General History of Redheads & Red Hair

Many historians think that red hair could have originated in Europe and probably among the Neanderthals. Several remains and fossils from Croatia point o the presence of red hair.

We cannot refrain from adding genes to the concoction when discussing red hair. Scientists believe that the gene that caused red hair in Neanderthals is different from the one that causes red hair in humans during the present time. The gene is also not found in people who descended to become the Eastern Europeans. These findings conclude that red hair is not a result of interbreeding and that Eastern Europe is not the origin, as most believe.

The most authentic origin of red hair is believed to be somewhere in the Steppes of Central Asia and over 100,000 years old. A group of modern redheads claims that their ancestors migrated from the Middle East to the Steppes to meet the demands of increased herding. The Steppes was probably the ideal location for agriculture and grazing.

However, it is believed that lower UV levels in the Steppes caused the bodies of the migrants not to be able to process vitamin D. A deficiency of vitamin D can cause multiple health disorders such as weak bones, rickets, and muscle pain. The migrants had to change.

Evolution of Migrants and Red Hair

For better survival in a different region, the migrants evolved to make their bodies more accustomed to the limited amounts of light the area received. As a result, their skin began to lighten, and so did their hair. In eastern steppes, genetic mutations started to appear. A gene, MC1R, which not only lightened the hair but also caused it to turn red, appeared. The skin of people with this gene was adapted to absorb more UV light than those who did not carry the gene. This gene, however, makes them a little too susceptible to the sun, causing redheads to be more prone to sunburns and other skin diseases.

With the advent of the Bronze Age, these redheads decided to migrate again in search of metals. They spread from the steppes towards Central and Western Europe. Most of these migrants settled in Europe and spread more towards the Atlantic. Some, however, moved over to Siberia, and a few of them, even towards India.

Western Europe had now become the homeland of redheaded people. Historians have discovered texts from ancient writers who mentioned their encounters with redheaded people they met on their journeys to these areas.

The Red Culture

Several ancient writers highlighted the presence of unique redheaded people when they traveled to Western and Central Europe. Writings from Herodotus point toward the Budinians, who belonged to a Scythian tribe in western and central Europe, to have red hair and grey eyes. Thracians, a tribe that inhabited modern-day Turkey, Bulgaria, and parts of Greece, were also described similarly.

Even with all their sophisticated skills and military prowess, the Greeks regarded these tribes as barbarians. However, historians believe this was more of a cultural attitude issue and had little to do with hair color. But the barbarian notion quickly led to building stereotypes around redheads.

The Romans also noticed that red hair became popular in the tribes as they progressed towards the west. Several writings can be found about the German having red hair, and there are also claims for the Celtic tribes of Britain had redheaded people.  

All these redheaded tribes match the genetic constituent of those who occupy the areas of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the British Celtic countries. These regions have a high percentage of the population who are carriers of the MC1R gene. Similarly, countries within mainland Europe such as Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Jutland, an island in Denmark, also have a high occurrence of the red hair gene.

Southwest Norway is the only Scandinavian country to show traces of red hair, which has led several to believe that Vikings were probably gingers. However, genetic evidence reveals that the genes governing red hair in Norway were brought by Vikings when they returned from Scotland and Ireland.

Final Thoughts on History of People with Red Hair / Redheads

There are several theories that revolve around the origination of redheads. Most people believe they originated in Western Europe, where they are mostly found.

However, deeper historical research shows evidence of redheads being present in the Steppes in Central Asia long before they were present in Western or Central Europe. Historians believe they migrated to Europe in search of resources and a better livelihood, where they continue to thrive until today.

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