London: People with ginger hair can trace their flame-haired heritage back to the first intrepid settlers to arrive in Europe from Africa, as a new study suggests that the mutation that caused the "ginger gene", known as V60L allele, occurred 50,000 years ago.
It lightened the skin and allowed people to get more vitamin D from weaker sunlight.
However, it increased their vulnerability to melanomas - the deadliest form of skin cancer.
The mutation remains common across Europe, even in those with no outward signs, Metro.co.uk reported.
Because it is recessive, the gene needs to be carried by both parents for it to cause "rufosity" in a child.
It was discovered by Spanish researchers examining the genes of 3,000 people, according to the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Study author Dr Saioa Lopez said that as a consequence of depigmentation there has been collateral damage to health.
Scotland has the world`s highest concentration of red heads, at about 13 percent, but nearly half the population carries the gene.