Early Irish people were dark-skinned with blue eyes, new documentary says

Scientists found out that Black Irish people inhabited the island along the coast of the Burren as hunters for almost 4,000 years. Photo: RTÉ/Screenshot

A new documentary says Irish people who lived thousands of years ago were not White with blonde hair and blue eyes. Rather, they were dark-skinned with blue eyes.

In the documentary, titled, The Burren: Heart of Stone, techniques usually used in forensic criminal investigations revealed shocking details about ancient Irish people.

Scientists said they found out that Black Irish people inhabited the island along the coast of the Burren as hunters for almost 4,000 years before they were replaced by settled farmers. Burren, a region of environmental interest located in the countryside of County Clare in the southwest of Ireland, contains “deep caves, a stony, rocky landscape and ancient Dolmens,” according to The Irish Post.

Black Irish people who settled there are believed to have gathered shellfish before moving inland to hunt wild boar and gather hazelnuts, the documentary states, as reported in The Irish Times. The early farmers who replaced the Black Irish people/hunter-gatherers arrived in the Burren approximately 6,000 years ago in what was known as the Neolithic era.

Geneticist Dr. Lara Cassidy said the early farmers “have lighter skin than the hunter-gather, but more sallow than today.” Four thousand years after the arrival of the early farmers, the last wave of early settlers came to Ireland. All in all, the hunter-gatherer Irish (Black Irish people) who had dark skin and also bright blue eyes – a shocking combination – would help scientists understand how the modern Irish gene pool came about, Cassidy said.

It will be recalled that in 2018 a team of researchers at Trinity College Dublin found that the first Irish people had “dark to black” skin similar to Cheddar Man in Britain. Cheddar Man, a Mesolithic skeleton found in a Somerset cave in 1903, had “dark to black skin”, blue eyes and curly hair. Cheddar Man was among the first permanent settlers to make the UK their home and it had initially been portrayed as one with brown eyes and light skin.

Scientists, having used DNA and bone powder from the skeleton’s skull, found that White Europeans evolved later than previously thought. “We think [ancient Irish populations] would be similar [to Cheddar Man],” Dr. Dan Bradley, a professor of genetics population at Trinity College Dublin said in an interview. “The current, very light skin we have in Ireland now is at the endpoint of thousands of years of surviving in a climate where there’s very little sun. It’s an adaptation to the need to synthesize vitamin D in the skin. It has taken thousands of years for it to become like it is today.”

Bradley’s team further discovered that around 30 to 40,000 people lived on the island of Ireland during the period when darker skin was common.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 1, 2021


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