Appearance of Prehistoric People

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Will Dunham of Reuters wrote: "The human nose, in all its glorious forms, is one of our most distinctive characteristics, whether big, little, broad, narrow or somewhere in between. Scientists are now sniffing out some of the factors that drove the evolution of the human proboscis. Researchers said on Thursday a study using three-dimensional images of hundreds of people of East Asian, South Asian, West African and Northern European ancestry indicated local climate, specifically temperature and humidity, played a key role in determining the nose’s shape. [Source:Will Dunham, Reuters, March 17, 2017 ::/]

“Wider noses were more common in people from warm and humid climates, they found. Narrower noses were more common in those from cold and dry climates. The nose’s primary functions are breathing and smelling. It has mucous and blood capillaries inside that help warm and humidify inhaled air before it reaches more sensitive parts of the respiratory tract. Having narrower nasal airways might help increase contact between inhaled air and tissues inside the nose carrying moisture and heat, said Penn State University geneticist Arslan Zaidi, lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS Genetics. “This might have offered an advantage in colder climates. In warmer climates, the flip side was probably true,” Zaidi said. ::/

“Our species appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago and later migrated to other parts of the world. The researchers said people with narrower nostrils may have done better and produced more offspring than those with wider nostrils in colder, drier locales, driving a gradual decline in nose width. The finding generally supports what’s called Thomson’s rule, formulated by British anatomist and anthropologist Arthur Thomson (1858-1935), that people from cold, dry climates tend to have longer and thinner noses than people from warm, humid climates. ::/

“Zaidi said most previous evidence regarding Thomson’s rule came from skull measurements, while this study expanded on that by analyzing external nose shape. The researchers studied nose width, nostril width, nose height, length of the nose ridge, nose tip protrusion, external surface area and total nostril area. “What we have tested is a very simple hypothesis about the nose, which likely had a very complex evolutionary history. There’s a lot we don’t know,” Zaidi said, citing the need to probe genes underlying nose shape. One can imagine how cultural differences in attractiveness could have led to some of the differences in nose shape between populations. For example, were wider noses considered more attractive in some populations relative to others?” ::/

Good Websites Archaeology News Report ; : ; Archaeology in Europe ; Archaeology magazine ; HeritageDaily; Livescience

People in Higher Latitudes Evolved Bigger Eyes and Brains to Deal with Poor Light?

According to an Oxford study, humans living at higher latitudes may have evolved bigger eyes and brains to cope with poorer lighting conditions. Alok Jha wrote in The Guardian: “ “On average, the eyeballs of people whose ancestors lived within the Arctic circle are 20 percent bigger than those whose ancestors lived near the equator. "As you move away from the equator, there's less and less light available, so humans have had to evolve bigger and bigger eyes," said Eiluned Pearce from the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, a lead author on the study. "Their brains also need to be bigger to deal with the extra visual input. Having bigger brains doesn't mean that higher-latitude humans are smarter, it just means they need bigger brains to be able to see well where they live." [Source: Alok Jha, The Guardian, July 27, 2011 |=|]

“This suggests that someone from Greenland and someone from Kenya will have the same ability to discern detail, but the person from the higher latitude needs more brainpower and bigger eyes to deal with the lower light levels. “Professor Robin Dunbar, director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University and a co-author of the study, said that people whose ancestors have lived within the Arctic circle, have eyeballs 20 percent bigger than people whose ancestors lived near the equator. They have an associated increase in the size of the brain's visual cortex, which previous studies have shown correlates with the size of the eyeball. |=|

“Brain volume is known to increase with latitude: people living at high latitudes north and south of the equator have bigger brains than people living near the equator and . Dunbar said that scientists have wondered whether these inherited differences in total brain volume were driven by the pressure to adapt to low light levels at high latitudes. The researchers measured the brain volumes and eye sockets of 55 skulls kept at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History dating from the 19th century. The skulls represented 12 different populations from around the world, including indigenous people from England, Australia, China, Kenya, Micronesia and Scandinavia. |=|

“The results, published in the journal Biology Letters, showed that the biggest brains, averaging 1,484 millilitres, were from Scandinavia, while the smallest brains, around 1,200 millilitres, came from Micronesia. Average eye socket size was 27 millilitres in Scandinavia and 22 millilitres in Micronesia. Dunbar said the increase in brain volume must have evolved relatively recently in human history. "It's only within the last 10,000 years or so that modern humans have occupied all latitudes right up to the Arctic circle. This is, I guess, an adaptation that's happened within the last 10,000 years." |=|

“The researchers controlled for possible confounding variables influencing their data, such as the fact that people who live at higher latitudes are physically bigger and the possibility that the size of a person's eye socket in colder climates might be bigger to allow for a thicker layer of insulating fat. The results for human eyes mirror those found in birds and non-human primates. Bird species that sing earlier in the dawn chorus at high latitudes have bigger eyes than those that sing later, and nocturnal primates have bigger eyeballs than species that are awake during the day. |=|

