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 sapien
settlers, the ancestors of modern man, arrived from Africa about 40,000
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 per cent of Scots have red hair and a further 40 per
cent 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 Homo 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 suggests 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.
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