Blonde cavegirls had more fun

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Daryl Habel:
To all,
At least that's a paraphrased headline for an article in today's (Sunday) timesonline.com.uk.  But read on, dear friends.  This is serious research done by Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost on the issue of sexual selection for hair and eye color.
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Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun
Roger Dobson and Abul Taher
 
THE modern gentleman may prefer blondes. But new research has found that it was cavemen who were the first to be lured by flaxen locks.
According to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago. Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world. Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses. Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

Lighter hair colours, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St Andrews.

“Human hair and eye colour are unusually diverse in northern and eastern Europe (and their) origin over a short span of evolutionary time indicates some kind of selection,” says the study by Peter Frost, a Canadian anthropologist. Frost adds that the high death rate among male hunters “increased the pressures of sexual selection on early European women, one possible outcome being an unusual complex of colour traits.”

Frost’s theory, to be published this week in Evolution and Human Behavior, the academic journal, was supported by Professor John Manning, a specialist in evolutionary psychology at the University of Central Lancashire. “Hair and eye colour tend to be uniform in many parts of the world, but in Europe there is a welter of variants,” he said. “The mate choice explanation now being put forward is, in my mind, close to being correct.” ....(more)

To read the whole Times Online article CLICK HERE

The research paper itself is published in the March issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior:
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Evolution and Human Behavior
Volume 27, Issue 2 , March 2006, Pages 85-103

European hair and eye color. A case of frequency-dependent sexual selection?

Peter Frost
c/o Dr. D.I. Perrett, School of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, St. Mary's College, South St., St. Andrews, Fife, KY165JP, UK

Abstract
Human hair and eye color is unusually diverse in northern and eastern Europe. The many alleles involved (at least seven for hair color) and their independent origin over a short span of evolutionary time indicate some kind of selection. Sexual selection is particularly indicated because it is known to favor color traits and color polymorphisms. In addition, hair and eye color is most diverse in what used to be, when first peopled by hunter-gatherers, a unique ecozone of low-latitude continental tundra. This type of environment skews the operational sex ratio (OSR) of hunter-gatherers toward a male shortage in two ways: (1) men have to hunt highly mobile and spatially concentrated herbivores over longer distances, with no alternate food sources in case of failure, the result being more deaths among young men; (2) women have fewer opportunities for food gathering and thus require more male provisioning, the result being less polygyny. These two factors combine to leave more women than men unmated at any one time. Such an OSR imbalance would have increased the pressures of sexual selection on early European women, one possible outcome being an unusual complex of color traits: hair- and eye-color diversity and, possibly, extreme skin depigmentation.

Keywords: Gender roles; Monogamy; Pigmentation; Polygyny; Sexual selection; Upper Paleolithic

Available to subscibers from elsievier (Science Direct) HERE

Enjoy,
Dar

 
 
 

Daryl Habel:
Or maybe it's just over-enthusiastic journalists having some fun.  John Hawks, in his weblog, CLICK HERE TO READ reports that the WHO study that predicted the extinction of blondes by the year 2202, mentioned toward the end of today's Times Online article (above and  hyperlinked in the Hawks weblog article), is a hoax first perpetrated in the year 2002. 

Moreover, there is another hyperlink from the Hawks weblog page that takes us to GNXP (Gene Expression) HERE, which explains that the Frost theory is not exactly new and he has been promoting it for years, with additional comment and criticism.   Also follow along from this page with the hyperlink  to Dienekes' weblog for more critical comment HERE.   My favorite quote (from GNXP) "beware of British newspapers".  I knew that, but I should have been more skeptical.

So, probably,  there's not really much to this story.......But the headline sure catches attention.  Mine anyways.

Dar

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