Red hair may be the genetic legacy of Neanderthals, scientists believe.
Researchers at the John Radcliffe Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford say that the so-called "ginger gene" which gives people red hair, fair skin and freckles could be up to 100,000 years old.
They claim that their discovery points to the gene having originated in Neanderthal man who lived in Europe for 200,000 years before Homo sapiens settlers, the ancestors of modern man, arrived from Africa about 40,000 years ago.
Rosalind Harding, the research team leader, said: "The gene is certainly older than 50,000 years and it could be as old as 100,000 years. An explanation is that it comes from Neanderthals." It is estimated that at least 10% of Scots have red hair and a further 40% carry the gene responsible, which could account for their once fearsome reputation as fighters.
Neanderthals have been characterised as migrant hunters and violent cannibals who probably ate most of their meat raw. They were taller and stockier than Home sapiens, but with shorter limbs, bigger faces and noses, receding chins and low foreheads.
The two species overlapped for a period of time and the Oxford research appears to suggest that they must have successfully interbred for the "ginger gene" to survive. Neanderthals became extinct about 28,000 years ago, the last dying out in southern Spain and southwest France.
"Neanderthal man had ginger hair and freckles"
by Edward Owen
The Daily Telegraph, 30 December 2008
Neanderthals living in Europe were fair-skinned, freckled and had ginger hair, a study has found.
In a major breakthrough, Spanish scientists have discovered the blood group and two other genes of early men, who had lived 43,000 years ago.
The team used the latest techniques to protect the bones found in a cave in north-west Spain from contamination by modern DNA.
An analysis concluded that the Neanderthals had human blood group "O" and had a gene making it more likely they would be fair-skinned, perhaps with freckles, and have red or ginger hair.
Carlos Lalueza, an evolutionary biologist, said: "What we were trying to do was to create the most realistic image of the Neanderthals". The report, published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, also said they had a gene related to speaking and the capacity to create a language.
Neanderthals are believed to have numbered about 15,000 and lived in Europe and Asia for about 200,000 years until they became extinct about 30,000 years ago.
"Caveman attitudes are all in the genes, researchers find"
The Daily Telegraph, 7 May 2010
Modern man has an excuse for acting like Neanderthals because our species shares their genes, scientists have found.
Experts are now convinced that early modern humans and Neanderthals interbred between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago.
As a result, between one and four per cent of our DNA comes from the prehistoric cavemen, according to the research.
Human-Neanderthal relations occurred as the first bands of Homo sapiens ventured out of Africa and encountered Neanderthals in the Middle East, scientists believe.
The discovery emerged from the first attempt to map the complete Neanderthal genetic code, or genome.
Professor Svante Pääbo, director of evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who led the project, said that humans in Europe all have "caveman biology". The research, published in the journal Science, involved analysing 1.1 billion DNA fragments taken from Neanderthal bones.