1200 words


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Cro-Magnon (47,000 — 13,000 BC)
  3. Gravettian (31,000 — 20,000 BC)
  4. Western European Hunter-Gatherers (18,000 — 4,000 BC)
  5. Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers (18,000 — 4,000 BC)
  6. Early European Farmers (7,000 to 1,000 BC)
  7. Proto-Indo-Europeans (5,000 to 2,500 BC)
  8. Related Genetics Information


1. Introduction

Over the past decade, the mainstream media has published a mass of facial reconstructions, supposedly, depicting ancient Europeans.

To take these masterpieces at face value would lead you to believe that all of your ancestors were biologically near-identical to modern Sub-Saharan Africans, Dravidian Indians, and East Asian Siberians. The amount of misrepresentation is astounding; there’s barely a single accurate reconstruction among them.

To help set the record straight, this article contains a compilation of accurate facial reconstructions that I’ve collected over the years. Alongside each set of reconstructions, I’ve included some rudimentary information on the populations depicted, as well as some (relatively) accurate (as of writing) information on their pigmentation; i.e., skin complexion, hair, and eye color.

If you have any accurate facial reconstructions that I haven’t featured, send them my way, via email or twitter DM, and I’ll happily include them in this article. The more the merrier. Additionally, if you have any extra information on pigmentation or believe that some corrections should be made, let me know.



2. Cro-Magnon (47,000 — 13,000 BC)

Complexion: Medium, likely similar to East Asian skin tone range [1]
Hair color: Unknown, probably mostly brown and black
Eye color: Unknown, probably mostly brown

The term “Cro-Magnon” is essentially a collective label for all European Early Modern Humans and has been used to refer to populations of Europe up until the end of the Ice Age.

The earliest Cro-Magnons were part of the non-genetically-distinct ‘meta-population’ of West Eurasia (which includes Europe, Central, and West Asia) that existed up until approximately 24,000 BC. By that point, genetically distinct sub-populations had developed due to selection pressure and founder effects. The entirety of the aforementioned territory was Caucasoidal during this time period — i.e., not ‘Mongoloid’ or East Asian.

The Cro-Magnon people of Europe remained similar to the founding stock due to being genetically isolated for more than 20,000 years, between ~35,000 and ~12,000 BC (meaning that they didn’t interbreed with any other populations).

  • Note: I would prefer that people used the term ‘Cro-Magnon’ to refer exclusively to the non-genetically-distinct populations, but, unfortunately, the term is currently a magic bag into which any prehistoric European population can fit, regardless of whether they are genetically distinct or not.

If I recall correctly, a recent skeletal discovery pushed the earliest date of Cro-Magnons in Europe back by thousands of years (but I can’t find the article right now, so I’ll stick with the mainstream dates).

The image below is a Cro-Magnon self-portrait, cut into mammoth ivory, dated 24,000 BC — note the similarities to the reconstructions above, which are from the American Museum of Natural History, New York.



3. Gravettian (31,000 — 20,000 BC)

Complexion: Medium, likely similar to East Asian skin tone range [1]
Hair color: Unknown, probably mostly brown and black
Eye color: Unknown, probably mostly brown

Gravettians were robust hunter-gatherers of ice-age Europe. Their culture was significant due to its complexity and technology, which far superceded that of previous populations.

Although all Gravettians were descended from the same initial European Cro-Magnon population, they were loosely divided into two distinct groups, Eastern and Western. The Eastern branch specialized in mammoth hunting and were more mobile than the Western branch.

West Gravettian woman
East Gravettian man (right)



4. Western European Hunter-Gatherers (18,000 — 4,000 BC)

Complexion: Tanned, similar to modern Inuits at the darkest [2]
Hair color: Black, shades of brown (mostly darker), rare instances of red
Eye color: Overwhelmingly blue, rare instances of green and brown

Western European Hunter-Gatherers (WHG) constitute the earliest distinct population to have made a direct genetic contribution to all modern Europeans. They were descended from the earlier, genetically homogeneous Cro-Magnon population, but became genetically distinct while weathering the Last Glacial Maximum (peak of the Ice Age) in the refugia of Europe. The WHG could be described as the founding stock of “modern” (post-Ice-Age) Europe. They were, more or less, solely responsible for repopulating the entirety of the continent after its population dropped to under 3,000 people during the Ice Age.

