Hereditary hemochromatosis is caused by a potentially lethal recessive gene (HFE, C282Y allele) that increases iron absorption and reaches polymorphic levels in northern European populations. Because persons carrying the allele absorb iron more readily than do noncarriers, it has often been suggested that HFE is an adaptation to anemia. We hypothesize positive selection for HFE began during or after the European Neolithic with the adoption of an iron-deficient high-grain and dairying diet and consequent anemia, a finding confirmed in Neolithic and later European skeletons. HFE frequency compared with rate of lactase persistence in Eurasia yields a positive linear correlation coefficient of 0.86. We suggest this is just one of many mutations that became common after the adoption of agriculture.


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pp. 39-58
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