Evolution of Light Skin

It had long been thought that lighter skin evolved gradually in Europeans starting around 40,000 years ago, soon after people left tropical Africa and settled in Europe's higher latitudes. But the discovery that a 7,000-year-old hunter-gatherer found in Spain appears to have had dark skin because he lacked the DNA pushes this date forward to only 7,000 years ago, suggesting that at least some humans lived considerably longer than thought in Europe before losing the dark pigmentation that evolved under Africa's sun. "It was assumed that the lighter skin was something needed in high latitudes, to synthesize vitamin D in places where UV light is lower than in the tropics," Carles Lalueza-Fox, a paleogenomics researcher at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain, told LiveScience. [Source: Tia Ghose, Live Science, January 26, 2014 ^^^]

Tia Ghose wrote in Live Science: “Scientists had assumed this was true because people need vitamin D for healthy bones, and can synthesize it in the skin with energy from the sun's UV rays, but darker skin, like that of the hunter-gatherer man, prevents UV-ray absorption. But a new discovery (See Below) shows that latitude alone didn't drive the evolution of Europeans' light skin. If it had, light skin would have become widespread in Europeans millennia earlier, Lalueza-Fox said. ^^^

“The finding implies that for most of their evolutionary history, Europeans were not what many people today would call 'Caucasian', said Guido Barbujani, president of the Associazione Genetica Italiana in Ferrara, Italy, who was not involved in the study. Instead, "what seems likely, then, is that the dietary changes accompanying the so-called Neolithic revolution, or the transition from food collection to food production, might have caused, or contributed to cause, this change," Barbujani said. ^^^

“The findings, which were detailed in the January 26, 2014 issue of the journal Nature, “also hint that light skin evolved not to adjust to the lower-light conditions in Europe compared with Africa, but instead to the new diet that emerged after the agricultural revolution, said study co-author Carles Lalueza-Fox, a paleogenomics researcher at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain. “In the food-production theory, the cereal-rich diet of Neolithic farmers lacked vitamin D, so Europeans rapidly lost their dark-skin pigmentation only once they switched to agriculture, because it was only at that point that they had to synthesize vitamin D from the sun more readily.” ^^^

Did Farming and Dairy Products Influence Skull Shape?

According to a study published in 2017 by anthropologists at University of California Davis, the advent of farming, especially dairy products, had a small but significant effect on the shape of human skulls, Humans who live by hunting and foraging wild foods have to put more effort into chewing than people living from farming, who eat a softer diet. [Source: Science Daily, August 24, 2017]

Science Daily reported: Although previous studies have linked skull shape to agriculture and softer foods, it has proved difficult to determine the extent and consistency of these changes at a global scale. Graduate student David Katz, with Professor Tim Weaver and statistician Mark Grote, used a worldwide collection of 559 crania and 534 lower jaws (skull bones) from more than two dozen pre-industrial populations to model the influence of diet on the shape, form, and size of the human skull during the transition to agriculture.

They found modest changes in skull morphology for groups that consumed cereals, dairy, or both cereals and dairy. "The main differences between forager and farmer skulls are where we would expect to find them, and change in ways we might expect them to, if chewing demands decreased in farming groups," said Katz, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Calgary, Alberta.

The largest changes in skull morphology were observed in groups consuming dairy products, suggesting that the effect of agriculture on skull morphology was greatest in populations consuming the softest food (cheese!). "At least in early farmers, milk did not make for bigger, stronger skull bones," Katz said. However, differences due to diet tended to be small compared to other factors, such as the difference between males and females or between individuals with the same diet from different populations, Katz said.

7,000-Year-Old Spaniard Had Dark Skin and Blue Eyes

DNA analysis of a 7000-year-old hunter-gatherer man found in Spain appears to indicate he had dark skin and blue eyes. Tia Ghose wrote in Live Science: “In 2006, hikers discovered two male skeletons buried in a labyrinthine cave known as La Braña-Arintero, in the Cantabrian Mountains of Spain. At first, officials thought the skeletons may have been recent murder victims. But then, an analysis revealed the skeletons were about 7,000 years old, and had no signs of trauma. The bodies were covered with red soil, characteristic of Paleolithic burial sites, Lalueza-Fox said. At the time of the discovery, genetic techniques weren't advanced enough to analyze the skeletons. Several years later, the team revisited the skeletons and extracted DNA from a molar tooth in one skeleton. [Source: Tia Ghose, Live Science, January 26, 2014 ^^^]

