London - Red hair may be the genetic legacy of Neanderthals, according to a new study by British scientists.
Researchers at the John Radcliffe Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford were quoted by The Times as saying the so-called "ginger gene" which gives people red hair, fair skin and freckles could be up to 100 000 years old.
They claim that their discovery points to the gene having originated in Neanderthal man who lived in Europe for 200 000 years before Homo sapien settlers, the ancestors of modern man, arrived from Africa about 40 000 years ago.
Rosalind Harding, the research team leader, told The Times: "The gene is certainly older than 50 000 years and it could be as old as 100 000 years.
"An explanation is that it comes from Neanderthals." It is estimated that at least 10 percent of Scots have red hair and a further 40 percent carry the gene responsible, which could account for their once fearsome reputation as fighters.
Neanderthals have been characterised as migrant hunters and violent cannibals who probably ate most of their meat raw. They were taller and stockier than Homo sapiens, but with shorter limbs, bigger faces and noses, receding chins and low foreheads.
The two species overlapped for a period of time and the Oxford research appears to suggests that they must have successfully interbred for the "ginger gene" to survive. Neanderthals became extinct about 28 000 years ago, the last dying out in southern Spain and southwest France. - Sapa-DPA
It gives the "Scottish Mafia" a whole new slant, be afraid, be very afraid!