Aboriginal people who create the drink-driving statistics, or the high rates of violent crime and embarrassingly high rates of sexual assault on females. One in six female students report being raped while at university. You can bet it is not Aboriginal university students who are doing it – there are hardly any. Whites exhibiting public drunkenness greatly outnumber drunk Aboriginals in absolute terms.

      Is Aboriginal crime a problem? Yes. Are public drunkenness, violent crime rates and rates of sexual assault on females in Australia a problem? Yes. Is the majority of this crime perpetrated by Aboriginal people? No. Are they over-represented in the stats? Yes, like all low IQ people.

      I have been taking an interest in the one-punch king-hit phenomenon that has been sweeping Australian cities. So far, all of the perpetrators that I have seen have been either whites or Pacific Islanders – no Aboriginals. Conclusion – Abos don’t just blind-side and hit someone for no reason. Whites do.

      You might want to take your stupid racist propaganda somewhere else.

      • Jim says:

        Regarding Australians being “not notably intelligent” – Isn’t the world average IQ about 90 so Australians with an average of 98 are about a half-standard deviation above average?

      • Inane Rambler says:

        Who are you to make such demands?

      • anon says:

        Either you’re an aboriginal or an idiot. If the former, i am sorry if my post offended you, and perhaps a re-read of my comment will calm you.

        One of the problems that society has to solve is how to improve african-american and aboriginal social outcomes. Franklin (a UNSW math/phil prof.) writes in quadrant that Aborigonal social outcomes were better than they are now when aboriginals lived in a society that banned alcohol, had high-levels of self-restraint (motivated by religion), and other typically draconian mores.

        I posted my comment here because I think that some here take the view that certain groups are doomed because of their genes.

        As for the violence comment, it might be obvious to you that hunger-gatherer societies are typically known for high-levels of violence, but most academics in Australia are completely unaware of the implications of that on Aboriginal violence.

      • gcochran9 says:

        It would be difficult for Australian aborigines to have had substantially higher homicide rates than other hunter-gatherers: I don’t think it would be demographically sustainable.

        Australians have held up their end in science over the years. I would say that at the high end, they have accomplished more than China over the last couple of generations.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Anon – that would be the James Franklin who published “Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia” (2003) and “On the parallel between mathematics and morals” (2004).

        If I was corrupted in my youth, I have been doing a really lousy job of demonstrating it.

        At university, I had a mathematics lecturer who wore one red flip-flop and one green flip-flop, the reason being that he had found them in a rubbish tip (an illegal act, on sanitary grounds). He used to hang out at the student canteen during the lunch hour, and eat the half-chewed scraps of food that the students left on their plates. The student body generally agreed that he was good at mathematics, but outside of mathematics, he was an absolute basket case. I hope you are not suggesting that just because someone holds an academic position, it makes him a reliable source on matters outside of his field. It doesn’t even guarantee that the guy is rational or capable of exercising reasonable personal hygiene.

        You should also realise that Quadrant is a propaganda rag for the far right. I don’t care what they write, I am not interested in politics, but you need to know that it is not a respected academic journal, because you seem to think it is.

        When you say “Things are so bad that they are essentially segregated into communities that are illegal to enter without a permit” you are not telling the truth; certainly not the whole truth – you are talking about remote Aboriginal communities, from which whites are excluded except with permission to try to protect them from predatory whites who ply them with alcohol and drugs. You have omitted to mention that only 24% of Aboriginal people live in such remote areas, which have obvious problems, not least being that they are very remote, isolated communities with totally inadequate health care, policing, education, without modern services and communications or other trappings of normal regulated modern life, and massive problems with alcohol. They are anything but “integrated into society”. They are also nothing like the way Aboriginal people lived before European settlement – many are communities that were abandoned when the missions were abandoned. They need some kind of massive rescue job, because they are deeply neglected and degraded.

        Casting all Aboriginal people as being totally dysfunctional is just as bad as or worse than pretending they are culturally or genetically identical to everyone else – it is very uninformed, and very unhelpful.

        And that is me being polite.

  7. engleberg says:

    Gentlemen prefer to delouse half-bald blondes. You pinch less and clean more. European disease rates were high even before the Black Plague, we had the Med disease pool feeding us. Naturally Europeans are blonder.

    • Inane Rambler says:

      Blondes have more hair follicles, not less.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Gentlemen in the USA actually prefer East Asians, among whom half-bald blondes and lice are notably lacking. Who they marry is mediated by things other than purely sexual attraction.