“The new analysis of that DNA now shows the man had the gene mutation for blue eyes, but not the European mutations for lighter skin. The DNA also shows that the man was more closely related to modern-day northern Europeans than to southern Europeans. The discovery may explain why baby blues are more common in Scandinavia. It's been thought that poor conditions in northern Europe delayed the agricultural revolution there, so Scandinavians may have more genetic traces of their hunter-gatherer past — including a random blue-eye mutation that emerged in the small population of ancient hunter-gatherers, Lalueza-Fox said.” ^^^

Mariette Le Roux of AFP wrote: “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, 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." [Source: Mariette Le Roux, AFP, Published January 27, 2014 [Source: Mariette Le Roux, AFP, Published January 27, 2014 ~]

“Lalueza-Fox said light-skinned Europeans emerged "much later" than once believed — possibly only in the Neolithic era when erstwhile hunter-gatherers became farmers. The cause, he said, may have been a change in diet and lower vitamin D intake associated with this lifestyle change. In the absence of natural vitamin D, the human skin can produce its own in contact with the Sun — but dark skins synthesize much less than fair ones — creating an evolutionary incentive for change. In La Brana 1, Lalueza-Fox and his team also found the genetic signature for blue eyes and dark hair. ~

“While the exact hue of skin cannot be determined, the scientists say its combination with blue eyes was not to be found in modern Europeans today. It is widely accepted that Man's oldest common forefather was dark skinned, and that people became more pale as they moved further north out of Africa into colder climates with less sunlight. Subsequent migrations and mixing created the wide range of hues we have today. La Brana's genome is the first of a European hunter-gatherer to be fully sequenced. When compared to today's humans, it was found to be most closely genetically related to northern Europeans like the Swedes or Fins. The probe also found that La Brana 1 had not yet acquired the genetic mutation that allowed later humans to digest milk and starch more easily — an adaptation that probably coincided with the birth of agriculture in the Neolithic age.” ~

10,000-Year-Old Britons Had Blue Eyes and Dark Skin

A DNA analysis of 10,000-year-old Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, suggests that he had blue eyes, dark skin and dark curly hair. Hannah Devlin wrote in The Guardian: “ The fossil, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. Intense speculation has built up around Cheddar Man’s origins and appearance because he lived shortly after the first settlers crossed from continental Europe to Britain at the end of the last ice age. People of white British ancestry alive today are descendants of this population. [Source: Hannah Devlin, The Guardian February 7, 2018]

“It was initially assumed that Cheddar Man had pale skin and fair hair, but his DNA paints a different picture, strongly suggesting he had blue eyes, a very dark brown to black complexion and dark curly hair. |The discovery shows that the genes for lighter skin became widespread in European populations far later than originally thought – and that skin colour was not always a proxy for geographic origin in the way it is often seen to be today. Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: “It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all.” |=|

“Yoan Diekmann, a computational biologist at University College London and another member of the project’s team, agreed, saying the connection often drawn between Britishness and whiteness was “not an immutable truth. It has always changed and will change”. The findings were revealed ahead of a Channel 4 documentary. To perform the DNA analysis, museum scientists drilled a 2 millionm-diameter hole into the ancient skull to obtain a few milligrams of bone powder. From this, they were able to extract a full genome, which held clues about this ancient relative’s appearance and lifestyle. |=|

Otzi's Appearance

One image of Otzi
Otzi the Iceman is the name given to the mummified body of a was found in near a glacier near the border of Italy and Austria. He is the best-preserved prehistoric man ever discovered with his own equipment and clothing. He died approximately 5,300 years ago.

Ötzi had dark skin and brown eyes and was likely bald. He had a gap between his teeth. Estimates suggest that at the time of his sudden, violent death, he stood about 1.65 meters (5 feet 5 inches) tall, and weighed about 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

According to Live Science; in 2011, researchers gave the iceman a makeover. Using 3-D images of his skull, two brothers assembled an extremely lifelike reconstruction of Ötzi's face. The weather-beaten man had deep-set eyes, a long, hooked nose, and a vague resemblance to actor Harvey Keitel. [Source: Tia Ghose, Live Science, November 9, 2012]

In 2023 Otzi was given another makeover. Based on a detailed study of his DNA, Isaac Schultz wrote in Gizmodo: Ötzi’s skin is also darker than researchers previously thought, and his genes suggest that he was predisposed to baldness. That explains why the mummy was found basically hairless, and contradicts previous reconstructions of how Ötzi looked in life. [Source: Isaac Schultz, Gizmodo, August 16, 2023]

“It was previously thought that the mummy’s skin had darkened during its preservation in the ice, but presumably what we see now is actually largely Ötzi’s original skin color,” said Albert Zink, an anthropologist at the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies and a co-author of the study. Previously it had been said that Otzi had medium length wavy dark hair and wore a beard.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except blue-eyed black girl, Afritorial

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2024

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