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The Evolution of Human Skin and Skin Color

Annual Review of Anthropology
The Evolution of Human Skin and Skin ColorNina G. Jablonski
Abstract Humans skin is the most visible aspect of the human phenotype. It is distinguished mainly by its naked appearance, greatly enhanced abilities to dissipate body heat through sweating, and the great range of genetically determined skin colors present within a single species. Many aspects of the evolution of human skin and skin color can be reconstructed using comparative anatomy, physiology, and genomics. Enhancement of thermal sweating was a key innovation in human evolution that allowed maintenance of homeostasis (including constant brain temperature) during sustained physical activity in hot environments. Dark skin evolved pari passu with the loss of body hair and was the original state for the genus Homo. Melanin pigmentation is adaptive and has been maintained by natural selection. Because of its evolutionary lability, skin color phenotype is useless as a unique marker of genetic identity. In recent prehistory, humans became adept at protecting themselves from the environment through clothing and shelter, thus reducing the scope for the action of natural selection on human skin.


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