Greenhouse plants. Why Our Ancestors Didn't Get Sunburned While We Burn in the Sun
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< img class="aligncenter" src="/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/teplichnye-rastenija-pochemu-nashi-predki-ne-poluchali-solnechnyh-ozhogov-a-my-sgoraem-na-solnce-5e2bd06. jpg" alt="Greenhouse plants. Why our ancestors did not get sunburn, but we burn in the sun" />
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New research reveals why our ancestors were “friends” with sunlight and how we lost this skill.
Today we know that ultraviolet rays negatively affect our skin, and therefore we prefer to use various sunscreens, hats and glasses – everything that will help us protect ourselves from the dangerous Sun. However, our ancestors spent more time outdoors and seemed to have no fear of exposure to the sun, according to the Genetic Literacy Project.
Pennsylvania State University biological anthropologist Nina Jablonsky wondered if humans have always been so obsessed with sun protection. Coming to the front, according to a scientist who has studied the adaptation of primates to the environment, the short answer is “no.” And, it seems, this simply was not necessary – for centuries, the skin of our ancestors resisted the effects of the sun.
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Much of the history and prehistory of Homo sapiens is written outdoors – in fact, the skin was the only interface between our ancestors' bodies and the world, including ultraviolet rays. Scientists believe that all this time the human skin has adapted to the conditions in which it found itself.
It is known that over the course of a person's life, the skin reacts to exposure to the sun – the epidermis (surface layer of the skin) becomes much thicker due to additional new layers of cells, and in most people it is even darker – the cells produce a protective pigment (eumelanin). This molecule absorbs most of the visible light and harmful ultraviolet radiation, thus protecting our skin. The amount of eumelanin produced directly depends on genetics – some have more, some have less.
Nina Jablonsky studied the evolution of human skin pigmentation and found that in prehistoric times, the skin color of our ancestors directly depended on their environment. Our ancestors, who lived closer to the equator, had dark pigmented skin capable of producing a lot of eumelanin and tanning well. At the same time, people who lived in Northern Europe and Asia, for example, had fair skin and had a limited ability to produce eumelanin.
During the study, the scientists also noticed that the skin of our ancestors adapted over time to seasonal changes in sunlight and ultraviolet radiation. For example, in summer it produced more eumelanin and became darker, while in autumn and winter it lost most of the pigment. Scientists believe that in those days, even in people with slightly pigmented skin, sunburn was a very rare occurrence. In fact, with the advent of spring, the skin of ancient people became thicker during weeks and months of exposure to the sun.
Jablonsky notes that it would be a mistake to believe that our ancestors' skin was not damaged – modern dermatologists would be shocked. Even though scientists don't have the millennia-old skin of our ancestors, they believe it was thicker and wrinkled due to constant exposure to the outdoors.
The researchers found that people's relationship to the sun changed dramatically when most of our ancestors settled down and lived in permanent settlements. This is evidenced by research data – by 3000 BC, a whole industry of sun protection had developed. Scientists have found that our ancestors actively used various umbrellas, awnings, hats and clothing to protect themselves from exposure to ultraviolet rays. It is worth noting that some of the sun protection products were originally intended only for the nobility – for example, in Ancient Egypt or China.
It is curious that in some regions our ancestors also began to actively use various pastes from minerals and plant components for sun protection – in fact, they were the great-grandfathers of modern sunscreen. By the way, some of them, for example, tanaka paste, are still used in Myanmar.
Researchers believe that at some point the skin of our ancestors simply could not keep up with their movements and lifestyle – as a result, the level eumelanin did not have time to adapt to new conditions, and therefore could not protect people as well as our ancient ancestors. Scientists have come to the conclusion that as a result, our skin has simply lost the ability to adapt to seasonal environmental changes, and therefore today, even if our skin is naturally dark, this, alas, cannot protect us from painful damage – skin burns.