DNA Reveals Ancient Looks

By analyzing a collection of 24 genetic variations, researchers are able to predict the hair and eye color of long-dead humans.

By | January 17, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, 8THSTARResearchers can work out the hair and eye color of ancient and recently deceased humans by looking only at DNA extracted from their skeletal remains, according to a study published this week (January 14) in Investigative Genetics.

Comparing the genomes of thousands of people, previous studies have identified 24 genetic variations—known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)—linked to hair and eye color. Now, researchers at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, tested this collection of SNPs, called the HIrisPlex assay, on DNA extracted from contemporary bone samples, as well as teeth collected from people that passed away in the 1940s and during medieval times.

Their analysis predicted that General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces during the Second World War and the prime minister of the exiled Polish government who died in a plane crash in 1943, had blond hair and blue eyes. Portraits painted after his death and written documents verified the prediction. The researchers also analyzed a partial DNA profile from a medieval woman buried in a crypt of a Benedictine Abbey near Kraków. The results indicated that she had dark blond or brown hair and brown eyes, though such predictions could not be verified.

The authors claim to have shown that the HIrisPlex system is “suitable, sufficiently sensitive and robust to successfully predict eye and hair colour from ancient and contemporary skeletal remains.” They say it will help determine what our ancient ancestors may have looked like, and will be useful for routine forensic applications.

(Hat tip to GenomeWeb)

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Avatar of: MRau


Posts: 1

January 20, 2013

Truely, if I could research and study one thing for the rest of my life it would be eyes and more specifically, eye color. And I pose a follow up question for you: you use the SNPs to determine eye (and hair) color, and I suppose you do so with the assumption that the color that is determined is one that did not change for the person being studied? To clarify, and using myself as an example, up until the 1st grade my eyes were dark brown. At some point during kindergarden and through the end of 1st grade my eye color lightened significantly to more of a hazel-ish hue. If I were to be tested, would it be the hazel or the original dark brown that would show up? I ask only to spur curiosity, I don't expect an answer!  :)

Avatar of: Gr3gK1


Posts: 1

January 21, 2013


@MRau: welcome to being 5-6 and later to puberty. True, this test should not be used on pre-pubescent youth as their DNA hasn't had a chance to fully play out its design. This means they'll likely have that color of eyes and hair, but may not have had it necessarily at the time of witness and/or death, if died young. 

Eye Color Info

Avatar of: Simulacraddison


Posts: 1

January 21, 2013

So, they discovered how to discern the hair and eye color of deceased Polish people? Boy, that must have been really hard. "Ja, ziss von had blond hair und blüe eyes too!"

Avatar of: Rachel.L.Webb


Posts: 1

January 21, 2013

predicting  present participle of pre·dict Verb

Say or estimate that (a specified thing) will happen in the FUTURE or will be a consequence of something.

Avatar of: kitapbigi


Posts: 20

February 11, 2013


I am surprised that Ian Wilmut did not win. Dolly the sheep is really the start of all these on mammallian organisms and the ethical concerns, which is what drove the research to create iPS. Anyway, it is Nobel prize, a monopoly.

kredi hesaplama-evim şahane - fragman izle - mobilya modelleri

Avatar of: GoldLion


Posts: 2

July 8, 2014

Awesome read. Wonder if they can now determine the true eye, skin, hair color of the European Neanderthals?

Avatar of: GoldLion


Posts: 2

Replied to a comment from Simulacraddison made on January 21, 2013

July 8, 2014

Part polish here, got green brown eyes/black eyebrows and brown hair. Not all polish have blond hair blue eyes.

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