Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Some 5,000 years ago, a Tyrolean farmer was walking along minding his own business when an enemy put an arrow into his back, so that he fell into a glacier. He stayed there until 1991, when global heating revealed his frozen mummy to some hikers. What could be more echt European than a Swiss iceman from 5,000 years ago named Ötzi by the Swiss scientists? Wouldn’t that be before all those foreigners immigrated? Wouldn’t he exhibit the Aryan ideal? The myths of “whiteness” and of fortress Europe might have it so. They would be wrong.
Modern humans originated in southern Africa roughly 150,000 years ago.
Most of northern Europe was under miles of ice during the last ice age, from 110,000 years ago to 11,500 years ago. There were some habitable areas on its fringes, especially what is now southern France and northern Spain, to which modern homo sapiens migrated from Africa around 42,000 years ago. Yes, the oldest modern human Europeans were Africans. During the harsh Ice Age these Afro-European ancestors dwindled in number and their gene pool became thin because of heavy intermarriage within clans.
After the ice age ended, other groups immigrated into the subcontinent These were pastoralists from the Eurasian steppe who came through Ukraine, farmers from Anatolia in what is now Turkey, and hunter-gatherers from the the Caucasus. They intermarried with the remnants of the old Afro-European population of hunter-gatherers, who could now spread from the west to the east since the ice cover had retreated.
So was Ötzi a mixture of these four groups? A new study of his genome has appeared in Cell Genomics, “High-coverage genome of the Tyrolean Iceman reveals unusually high Anatolian farmer ancestry,” by Ke Wang et al.
An earlier attempt at such research was undertaken in 2012, but the sample appears to have been tainted with the DNA of modern persons, and the new researchers felt that contemporary DNA techniques are in any case better. So they took a new sample from his hip.
Remember those farmers from Anatolia? Those were Ötzi’s people. They had started coming into Europe probably around 8,000 years ago, 3,000 years before our iceman lived. Since they knew how to farm but the other groups didn’t, they seem to have been able to establish relatively isolated, self-sufficient villages up there in the Tyrolean area (today the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland). So they did not mix much with outsiders. They had never intermarried with the Steppe Nomads, the ones who may have brought in Indo-European languages. They did establish marriage ties with a few of the old Afro-Europeans who preceded them, but they were still 92% Anatolian. Farmers have bigger families than pastoralists or hunters and gatherers, so the Anatolians became a a force to reckon with.
Ötzi’s people were dark-skinned, as most Europeans were until fairly recently.
Research on DNA of 7,000-year-old remains in Spain shows people with dark skin and blue eyes.
Dark skin is functional in equatorial Africa because it protects people from strong ultra-violet rays, and in sunny places like that there is no danger of not producing enough vitamin D.
Ötzi’s descendants gradually acquired lighter skin because, as farmers, they lived on grain. Unlike the diets of the hunters and gatherers, this grain diet was low in vitamin D. We need vitamin D for healthy bone and nerve growth and functioning, and its absence causes brittle bones and hair loss, and can contribute to multiple sclerosis. Dark pigmentation in low ultra-violet radiation areas like northern Europe interferes with vitamin D production. So over thousands of years, those Europeans with a low-vitamin-D grain diet, i.e. the farmers, were subject to natural selection. Parents with slightly lighter skin had children more likely to survive and to mate and breed successfully, so eventually people turned white. It would have taken a few thousand years.
Ötzi was bald and had little hair on his body, and that may have been genetic, but I’m wondering if it was also a result of a vitamin D deficiency.
So, to recap: There were no indigenous Europeans. The oldest population immigrated from Africa around 42,000 years ago and barely survived the harsh Ice Age. As of 11,500 when the Ice Age was over, three other groups migrated in, the Steppe Nomads, the hunter-gatherers from what is now Georgia and Armenia, and the Anatolian farmers. Ötzi was from an insular community of the latter.
So when you see Turkish Döner Kebab restaurants in Germany or the UK, you’re seeing a modern-day immigration from Anatolia that mirrors what was happening thousands of years ago. The “white” people complaining about the immigrants are themselves descendants of dark-skinned Anatolians.