Red hair genes directly inherited from the world’s first Redheads 70,000 years ago

Red hair genes directly inherited from the world’s first Redheads 70,000 years ago

ScotlandsDNA believes that everyone who carries one of 3 variants of the red-hair gene is a direct descendant of the first redhead ever to have it – two variants originating in West Asia around 70,000 years ago, and a younger variant originating in Europe around 30,000 years ago.

Most carriers of the red hair gene variants don’t actually have red hair themselves and may not know they carry it, but ScotlandsDNA has developed a test to let parents see if they might have red-haired children.  For a child to have red hair, both parents must be carriers of the recessive gene and there is a 25% chance that their offspring will have it.

Helen Moffat of ScotlandsDNA, herself a redhead, told CBS News: “Britain has the most numbers of redheads per capita in the world.  We’re really interested in finding out where it came from and why.  It’s something rooted in our history and we should be proud.”

Between 2% and 6% of northwestern Europeans have red hair, compared with an average of around 0.6% of the world’s population as a whole.  In the British Isles the numbers are much higher.  In Scotland around 13% of the population have red hair, but over 30% are unknowing carriers of the redhead gene.  In Ireland about 10% have red hair, but as many as 46% are carriers.  Scottish and Irish emigration have made the USA the home of the largest population of redheads in the world at between 6 million and 18 million, with many millions more carrying the gene variants.

ScotlandsDNA, which proclaims Scotland as the world’s Red-Headed Nation, estimates the proportion of Scots carrying each variant as follows:

Cysteine-red – 10%.
Tryptophan-red – 9%.
Histidine-red – 2.5%.

ScotlandsDNA reckon that both Cysteine-red and Tryptophan-red originated in West Asia around 70,000 years ago, which would put the founders amongst the earliest generations of modern humans to live outside of Africa.  Histidine-reds descend from a European who lived around 30,000 years ago.  DNA studies conclude that some Neanderthals also had red hair, although the mutation responsible for this differs from that which causes red hair in modern humans.

In recorded history, the ancient Greeks and Romans described Celtic and Germanic people as redheads and the distribution of red hair in Europe today matches the ancient Celtic and Germanic worlds – with the highest frequencies in areas that remain Celtic-speaking to this day or until recently, such as Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.

The map of red heads in northern and western Europe also correlates with the frequency of Y-chromosomal haplogroup R1b, thought to be linked to the origins of red hair.  The 45th parallel north, which runs exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, appears to be a major natural boundary for red hair frequencies.  Under the 45th parallel, UV rays become so strong that it is no longer an advantage to have the very fair skin associated with red hair, and redheads become increasingly rare, even in high R1b areas.  The origins of haplogroup R1b are complex, but it likely had a West Asian origin and migrated into Western Europe with the spread of agriculture.

Frequencies of Red Hair and Y-DNA Haplogroup R1b in Western Europe - Eupedia

While I personally have brown hair, I must be a carrier of one the variants of the red-head gene.  The evidence shows in my beard after a couple of days and also in one of my sons, who has ‘strawberry blond’ hair (but, unusually, has brown eyes, no freckles, and skin that tans easily).  As a red-head, he is in notable company, particularly in the R1b-dominated lineage of European royalty.  Richard the Lionheart, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were all redheads.  The ancient Briton Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, was described by Cassius Dio as “tall and terrifying in appearance… a great mass of red hair… over her shoulders.”  Probably the best known red-head in Britain today is also of royal, and R1b, stock – Prince Harry (pictured at the top).  While serving with the British Army in Afghanistan, he was known by his comrades – due to his hair colour and his status as a high profile target – as ‘the Ginger Bullet Magnet‘.

Sources:  CBS News, Wikipedia and Eupedia

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23 Comments

  1. Australia I’m a redhead with heritage from Cornwall, Ireland and Denmark. My Dad is also R1b DNA.

  2. Canada Both my parents are dark brown in their hair colour. So is my sister but I was born with Red hair. My dad’s roots come from Scotland ( my maiden name is Davidson) and my mum from England.

    My Husband has a beard that is the same shade as my red hair so I am hoping my babies have red hair.

  3. United States I’m a readhead but I was adopted and my records are sealed so I don’t have a history.

    • United States I was adopted also and have red hair and not much of family history, but I do know I am in good company when it comes red heads.

  4. United States I can track my family history to the 1400′s in Ireland and I love being a red head. Wish my daughters had a brighter red than I do.

  5. Canada Unfortunately i do not have red hair, except a small bit in my beard, both siblings have red hair and so does my mom. So its a recessive gene like blue eyes. I wonder if Blue eyes are linked to red hair as well too. Both are recessive traits, both parents have to have the genetic markers. I am curious about Blonde Hair as well. Having natural blonde hair a genetic mark too with Red hair. Its so fascinating. But this does prove one thing i have been saying for some time. We are all related, and it seems if any of your descendants are from western europe (3/4 of mine are at least) There’s a roadmap now :)

  6. United States I am so curious to know more. I know I am a carrier because my roots are red when I have my hair highlighted, plus I was born with strawberry hair. I do know also that my Father’s family was from Germany and My mothers family were of Native American Heritage. Does anyone know of any documentation of Red Headed Native Americans?

    Also, what are the differences between the 3 types of red heads. Other than being born stawberry, my hair is very dark and the red is only really noticable in direct sunlight.

    By the way. my skin is not by any means fair but I do have Lupus and I have become very sensitive to the sun.

