Skin color variation in Eastern Nepal

S. Williams‐Blangero, J. Blangero

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Scopus citations


    The purpose of this paper is to provide skin color data on several endogamous groups of eastern Nepal and to demonstrate genetic microdifferentiation in skin color. Skin reflectance measures were taken at the upper inner arm and forehead sites, using the British DSL Model 99 Reflectance Spectrophotometer fitted with blue, green, and red filters. Measurements on 484 males representing six endogamous groups (Jirel, Sunwar, Sherpa, Tamang, Brahman, Chetri) were utilized. After adjusting for group‐specific age effects, multivariate likelihood ratio permutation tests were used to assess ethnic differences in skin reflectance means and covariance matrices. Ethnic group membership had a highly significant effect on skin color at the upper inner arm site and at the forehead site. Differential tanning responses among groups were also detected and may represent the influence of genotype‐environment interaction on reflectance traits. Mahalanobis distance analysis revealed patterns of microdifferentiation that are inconsistent with oral historical accounts. Little support was found for the ethnohistorical belief that Jirels are a hybrid group descended from Sunwars and Sherpas, even though this scenario is supported by linguistic, anthropometric, and dermatoglyphic data. We suggest that while reflectometric studies of skin pigmentation may be useful in assessing the macrodifferentiation of human populations, the use of skin color in differentiation studies at the local population level needs to be carefully evaluated.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)281-291
    Number of pages11
    JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Jul 1991


    • Microdifferentiation
    • Pigmentation
    • Population genetics
    • Skin reflectance
    • South Asia

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Anatomy
    • Anthropology


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