      • engleberg says:

        Delousing is not invariably a turn-on. But when you gotta, you gotta.
        ‘One realistic and embarrassing possibility is that modern humans expanding out of Africa carried with them some disease or parasite that was fairly harmless to them but deadly to Neanderthals and the hominid populations of East Asia’,The Ten Thousand Year Explosion. About forty thousand years previous to what I’m talking about, but there’s always something new out of Africa.
        Anyway, by plains ape standards, we’re all half-bald.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Some do. I don’t think it’s the majority preference.

      • Sandgroper says:

        Razib posted some numbers quite a while back – male attraction went East Asian, white, black; female attraction went black, white, East Asian. I don’t care, but he did. It’s heavily mediated by other things, obviously.

  8. little spoon says:

    “A recent report in PNAS shows the inhabitants of the Ukraine and its environs had much darker hair, skin, and eyes back in the Bronze Age and earlier.”

    Why do they feel certain they know that they were much darker (as opposed to only slightly darker)? Do they know that these ancient inhabitants lacked different mutations (that we do not have in present) that would have made them have either lighter hair, skin or eyes?

    As for Vit D, perhaps there is a combination of vit D absorption and other factors. Right now, a lot (not all) of people in countries like Kuwait and Iran are as fair as southern Europeans even though Iran and Kuwait are very sunny places that are relatively low latitude. It might be the case that even Iranians are benefiting from added vitamin D absorption, but perhaps that’s not what is driving paleness there. Perhaps there is some other advantage (not vit D) that gets people to be as pale as Italians and Iranians, but it is Vit D (or something like that) that gets people to be even paler, like as pale as modern Baltics.

    • gcochran9 says:

      If they had different paleface mutations, we need an even more unlikely scenario – one that gets rid of their mutations and installs the ones we know at the current high frequency.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        It’s only unlikely if you assume the very strong selection for the SLC genes was entirely due to Vitamin D and not something else – like IQ for example.

        “The sodium/iodide symporter (NIS), also known as Sodium/iodide cotransporter[1] or solute carrier family 5, member 5 (SLC5A5) is a protein that in humans is encoded by the SLC5A5 gene.”

        “NIS expression in the mammary glands is quite a relevant fact since the regulation of iodide absorption and its presence in the breast milk is the main source of iodine for a newborn.”

        The existence of paper-white non-tanning white skin in an arc furthest from the mid-east and the more olive tanning SLC version from the mid-east reasonably suggests to me there were two depigmentations – especially as that would explain the gradual disappearance of the red hair phenotype.


        explains euro variation better

        (plus something else added from the northeast)

  9. Matt says:

    “With the exception of several early Eneolithic graves all other burials were discovered in barrows, so-called kurgans.”

    There may not have been much population continuity in the Ukrayina (“borderlands”) from, but these samples were from Kurgans, so seems as if it would tell us what sort of people the “Kurgan” people were (if they make sense as a single people), in terms of pigmentation.

    (And thus the Indo-Europeans under a hypothesis where Kurgan = Indo-European).

    From comparisons with the frequencies given by Wilde, it seems essentially like present day Syrians or Palestinians, more than like North Indians / Pakistanis or present day Northern Europeans.

  10. Greying Wanderer says:

    Do Cro-Magnon or later skeletons show any sign of rickets?

  11. Gottlieb says:

    The problems of aboriginals (blacks and all of the modern dysfunctional people) is the structure of work and meritocracy of modern societies. Example, here in my country, all of the ”tests” to public or statal jobs are the same: memorization, general knowledge like grammar etc. In the real world nobody talk of the perfect way, so grammar is less important than ”reading or text interpretations”.
    There filters that privilege some cognitive phenotypes, specially high or above average iq, non-intense and non-obsessive personality, non-adhd, conformist etc..
    Atavic populations have different cognitive specializations than modern ones. So, native-americans for example could work in horse coaching or similar something and not work in walmart. Abobos will can work in art, spatial localization etc…AND to be pay (fair) for it, if they live in a modern australian society. If alcohol is bad for him, so, responsible people should finish with own hands with the consumption. If there a problem, it should identified and eliminated, simple like that.

  12. j3morecharacters says:

    I think the best place to study the population whitening process is Brazil. Fifty years ago the majority was “macaco” (mulatto) but today the typical Brasilian is “branco” like the Portuguese. European immigration stopped in the thirties, so that is not the reason for the massive whitening of Brazil’s large population. Old Brasilians talk openly about the whitening of the population, that took place spontaneously before their very eyes, and are amazed how fast it did happen. May be this process is also working in Angola and Mozambique.

