I have always imagined cave men as they are pictured in the media – very rugged with lots of dark hair and dark complexions. Now my image of them is forever changed. Modern science is amazing. With the development of DNA analysis scientists have discovered that some Neanderthals very likely had red hair and the pale complexion that goes with it.
DNA analysis was taken from Neanderthal fossils that have been recovered from the El Sidron cave site in northern Spain and from Monti Lessini in Italy. The analysis revealed that the Neanderthals carried a mutation on the MC1R gene. Mutation in the MC1R gene, found in modern day humans is thought to be responsible for red hair and pale skin. The MC1R gene code is involved in the production of melanin – the substance that gives skin and hair its color. When the gene is mutated, it is not working or is essentially “shut off.” Everyone receives a copy of the MC1R gene from each of our parents – one from their mother and one from their father. When both copies of the MC1R gene are mutated or “shut off,” a red haired child is born.
As you may know, melanin, in addition to giving hair and skin its color, protects against ultraviolet light. In nature’s amazing way of arranging things, redheads with their pale skin are most often descended from people of the northern regions, primarily in those of European descent. These regions experience fewer days of sunshine. The lack of UVB protection allows more Vitamin D to enter the body through the skin and compensates for the lack of sun.
Although the gene found in the Neanderthals was different from the one found in modern day humans, it is thought to have the same effect on melanin production.
Scientists say that the number of red haired Neanderthal was probably very small – only about one percent of the entire population. This comes as no surprise. We redheads are still the world’s smallest minority. I wonder if those red haired cave men – and women - attracted as much attention as redheads do today.
Read more about he world’s fascination with red hair in the articles Redheads and Red Hair – Vibrant or Subtle Always Exciting.
Read about red haired celebrities,- Debra Messing, - Julia Roberts,- Julianne Moore,- Lucille Ball,- Nicole Kidman - and Rita Hayworth.
* The explanation of the MC1R gene is from my understanding and from my limited knowledge of genetics. For absolutely reliable facts, please go to a scientific source.
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