A genetics research student has suggested that the comparatively high number of ginger-haired people among the Scots and Irish may be due in part to crap weather.
While 1-2 per cent of the European population are ginger, this is around eight per cent in Scotland and Ireland. One reason, speculates Emily Pritchard, is that ginger peoples' fair countenance is less of an evolutionary disadvantage in places where it's not likely to result in sunburn or skin cancer - "unhelpful characteristics in hunter-gatherer societies", the Times notes.
After the first redheads appeared in Europe, possibly just 20-40,000 years ago and long after humanity had exited Africa in search of less sunny climes, another factor was required for the survival of the ginger mutation*: "genetic bottlenecks" where small groups of humans with a common ancestry lived in stable communities, thereby increasing the chance of both parents carrying the genetic variation required to produce ginger offspring.
Pritchard, a 26-year-old studying at the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the Western General Hospital, noted: “The Celts, by chance, had a high frequency of the ginger mutation, which was able to persist over time.”
Pritchard admitted her idea is "speculation rather than scientific study", but described it as "plausible". ®
*A variation of the MC1R gene which supresses production of brown/black eumelanin pigment in skin and hair, leading to the predominance of red/yellow phaeomelanin. More here.