February 26. 2024. 6:19

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Original Dutch from Doggerland were dark-skinned, research finds

In findings sure to dismay white Dutch nationalists, a new international survey into the genetic make-up of early Europeans shows that the first Netherlanders were dark-skinned rather than white and blonde – though they often had striking blue eyes.

The study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution suggests that the change in skin pigmentation came gradually as the population living in the area then called Doggerland, now deep beneath the North Sea, made the transition from hunting to agriculture.

One theory that may explain the change in skin tone is that lighter, more sun-absorbent skin developed as a reaction to the lack of vitamin D in the new grain-based foods – raising the intriguing possibility that skin colour may sometimes be nothing more fundamental than a response to diet.

The study is, in effect, a huge genetic atlas charting the movements of hunter-gatherers in Europe over the past 35,000 years.

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“Our Dutch ancestors have always been portrayed as butch, white types. But that’s not what they looked like at all. They were dark-skinned”, says Eveline Altena, an archaeologist specialising in “ancient DNA” at Leiden University Medical Centre.

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The evidence relating to the first indigenous Dutch comes primarily from DNA from eight pieces of human bone picked up off the North Sea coast by volunteers or discovered in fishermen’s nets. Significant new fragments continue to be found every month.

“This shows the importance of citizen science,” says Ms Altena, who is now collaborating in her research with Harvard Medical School. “Engaging with people who are interested although they are perhaps not experts enriches the experience for everyone.”

The findings were supported by a recent exhibition at Leiden’s Rijksmuseum of Antiquities which for the first time portrayed the people of Doggerland – effectively an ancient land bridge that connected continental Europe to Britain – as black.

“Our ancestors were certainly dark-skinned and blue-eyed,” says the curator of the museum’s pre-history department, Luc Amkreutz.

“This time it’s not just theoretical, it has been genetically proven for the first time. And it puts paid definitively to the popular perception that early Europeans were white.”

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Recent genetic studies on bones from Denmark, Luxembourg and Norway had also shown black ancestry, Mr Amkreutz noted.

In addition there was the stir caused five years ago by “Cheddar Man” – recreated from DNA analysis of a fossil unearthed more than a century ago in Somerset – which showed that the Britons who lived about 10,000 years ago had “dark to black” skin and dark, curly hair.

Tom Booth, an archaeologist with Britain’s Natural History Museum, said at the time that this showed how racial categories were often very modern imaginary constructions which were “really not applicable to the past at all”.