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What came first, white skin or black skin?



Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS) San Gallicano, Roma, Italy


Like all the living beings’ somatic characteristics , the color of the human skin has an evolutive meaning: it is a result of a process of adaptation to the surrounding environment which has been running since hundreds of thousands years. So, there are reasons for the different skin pigmentation between human groups, all of them related to the different climatic and ecological conditions they lived in. What are these causes? When and why the skin colors became an evolutive issue? These are among the questions this article tries to answer in a scientific yet very informative way.


Charles Darwin, in 1871, in The Descent of Man and selection in relation to sex, stated that the human species is only one, since “races all graduated into each other”. Closer to our times, in 1950, just after the Nazi horror, Unesco made a solemn declaration stating that races did not exist. Nonetheless, prejudices are hard to get rid of. Anyone seriously thinking about it would come to the inevitable conclusion that races obviously do not exist, that the different colours of human skin and the different physical characteristics are the result of adaptation occurring in the course of thousands, millions of years, of the ecological and climatic geographical conditions our ancestors lived in.


In the past, the scientific desire to bring order to human knowledge led a number of researchers to attempt a classification for human beings, as well as for the flora and fauna. One of the first to take the challenge was Carl von Linné, also known as Linnaeus (1707-1778). In 1758, Linnaeus scientifically classified populations of the various continents, underlin ...

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