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Angela Koine Flynn

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Emma Bryce

Script Editor
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Tomás Pichardo-Espaillat

Director
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Tomás Pichardo-Espaillat

Animator
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Cem Misirlioglu

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Additional Resources for you to Explore

While visible human traits like height, hair texture and eye color, vary in degree from person to person, skin color is the trait most often used when describing people. There is some consensus amongst anthropologists that modern humans evolved from the African homo, but cave paintings do not show depictions of dark skinned people.  However, even without anthropological evidence that our early ancestors’ skin color varied from region to region, scientists have been able to use other evidence.

One way to test the theory of what our early ancestors looked like is tracing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed on through the mitochondria found in the egg of the mother. This DNA is used to trace common ancestry back to Africa. In addition, Neanderthal DNA has also been used to explain the source of red hair and pale skin. Interestingly, there is also evidence showing that after early man lost the relatively thick covering of hair revealing naked pale skin about 1.2 million years ago, natural selection favored individuals who had darker naked skin underneath their hair. Because there was skin-tone variation even among these darker-skinned early humans who migrated north, those with lighter tones then gave rise through mutation and natural selection to lighter-skinned populations in northern latitudes.

Nina Jablonski’s TED Talk on the illusion of skin color along with her video collaboration with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute are great in-depth explanations of the source of variation in human skin color. 

However, one refers to human skin color today, language historically used in the United States has incorrectly called certain shades of human skin “red,” “white,” “black,” and “yellow.” None of these actually represent the palette of human skin color and was usually used in a derogatory way. Unfortunately, much of this language persists today and helps to contribute to the misunderstanding of the biology of skin color.

In literature, the mention of skin color comes up in various texts from the Bible to Shakespeare’s Othello. This presentation (slides 6-8) traces the earliest references of skin color until modern days. Take a look and learn!

Skin cancer could have directly driven the evolution of dark skin in humans, a study on people with albinism in modern Africa suggests. Darwin and others said skin cancer couldn't influence the evolution of skin color. A new study makes the case that it did. The question remains: Was skin cancer a selective force for black pigmentation in early hominin evolution?

Caucasians are the primary victims of skin cancer. However, everyone, regardless of skin color, can fall prey to it.

What if we go back deeper in our evolutionary history, back to when all of humanity lived in Africa? At that time, all humans had darkly pigmented skin. A new study sheds light on how and why this skin pigmentation evolved.

A New York Times Op-Ed: Race and Racial Identity Are Social Constructs

Bill Nye on race: "There really is, for humankind there’s really no such thing as race. There’s different tribes but not different races. We’re all one species."

The concept of race is one of the most intellectually and emotionally
charged subjects, not only in society but in science as well. NOVA Online asked two leading anthropologists, Dr. Loring Brace of the
University of Michigan and Dr. George Gill of the University of Wyoming,
who fall on either side of the debate about whether race exists in
biologic terms, to state their points of view.