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Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. General summary
  3. The rise of blondism
  4. The pigmentation of Proto- and Early-Indo-Europeans, as per ancientDNA studies



1. Introduction

People get pretty heated (and silly) when talking about the pigmentation of ancient Europeans. Depending on which side of the political spectrum you ask, the entirety of ancient Europe was either as black as Sudan or as pale as Sweden.

I’ve collected pigmentation information from various studies and will include a full list of findings below, as well as a general summary.

As the title says, this article is focused on the Proto-Indo-Europeans and their relation to the rise of blondism but I’ll be including “Early-Indo-European” (Pre-Iron Age) populations as well. The pigmentation of these populations was within the range of present-day Europeans, so don’t expect anything extreme.


2. General summary

There was basically a two-way split in ancient Indo-European phenotypes:

  1. Populations predominantly descended from Late Proto-Indo-European Yamnaya peoples (3300–2600 BC) tended to be darker pigmented, with mostly black and dark brown hair, brown eyes, and more tanned skin. Similar in complexion to modern Southern Italians.
  2. Populations predominantly descended from Late Proto-Indo-European Corded Ware peoples (2900–2350 BC) tended to be lighter pigmented, with high frequencies of light hair (blond, red, light brown), light eyes (blue, green), and paler skin. Similar in complexion to modern Northwestern Europeans.

The Yamnaya (orange on the map below) lived on the Western Eurasian Steppe and select areas of Southern Europe, while the Corded Ware (blue) lived in the forests to their north.

The lighter phenotype was more common among ancient Indo-Europeans simply because the Corded Ware (and their descendants) were responsible for spreading the vast majority of Indo-European DNA around the world. They invaded and settled in Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe, Siberia, India, and the Middle East (Iran, Syria, and Mesopotamia), as well as Central and East Asia.

To this day, some Central Asian Indo-Iranian minorities closely resemble modern Northern Europeans. You may think that they look Russian, Nordic, Anglo, etc., but they ultimately descend from an eastern offshoot of the Corded Ware: the Sintashta/Andronovo peoples.

Below is a collection of Yamnaya and Corded Ware facial reconstructions. Again, you’ve probably seen quite a few Europeans who look pretty similar to most, if not all of these men.

  • Side Note: As far as I know, the precise relationship between the Yamnaya and Corded Ware is currently being debated. Some people assume that the Corded Ware were a Yamnaya offshoot but, since they have different Y-DNA haplogroups (male lineages) to the Yamnaya, this may not be the case. Haak et al. (2015) and Heyd (2017) both warned that: “the sampled Yamna individuals […] might not be directly ancestral to Corded Ware […] It is possible that […] an earlier (pre-Yamna) steppe population may have migrated into central Europe.” Presumably, “earlier steppe population” refers to the Sredny Stog (4500 – 3500 BC).


3. The rise of blondism

Blond hair has existed in Europe since the Mesolithic, though it was rare and limited to the Eastern European and Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherer populations, who were descended from the Ancient North Eurasians — Paleolithic Siberians among whom the European genes for blondism originated. Despite being from Siberia, which is currently predominantly populated by Mongoloids (East Asians), the Ancient North Eurasians were Caucasoid. They most likely resembled Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers (who were 75% Ancient North Eurasian) but we can’t say for certain because, currently, there are no Ancient North Eurasian facial reconstructions available. The population was only recently discovered.

People with high Proto-Indo-European ancestry today (e.g., Russians, Scandinavians, or Finns) tend to have light complexions and increased blondism. However, that doesn’t mean that the Proto-Indo-Europeans were exclusively or even predominantly blond. Genetic data thus far indicates that the Corded Ware had considerably darker pigmentation than their descendants, and the Yamnaya had no blonds at all. Although, they did carry the genes for blondism, due to their Ancient North Eurasian ancestry.

Blondism spread rapidly during the Bronze Age due to breeding bias that occurred after the initial Proto-Indo-European expansion into Central Europe. The causes of this are currently a debated mystery, but Survive the Jive has posited a pretty likely explanation:

Blondism is ‘neotenous,’ a juvenile trait that persists into adulthood after having been genetically selected for whatever reason. Dogs’ floppy ears, for example, are a puppy trait that was artificially selected (probably unintentionally) while humans were taming wolves. Survive the Jive proposed that blondism in Europe may have been somehow linked to the rise of lactase persistence (or lactose tolerance), another neotenous trait that became prevalent alongside blondism.

Jive’s theory is that the ability to digest milk was initially evolutionarily beneficial, somehow. In other words, it was naturally selected for by environmental pressures, such as food scarcity. Men who could digest milk grew strong and powerful due to its dietary benefits, while those who could not were stricken with fatal diarrhea, starvation, etc. Over time, the milk-drinker phenotype became associated with dominance, durability, high social status, etc., thus becoming sexually desirable and further accelerating the spread of blondism.

Alongside genetic evidence, this breeding bias is also attested in various historic Indo-European sources. The Old Norse ‘Rigsthula,’ for example, associates blond hair with the highest caste, Jarls (warriors, kings, scholars), while associating dark/black hair with the lowest, Thralls (slaves, serfs). Red-hair was associated with Karls, the middle caste (freemen, farmers).

