Dark skin was likely a feature of early Irish populations, similar to Britain

8 Feb 2018

Image: EsHanPhot/Shutterstock

As research finds that the early Britons likely had dark skin and blue eyes, populations on the other side of the Irish Sea could have also shared the same traits.

The 10,000-year-old human remains dubbed the ‘Cheddar Man’ – named after the area in south-west England where they were found – revealed a wealth of information this week, most notably that the human likely had dark skin and blue eyes.

The research team from the British Natural History Museum and University College London conducted the first full DNA analysis of the remains by drilling a 2mm hole into the skull and extracting a powdered bone sample, according to AFP (via Phys.org).

So, somewhat unsurprisingly given their close proximity, Trinity College Dublin’s (TCD) professor of population genetics, Dan Bradley, said this morning (8 February) on RTÉ Morning Ireland that other research conducted in Ireland has shown similar findings.

The research analysed Ireland’s populations from approximately 6,000 years ago as part of a joint project between TCD and the National Museum of Ireland, and found the existence of darker skin in Ireland from two different sets of remains.

Based on the team’s analysis, the pair jointly share a link to the migration of populations from Luxembourg and Spain, and the south-east of Europe before that.

This shows similarities with the findings of Cheddar Man, who has DNA linking him to migration from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg some time after the last ice age.

A process over thousands of years

Bradley said that these early Irish came before the “big, big change” in our genomes and culture from the onset of farming.

“We think [early Irish examples] would be similar. The current, very light skin we have in Ireland is at the endpoint of thousands of years of surviving in a climate where there’s very little sun,” Bradley said.

“It’s an adaptation to the need to synthesise vitamin D in skin. So, it has taken thousands of years for it to become like it is today.”

Giving an indication of what the island would have looked like from a human settlement perspective, Bradley said that there was likely only between 30,000 and 40,000 people around this time who would have arrived by boat.

In terms of diet, they would have lived off the land, eaten a considerable amount of fish and hunted wild boar.

Bradley added that while these are preliminary findings, he and his fellow researchers hope to publish the full results within the next year.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic