Mesolithic Man, La Brana 1: 7,000-year-old man in Spain had blue eyes, dark skin, liked hunting

(CNN) -- Scientists examining the 7,000-year-old remains of a hunter-gatherer found in Spain have discovered that African versions of pigmentation genes determined his skin color, but that he had blue eyes now associated with northern Europeans.

Baptized "La Brana 1" by scientists -- after the La Brana-Arintero site where his remains were found -- the man lived during the Mesolithic period, which lasted from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.

The Mesolithic hunter-gather period was followed by the Neolithic period and the advent of farming. As a result, La Brana 1's diet differed from Neolithic man, and researchers said he had been lactose intolerant.

"The biggest surprise was to discover that this individual possessed African versions in the genes that determine the light pigmentation of the current Europeans, which indicates that he had dark skin, although we cannot know the exact shade," researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) said.

"Even more surprising was to find that he possessed the genetic variations that produce blue eyes in current Europeans, resulting in a unique phenotype in a genome that is otherwise clearly northern European."

A genome is the full map of an individual's DNA.

La Brana 1's closest modern descendants, in genetic terms, live in northern Europe in places like Sweden and Finland.

The research -- carried out by the CSIC in partnership with Denmark's Centre for GeoGenetics -- has been published in the scientific journal "Nature."

Manuel Vidal Encinas, archaeologist of the Council of Castilla y Leon, found and excavated the La Brana-Arintero site, near Leon, in 2006.

Scientists said the cave is located in a cold mountainous area with a steady temperature -- conditions that contributed to the "exceptional" preservation of the DNA of La Brana 1 and the remains of another individual found there.

Researchers say they will now try to recover the genome of the second set of remains, which were not as well preserved.

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