Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Desmond Morris, a liking for red, and blondes ...

Now we could get all religious and start talking about Adam and Eve and red apples, or indeed do the Desmond Morris 'Naked Ape' thing about red lips and red labia, but it still remains that the evolution of human colouration is an interesting topic.

And blondeness is another aspect of human colouration that looks like an odd mutation. I first bloged about this over a year ago on my other blog: here's a sligly updated version:

BR>Blondes ...
posted Tue, 28 Feb 2006 15:56:02 -0800

I've often wondered about the evolution of blonde hair. It really would have to have had an evolutionary advantage to become common, and anyway, why is it found only (near enough) in populations whose ancestors lived in northwest europe.

Now blonde is a funny set of mutations, plae skin, blue eyes, yellow hair - definitely a bit of a freaky mutation.

Other populations who love in northwest Europe have the pale skin mutation - your classic celtic beauty with milk white skin is probably the result fo a selection for a population that makes the most of the available sunlight to make vitamin D. Very sensible in a population where it's cloudy and rains a lot, and consequently not a lot of sunlight.

I'm going to gues that you don't see such a mutation in northern Japan because they get more UV, eeven if it rains a lot.

But why blonde - a freaky looking mutation that makes them look like a different species.

Peter Frost, a Canadian anthropologist has been wondering about the same thing and has come up witht he theroy that blonde eveloved to make striking look people who were more sexually desirable to our neolithing ancsetors, and so blondes, as well has having more fun, got more food and ended up being more successful at reproducing themselves.

Studies of north west european populations show that there's a welter of variants of hair colour and the mutations of the three hair colour genes date back to the end of the ice age, say 11,000 years ago, when the population was small and the mutation could spread quickly among particular groups.

There's an updated article in the London Times on his research.

More generally Peter Frost seems to have been doing a lot of work on this area and has writtern a book on the evolution of lighter skin colour in humans, otherwise known as 'why aren't we all brownish coloured?'

How good the research is I don't know but it appears to have been accepted for publication in a respectable journal or two so it seems plausible. Even if it's wrong it's an interesting idea.

postscript - aboriginal children in australia often have blonde hair. Nineteenth centrury romantics used to say that this was from shipwrecked Dutch sailors in the sixteenth century, never mind that the aborigines don't have any stories about this while they've lots of stories about other things. What evolutionary advantage would blonde hair give them?

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