Fade to white 5,000 years ago
Of course people in the colder climates exposed less skin to sunlight so they were less likely to tan. If Europeans move to warmer climates and expose their skin more often they can become very dark as some in Hollywood have demonstrated.
People in England may have only developed pale skin within the last 5,500 years, according to new research.
Scientists believe that a sudden change in the diet around that time from hunter-gathering to farming may have led to a dramatic change in skin tone to make up for a lack of vitamin D.
Farmed food is lacking in vitamin D and while humans can produce it when exposed to the ultraviolet light in sunlight darker skin is far less efficient at it.
Scientists at the University of Oslo believe this change in diet may have led to our dark-skinned ancestors evolving paler skin to overcome this problem.
The link between skin colour and Vitamin D from sunlight has been suggested before.
It had previously been believed that our ancestors’ skin had gradually lightened to generate more Vitamin D the further north they moved away from the equator to places where there was less sunlight.
Now scientists believe that the change in their diet away from foods rich in Vitamin D also played a major factor in the skin lightening in colour.
And the particularly pale skins of people in Scandinavia may have evolved to maximise the amount of Vitamin D that could be produced, the research suggests.
If the theory is correct it would mean that until this period in history, the ancient inhabitants of Britain and Scandinavia - our ancestors - would have had a dark skin tone.