Birth of the Blonde
Until 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, most humans had uniformly dark hair and eyes. Genetic mutation at that time gave northern and eastern Europe the greatest diversity in hair and eye color. There are now at least seven different shades of blonde hair in Europe. Scientists have long wondered how this large variation developed in a relatively short period of time in a single geographic region.
A new study conducted by St. Andrews University in Scotland and published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior concludes that mutation occurred at the end of the Ice Age as a result of a shortage in both food and men, which left a large number of women competing for a smaller pool of mates. The researchers speculate that women in northern Europe evolved to have blonde hair and blue eyes in order to attract male attention away from the more numerous brunettes. Although the mutation was rare, the number of blondes increased rapidly because of greater opportunities to breed.
Peter Frost, a Canadian anthropologist and author of the study, says the rise of the blonde resulted from the “pressures of sexual selection on early European women.” He believes sexual selection is the only posible explanation because light hair and eyes evolved relatively quickly. “Sexual selection is particularly indicated because it is known to favor color traits,” he says.
Although early European men preferred blondes, their modern counterparts reportedly do not. Researchers at City University in London claimed last year that modern men actually respond more favorably to brunettes and redheads than blondes. They argue that the preference shift is explained by the nature of modern relations between the sexes, and that more men are now attracted to intelligent women, which to their minds means brunettes. “As the role of women has evolved, men’s expectations of women have changed,” says City University psychology professor Peter Ayton. “They are looking for more intense, equal partnerships and appearance has a large role to play.” No doubt, blondes will now start dying their hair black. [Arifa Akbar, How Women Evolved Blond Hair to Win Caveman’s Hearts, Independent (London), Feb. 27, 2006.]
The Sacrament of Separatism