Below: Reconstructions from the Bonn-Oberkassel burial, which also contains the oldest confirmed pet dog in history. The pigmentation may be inaccurate, but the facial structure is accurate.



5. Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers (18,000 — 4,000 BC)

Complexion: Mostly pale, some tanned
Hair color: Black, shades of brown, rare instances of red and blond
Eye color: Overwhelmingly brown, rare instances of green and blue

The Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers (EHG) were predominantly descended from a population known as the ‘Ancient North Eurasians’ (ANE, 22,000 — 13,000 BC). Around 75% of EHG ancestry was ANE, while the other 25% was WHG. In simple terms, the ANE migrated West out of Siberia and became EHGs after absorbing some WHG DNA.

As the name suggests, the ANE’s population spanned the entirety of North Eurasia. They were huge, robust mammoth hunters, who lived within the arctic circle. Although they’re still quite a mysterious population, the TL;DR of their origin is that they split from the original Cro-Magnon / Western Eurasian population around 22,000 BC, moved east, mixed with an East Eurasian population to some degree (~20%), then re-migrated Westward again. Today, almost every native Eurasian person in the Northern Hemisphere (both Caucasoid and Mongoloid) has some degree of ANE ancestry.

The ANE were perhaps similar in appearance to the Eastern Gravettians, though it’s more likely that they resembled the Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers.



6. Early European Farmers (7,000 to 1,000 BC)

Note: There is a distinct lack of good quality EEF reconstructions.

Complexion: Pale
Hair color: Black, varied shades of brown, rare instances of blonds that increase in frequency over time
Eye color: Mostly brown, some green and blue

The ancestors of the Early European Farmers (EEF) and WHG were once part of the same West Eurasian meta-population, which split sometime around 43,000 BC when the ancestors of the WHG moved into Europe. The ancestors of the EEF remained in the Near East, in and around Anatolia (present-day Turkey), and the two populations evolved separately for thousands of years. In 7,000 BC, the EEF followed the ancestors of the WHG and began their gargantuan expedition into Europe.

The EEF made a large genetic contribution to Southern Europeans, with the Sardinians representing their closest relatives (around 95% genetic continuity). Their physical appearance is probably not a direct 1:1 comparison, as artificial selection can cause phenotypes to change over time, even if the genetic makeup of a population remains largely identical.

The frescoes below, belonging to the Late-EEF ‘Minoan’ civilization of Crete, provide some insight into how some EEF peoples depicted themselves. Tanned men and extremely pale women were consistent themes in their artwork.



7. Proto-Indo-Europeans (5,000 to ~2,500 BC)

Early PIE:
Complexion: Pale to tanned
Hair color: Black, shades of brown, rare instances of blond
Eye color: Mostly brown, some green and blue

Late PIE:
Complexion: Pale
Hair color: Even mix of blond, brown, black, some rare instances of red
Eye color: Even mix, biased towards blue

The Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) are the most significant ancestor of modern Northern Europeans, having contributed 40-70% of Northern European DNA.

They were originally a population of Eastern European Hunter-Gathers who inhabited Southern Ukraine and Southwestern Russia. However, they became genetically distinct from other EHG populations around 5,000 BC, due to their bride-stealing antics. Kidnapping women from neighboring populations, such as the Early European Farmers and hunter-gatherers of the Caucasus, resulted in the PIE being around 70% EHG, on average.

Some scholars theorize that since the male lineages of the PIE were exclusively of WHG and EHG origin, the Indo-European languages are ultimately derived from an EHG source.

The reconstructions above are mostly ‘Late Proto-Indo-Europeans,’ such as the Yamnaya and Corded Ware peoples. The Corded Ware (from whom most Indo-European peoples are descended) had much higher frequencies of light pigmentation (blondism, blue eyes) than Yamnaya, who appear to have been almost entirely dark haired and brown eyed. See this article for more information.



8. Related Genetics Information

The cluster analysis below is a breakdown of how much ancestry of each major ancestral race (WHG, EEF, PIE) is present in modern European populations.

Orange = Early European Farmer (Southern European)
Blue = Western Hunter-Gatherer (Highest in Northern Europe)
Green = Western Steppe Herder (As above; incorrectly labeled ‘Yamnaya’)



(Some) Sources



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