May 312017
 

Well, this will go over well in some quarters…

Ancient Egyptian mummy genomes suggest an increase of Sub-Saharan African ancestry in post-Roman periods

DNA was sequenced from a number of Egyptian mummies dating from 1388 BCE to 426 CE. And what was found was that while there was genetic continuity, there was remarkably little sub-Saharan African ancestry in the mix until after the Roman period. Ancient Egyptians were more closely related to Near Easterners (i.e. Turkey, Israel, Syria, etc.) and Europe than they were to modern Egyptians, who have picked up sub-Saharan African traits since Roman times, likely due to Islamic conquests and the resulting slave trade.

In other words: go ahead and cast Whitey McWhiteperson to play the Pharoah in your next movie. Though Turk MacTurkishfella might be just as good.

Other genetic finds:

This individual had a derived allele at the SLC24A5 locus, which contributes to lighter skin pigmentation and was shown to be at high frequency in Neolithic Anatolia41, consistent with the ancestral affinity shown above. Other relevant SNPs carry the ancestral allele, including HERC2 and LCT, which suggest dark-coloured eyes and lactose intolerance

So, light skinned, dark-eyed, not a fan of ice cream.

 Posted by at 9:26 am
  • Michael

    That lactose-intolerant thing is interesting. What’s the survival value of not being able to metabolize milk?

    • DakotaKid

      Lactose tolerance is itself a mutation that dominates the northern areas of Eurasia. It goes from roughly Ireland ( the highest rate of tolerance of lactose) to Japan. That the Egyptians would not be lactose tolerant sharing the genes with north Africa and southwest Asia is not a surprise.

    • Scottlowther

      As DL said, lactose intolerance is the standard. From an evolutionary standpoint, agriculture, and milking goats and cows and such, is *very* recent. Prior to maybe 6 to 10 thousand years ago, the only milk you’d encounter in life would be your mothers. All healthy babies are born lactose tolerant, but become intolerant several years later. the reason for this is clear: developing intolerance as a child means you will get weaned off mothers milk whether you like it or not, and will be forced to eat other foods. A baby that grows to adulthood dependent on mothers milk *could* wind up being incapable of self sufficiency out in the wild. In an agricultural society, being able to process milk into adulthood suddenly becomes advantageous, since you’re not dependant upon *human* milk.

      Lactose intolerance is a *beneficial* mutation and very good evidence of evolution.

      • Herp McDerp

        All healthy babies are born lactose tolerant, but become intolerant
        several years later. the reason for this is clear: developing
        intolerance as a child means you will get weaned off mothers milk
        whether you like it or not, and will be forced to eat other foods.

        All true, but with one additional wrinkle: I’ve read the claim that people lacking the gene will be able to process lactose as long as they continue to drink milk on a regular basis. When they stop, at whatever age, they lose the ability.

        I can provide strong anecdotal support for the claim. I quit sometime in my teenage years, and it took me a decade to realize what had happened. (I had several promising dates that involved Irish coffees with beautiful young ladies after movies or concerts that … ended badly. Not spectacularly badly, thank goodness.) My wife drank milk regularly into her twenties; after she stopped, she occasionally got “inexplicable” abdominal pains. Her doctor actually considered exploratory surgery, since they both “knew” she wasn’t lactose intolerant.

        I think the same mechanism may be at work in cats. The cliché of a cat lapping happily at a bowl of milk seems to have arisen with cats that were fed milk in bowls since before they were weaned. All of the cats I’ve met do not drink milk as adults — not more than once, anyway.

        • John Nowak

          I’ve been told by zookeepers that big cats tend to be lactose intolerant. Milk is often used as a reward for them, but in very small quantities.

        • Brianna

          My cat actually likes cheese. But I’ve never given her more than teeny tiny pieces, so maybe she just never had enough to trigger any unfortunate results.

  • B-Sabre

    And of course, Cleopatra was Greek….

  • Even a little digging around though Ancient Egyptian history shows a remarkable range of skin tones, with more of one and less of another at various points in time. The Egyptians themselves seem to have paid it no more attention that they would have to eye or hair color — maybe less, since the appear to have run to dark eyes and dark hair (or dark wigs, if you were wealthy.) What we tend to lump together as “Egypt” ran about as long as the rest of Mediterranean civilization.

  • Rick

    history just ain’t what it used to be.