Polygyny (one man taking many wives) was common practice for the Indo-Europeans, meaning that high-status blond-haired milk-drinkers likely acquired harems of women, which would result in the genes for blondism and lactase persistence spreading rapidly among the most successful members of Proto- and Early-Indo-European society.

Blonds simply being more aesthetically attractive likely contributed to the blondification of Europe too. Think of it as a symbiotic feedback loop. More blonds survive due to lactose tolerance → they prosper and become strong → this makes them more sexually desirable → blondism is further propagated due to this sexual selection.

I don’t know enough about genetics to tell you whether or not this theory is true — and neither does Jive, according to the video he produced on the subject — but it’s the most convincing theory I’ve heard so far. There are no significant environmental pressures that would lead to such a sudden and dramatic rise in blondism (e.g., the “vitamin D” argument for blondism is obviously complete nonsense) but the ability to drink raw milk without pooping yourself to death is clearly an advantageous trait.

Interestingly, the Early European Farmer populations of North and Central Europe — namely the Funnelbeaker and Globular Amphora peoples — had a small but significant amount of blondism before they intermixed with Corded Ware invaders. Some evidence indicates that these Farmers may even have been slightly blonder than the Corded Ware.

So, the Indo-European invasion was not an influx of blond chads conquering swarthy manlets, but one population with some blonds conquering another population with some blonds. It was very much a manlet versus chad situation though. Indo-Europeans were huge in stature compared to the Early European Farmers. The Yamnaya have the highest ever calculated genetic selection for height. However, it wasn’t quite as bad as the below meme implies. The Farmers definitely weren’t Indian-looking, matriarchal, pacifistic Communists. A lot of misunderstandings with regards to the Early European Farmers stems from Marija Gimbutas’ feminist nonsense, which continues to haunt us to this day.


Although the initial Proto-Indo-European expansion into Europe wasn’t exactly a “blond superman” situation, it’s still reasonable to associate blondism with the (Proto-)Indo-Europeans, considering that:

  • The genes for blondism were brought into Europe by Ancient North Eurasians, who were ancestral to the Proto-Indo-Europeans.
  • The Corded Ware and descendants were responsible for the spread of most (but not all) Indo-European ethnic groups around Eurasia.
  • By the Middle to Late Bronze Age, blondism was highly prevalent among these populations.


3. The pigmentation of Proto- and Early-Indo-Europeans, as per ancientDNA studies

I’ll include territory maps for reference. I may have missed some studies, but this is all of the data I could find, for now. Unfortunately, I forgot to save the studies to link them but you can find them online pretty easily — use Wikipedia or something.



Yamnaya
Ukraine, Russia (3300 – 2600 BC)

“Southern European” pigmentation
– Predominantly dark hair (black, brown)
– Mixed eye colors (blue, green, brown)
– Tanned skin (similar to modern Southern Europeans)


Catacomb Culture (Post-Yamnaya)
Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Romania (2800 – 1700 BC)

“Southern European” pigmentation
– Same as Yamnaya


Afanasievo (Pre-Tocharian)
Siberia, East Asia (3500 – 2500 BC)

“Southern European” pigmentation
– Same as Yamnaya


Chemurchek / Xemirxek (Post-Afanasievo)
Altai Siberia, Mongolia (2750 – 1900 BC)

“Southern European” pigmentation
– Predominantly dark hair (black, brown, some dark blonds)
– Predominantly brown eyes
– Tanned skin


Fatyanovo–Balanovo (Eastern Corded Ware)
Russia (2900 – 2050 BC)

“Central European” pigmentation
– Mixed hair (33% blond, others brown)
– Mixed eye colors (33% blue and green, others brown)
– Fair to tanned skin


Bell Beaker
Western Europe (2800 – 1800 BC)

“North and Central European” pigmentation
– Mixed hair (blond to black, mostly brown)
– Mixed eye colors (blue, green, brown)
– Fair skin


Northwest Bell Beaker (Unique sub-population)
Holland, Britain (2800 – 1800 BC)

“Northern European” pigmentation
– Predominantly light hair (blond, red, brown)
– Predominantly light eye colors (blue, green, some brown)
– Fair skin


Sintashta (Eastern Corded Ware derived)
Central Asia, Kazakhstan (2400 – 1800 BC)

“Central European” pigmentation
– Predominantly light hair (blond to dark brown)
– Mixed eye colors (blue, green, brown)
– Fair to tanned skin


Andronovo (Post-Sintashta)
Central and East Asia (2000 – 900 BC)

“Northern European” pigmentation
– Predominantly light hair (blond, light brown)
– Predominantly light eyes (blue, green)
– Fair skin


Tagar, Tashtyk, and Karasuk
Siberia (1500 BC – 400 AD )

“Northern European” pigmentation
– Predominantly light hair (blond, light brown)
– Predominantly light eyes (blue, green)
– Fair skin


Tocharian (Andronovo + Afanasievo)
Xinjiang, Gansu, China (1800 BC – 900 AD)

“Northern European” pigmentation
– Predominantly light hair (blond, red, light brown)
– Predominantly light eyes (blue, green)
– Fair skin