    • Gottlieb says:

      Macaco is like ”monkey” in english. No, this term is used with the same effect when you talk ” nigger” or ”kike”. The typical brasilian is not there, sorry. Is there many ”typicals” brasilians, in many urban levels, states, regions, big cities, small viles. Today, the whitening process is decrease your velocity, because the fertility of the light skinned people is below replacement, specially by the immigrant european descendents and other predominantly caucasoids or caucasoids. One study found 85% of brazilians have at least some ”blood” of african genes and only 11% of the population on fact is white european. But, is absolutelly natural for humans consider the light more beauty than dark, specially for womens. In XIX century, great majority of the brasilians (3 million people nearly in the first demographic census, 1850, if i remember well) are mulattos and blacks and your elite was predominantly caucasoid (this term i use is not mean ”white”, but one person, with phenotype and genotype predominantly caucasoid, european, jewish, middle east, but with hipo-non-caucasoid ancestry).
      The european immigration turn us more white, and government incentive the immigrants to mate with mixed-race people because the ”national eugenic” guys believe that ”euro-genes” are more prevalent and strong than ”african-genes”. They estimate that in 2010, the blacks and mulattos would disappear by miscigenation. Forescast will can fail, he.

      The results at least to 50’s was, more than 50% of brasilians look white or off white (varieties), with some stronger ”pure euros”’ in south and southern regions.
      I’m the result of this process, my parents look whites, my father is quasi-pure iberian, with a portuguese family. I’m great-grandson to portuguese men and also relative to italian venetian immigrant to my mother family side. Family of my mother is very mixed-race, with lot of different phenotype combinations and my mother is more looking whiter and surprise, more smart than their brothers. Interesting that majority of them are (was) off white looking, like iranians or other mixed-caucasoids. I have a aunt who is very dark skinned, she is very fun but not much smart than my mother. I always thought about this familiar racial facts. I also have a uncle who is bipolar and schizophrenic.He look dark arab. My mother is the most normal and functional of the your brother and is the most whiter looking. Coincidences??
      When i see ashkenazi photos or lebanese photos i think how the middle class and the upper classes in southern Brasil look similar.
      Me, i’m light skinned like northern iberians, with dark traits like hair and eyes but with typical light skin of the europeans. With beard i look turkish, ashkenazi or georgian, but gracilized. Without beard i look spanish.

    • gcochran9 says:

      It was immigration.

      • Gottlieb says:

        Not exactly only this. Other interesting genetic issues about brasilians is that, during the slavery period, overwhelming of the mates was white portuguese men with non-white spouse. By patrilinear lineage, ”white” (light skinned or predominantly caucasoids) are 98% european and by matrilinear lineage, less than 40% are european.
        Immigrants are incentived to mixed with non-white wifes, but the notable ”miscigenator” character of many immigrants help very well this fact. Government gift priority to ”similar whites”, catholic, latin derived tongue speakers like portugueses, spaniards and italians.
        Brazil have also the biggest lebanese diaspora, specially ”christian lebaneses”, i have non-direct relatives who are lebanese descendents.

  13. j3morecharacters says:

    Gottlieb, I know that “macaco” is now disrespectful, but like “Negro” in America, it was in current use not long ago. Language changes faster than people. Having cleared semantics, I’m gald that you agree that (1) there was (is?) an accelerated whitening process in Brazil, and (b) it was not only immigration.

    • Gottlieb says:

      j3morecharacters ,
      macaco word related to race of hypothetical individual always to be considered disrespectful, specially when the person is not worthy of this term. There black normal people and niggers, they are distinct categories. I know many blacks, but not niggers.
      Yes, the term negro is like white or branco. Today, grace to politically correct used the terms afro-americans in USA and afro-descendents in Brazil, but i’m afro-descendent also… The PC made the word negro like a insult, is funny think like that, prejudice beggining exactly here.
      Macaco never was used by define mulattos in Brazil.
      I don’t understand your last words. The process of whitening in Brazil slow down today, because this difference of the fertilities of the light skinned and dark skinned people, specially in the era of PT (partido dos trabalhadores, workers party) and ”bolsa família” and because the increase of the miscigenation but the popular culture and people continue to believe who light skinned people are more beauty and smart than dark skinned ones. Is not the national mèrdiatic propaganda but is the common (obvious) sense.

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  15. Greying Wanderer says:

    To add to the question of whether or not supposedly dark-skinned Cro-Magnons show any sign of rickets there’s Vitamin D and teeth.

    “A new review of existing studies points toward a potential role for vitamin D in helping to prevent dental caries, or tooth decay.”

    “Figures ranged from Brighton and Hove recording only 12.5 per cent with dental decay to Leicester where 53.2 per cent are affected.”

    (Leicester has a particularly high proportion of non-white children.)

    Skeletons with healthy teeth = enough Vitamin D?

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