    • United States Joyce Huston

      There are many red headed American Indians. I am English, Irish,Scottish and Osage American Indian. My father was English and Irish and blue eyed and sandy red haired and my mother was Irish and Scottish and Osage Indian with brownish green eyes and dark brown hair. My maternal ggreat grandfather was Osage Indian He was known in his home place in Arkansas as the Red Headed Indian I am green eyed and blond haired that turned reddish as an adult late in life and I’ve always had a red beard.
      Lloyd

  7. United States just an added note-I have been able to trace my roots partially to Elizabeth of Drusbury, however that is as far as I have been able to get. If I am not mistaken she also had red hair.

  8. United States I had red hair and very fair skin that freckled easily. I got many sunburns when I was a child in Southern California. My eyes are not blue, but are greenish brown. Heritage on my father’s side was my red-headed grandmother who married my dark-haired grandfather. None of her children had red hair. But several grandchildren had red hair and fair skin, depending on who her sons and daughters married.

    Further back, my great-great grandfather, William Foster, was an Irish immigrant and was probably red-headed, as was his son (my grandmother’s father).

    My father had brown hair and my mother was a brunette. Then, they had me–a red head. One of my brothers had dark hair, and the other was a tow-head whose hair turned brown has he got older. There was almost no red hair in my mother’s family. However, one of her sisters also had a red-haired daughter. So, they all must have been “carriers.” My mother’s ancestors were primarily English and maybe some Scottish mixed in there, as well.

    None of my children are real red heads. However, my daughter’s hair has red highlights in it. My youngest son had a mixture of red and blonde hair when he was little, along with the red head fair skin. His blonde turned brown, however, and his hair does not look red now. He probably does have red highlights in it. Their father’s family heritage was Irish and English, but none of them that I knew had red hair.

  9. United Kingdom This is really interesting to me a red head. I was told that my grandmother had red hair although both parents were dark.
    My brother was dark but his beard always came out red and he was told that the British were called the Red Men by other navies because of their red beards.
    I would love to know my DNA is there anyay that I could get it done?

  10. United States I was born a redhead, but the older I have gotten, my hair has turned go more of a “strawberry blonde”. In the winter, when I stay inside, you can definitely see the red. In the summer, the sun bleaches it out blonde. I have family roots in both Ireland and Scotland ( maiden name Kyle). I am also fair skinned, blue eyed and freckled.
    Alas, both my children got their fathers genes. Darker skinned, brown eyes and dark hair.

  11. United States “Red hair genes directly inherited from the world’s first Redheads 70,000 years ago”

    “ScotlandsDNA believes that everyone who carries one of 3 variants of the red-hair gene is a direct descendant of the first redhead ever to have it – two variants originating in West Asia around 70,000 years ago, and a younger variant originating in Europe around 30,000 years ago.”

    Is it just me, or is this wording unclear? What are you saying exactly? Are you saying all three variants can be traced to a common ancestor, “the first redhead,” who lived 70,000 years ago? Or are you saying the three variants can be traced to three separate ancestors, i.e. three “first redheads,” two of whom lived ~70,000 years ago and one of whom lived ~30,000 years ago? Or are you saying the three variants can be traced to three separate ancestors, two of whom lived ~70,000 years ago and one of whom lived ~30,000 years ago, all three of whom can be traced to a single ancestor, the “first redhead,” who lived at some unspecified time?

  12. United Kingdom I’m a redhead green eyes of non redhead blue eyed parents & have three non red sons, I think being red haired is the best gift in life, if I had a pound for every compliment paid to my hair I’d be a multi millionaire!

  13. United States Re: my question, I think I found the answer on another site:

    ctesthetic.com/tag/ireland/

    “Everyone who carries one of the variants is a direct descendant of the first person ever to have it. Those with Cysteine-red have a 70,000 year old variant that probably arose in West Asia, those with Tryptophan-red are the descendants of someone who likely lived in West Asia 70,000 years ago, and finally Histidine-reds belong to a much younger group who descend from a European who lived about 30,000 years ago.”

    That’s very clearly written. Note that in the first sentence, it’s clear that “it” refers to “one of the variants,” whereas in your first sentence “it” could refer to “the red hair gene.”

    Also, if the quoted passage is correct, then your title is misleading, because not all redheads are descended from redheads who lived 70,000 years ago; only two of the three variants go back that far.

    I think clarity and precision are important when you’re writing about science.

  14. Canada Northern Italian / 6′ tall/ green eyed / fare skined. Must have been something going on in the water.

    • United States viking invaders made it to ITaly, to Russia and to england, ireland and scotland. responsible for a lot of carnage and a lot of redhair. they settled in the places they first looted.

  15. United States It’s not surprising that most European red-heads with those three variants could be traced to one person who lived 70,000 years ago!! A similar study involving blue eyes also led Danish scientists to a single individual who lived some 6,000 years ago. The first redhead might be officially the “first white man/woman”, since the mutation for truly light or pale skin tone is linked to red hair. Perhaps, blond hair is an offshoot of red hair, because many people who are ginger turn blond as they age. Some Neanderthals also developed red hair in Northern Europe. Ancient Celtic and Germanic tribes were described by the Romans and Greeks as red-heads. Slavic people described Vikings/Varanguians as red-heads as well. So there’s a link between red hair and Northern Europe first inhabitants. Thus British Islanders are the “world’s palest people”, since they have the highest frequency of red hair and freckling.

  16. United States It’s also quite true, that Ireland, Scotland and Wales have the highest frequency for red hair. There are always red-heads among them, something not that common amongst other Europeans, especially those who aren’t northwestern Europeans.

  17. United States [...] that red-hair was more ancient and more widely distributed than I knew.  You can read the article here, but the basic argument is that two of the three red-hair genes can be traced to West Asia about [...]

  18. Israel My aunt (mom’s sister), one of her sons and several of her grandchildren are proud redheads. She was for sure the recessive gene as nobody else I know of in my family sport red hair.

    The Bible also states that King David and Jacob’s brother Esav were redheads and behaved as redheads as well.

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