When it comes to skin color, the idea that we're really all the same isn't just a utopian dream. In a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Mel Greaves, professor of cell biology at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, looked at some 25 studies of skin cancer in albinos in Africa. Greaves found that basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are not relatively harmless diseases of old age. Greaves, who studies the role that disease plays in human evolution, believes his study adds credence to the idea that when earlier hominids shed their shaggy hair about two million years ago, exposing their naked, pale skin to the sun on the sun-drenched savanna of Africa, natural selection favored those who had the darkest variations in skin color to protect against the ultraviolet radiation (UVR) that can cause skin cancer. Much later, about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, those who migrated to cold northern climates no longer needed that protection, and evolved back to pale skin. At one time, natural selection may have favored those who had the darkest variations in skin color to protect against ultraviolet radiation. I can't think of any other cancer and circumstance that would have had a sufficiently large impact on survival and reproduction.
The genetic evidence suggests that black skin became the norm in Africa some 1.2 million years ago, around the time that early humans were colonizing the savanna and had lost most of their body hair. But skin cancer has been universally rejected as a possible selective force for the adaptation of black skin.
Why did some people then evolve back to the white skin that was originally underneath hominids' hair?
As our human ancestors migrated out of Africa, those that moved away from equatorial and tropical regions underwent positive selection for paler skin.
So you're saying that skin cancer played a part in skin color: Humans were originally white under all their hair, then evolved to black a million or two million years ago, then 50,000 to 100,000 years ago some went back to white as they migrated farther north? Naturally there is considerable speculation in all of this debate, and coming up with a definitive, unambiguous explanation for events that happened millions of years ago is very difficult, if not impossible.
Seventeen years after she stared out from the cover of National Geographic, a former Afghan refugee comes face-to-face with the world once more. Daring the border, Debra Denker and Steve McCurry join Afghans who fight and those who flee in a stalemated war that has killed countless civilians and forced a quarter of the population into exile. But in the darkness and snows of December, sometime around the fifth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, she will give birth to her tenth child.
Few families remain in this region, where frequent bombings have destroyed both villages and crops as the Russians attempt to close this important route to the interior.
When an April 1978 coup brought a Marxist regime to power in Kabul, armed resistance began within months. BUT THE MOST VISIBLE effect of the war has been the flight of the Afghan people, a multilingual population of mixed tribes and ethnic groups, from their homeland.
Abdul Wahed (not his real name), husband of the pregnant woman in this Jaji village, comes in out of the cold and darkness, letting in a gust of icy wind. After dinner Abdul Wahed’s wife sits down next to me, adjusts her veil over her shiny dark braids, and pours me another glass of tea.
I walk with the two men who have been specially detailed to accompany me by Syed Ishaq Gailani, a mujahidin commander who has for several years been a close friend of my family. His friend Mustafa’s manner is quieter, though at 29 he has been a fighter for six years. On this dusty dirt road, one of the main supply routes of the mujahidin, we pass several parties of men coming from distant fronts. In the refugee camps of Pakistan I had heard reports of destruction of food supplies, and of fears of a famine in the spring. Farther on, in another village, a gray and-white cat prowls delicately along the top of a ruined wall. Later, in a field of grass stubble under an opalescent autumn sky, we find shattered pieces of dull green plastic, one with a detonator still attached. THE SUN is nearly on the edge of the sharp, snow-covered peaks and ridges that mark the far limits of the valley when Mustafa stops and points to a cluster of nondescript mud buildings on a hilltop about a kilometer away. A couple of hours later the attack on the government post begins, and Bahram Jan leads me up the stairs to the square tower with a picture-window view of fiery parabolas of tracer bullets arcing from the mountainsides toward the mud fort. In this narrow, uncultivated valley some of Afghanistan’s internal refugees have built crude houses of earth, wood, and stone.
When I return to Pakistan, I learn that the United Nations General Assembly has passed yet another resolution calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
In a refugee camp at Sateen, not far from the Afghan border, I find some of the last people to flee from Ali Sangi, the village where the gray-and-white cat walked along the ruined wall.
Hazrat Bibi is probably in her 40s, but her face is thin and worn with grief and the trauma of her journey with six children into exile.
As the men gather, she turns away toward the wall, hiding her face from them but always watching me. PESHAWAR, capital of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, homeland of the Pashtun, or Pathan, tribes that inhabit the border areas of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, has two faces.
In August 1984 all mujahidin party offices were ordered out of Peshawar because of an escalating climate of violence, including bombings of the offices and attempted assassinations of prominent Afghans. Many disillusioned mujahidin say that the parties fail either to supply arms or to achieve political unity. Beyond the refugee camps that fringe Peshawar is the Khyber Pass, the historic passage between the uplands of Central Asia and the plains of the Indo-Pakistani subcontinent.
On the way through the pass, on a winding dirt road beyond the limits of government control, a pickup truck bounces along in a cloud of dust, while a train of camels lopes on unconcerned.
Poppy cultivation is a tradition in certain families, and a source of income tribesmen are reluctant to give up. Despite the number of refugees and their length of stay, there has been little tension between refugees and locals.
Each refugee is supposed to receive a daily ration of 500 grams of wheat, 30 grams of edible oil, 30 grams of dried skim milk, 20 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of tea. Most who arrived before 1984 have been officially registered and receive close to their allotted rations. At the time of my visit, in late 1984, new arrivals typically faced delays of as long as four months in registration and issue of rations.
New arrivals, hungry and dazed from their long and dangerous journey across the border, often could not comprehend the reason for the delay.
THE GREAT MAJORITY of Afghan refugees in the North-West Frontier Province are Pashtuns, a robust, handsome people. Near Qissa Khawani, down the narrow lane of the gold bazaar and across from the delicate mosque of Mahabat Khan, is an even narrower lane that leads to Murad Market, the heart of the refugee bazaar. One day I accompany Sher and his younger brother to their camp, where I am welcomed by their mother and two young aunts. While his young wife cooks outside the tent, pulling her yellow-embroidered black veil over her face modestly, Sher tells me of his wedding, only three months ago, to this girl who lived in the tent next door. Abdul Ali, 12 went out to play one morning, stepped on a mine, and lost both his legs at the thigh.
Simeen Musharaf, widowed mother of four children, is a teacher at a girls school in Nasir Bagh camp. Noor Jehan, a sprightly widow with bright eyes, expressive face, and hennaed gray hair, runs to embrace me. IN A HOSPITAL BED in Lahore, far, from the Afghan border, lies Commander Mohammed Naim, age 22.
A few days later I deliver a letter to Naim’s father, Khan Mohammed, who lives in a camp in Kohat District. Under some willow trees by a stream, former enemies sit side by side with me, sharing an incongruous picnic lunch of unleavened bread and a tomato omelet. Ishaq Gailani has spent much time at many fronts and tells me he hopes to go back again soon. As a heavy dusk deepens over the craggy hills, a muezzin’s voice calls the men to prayer, and once again the mujahidin put aside their study of war.
A man stands silhouetted behind 21 square feet (2 square meters) of skin substitute, the amount of skin jacketing an average human adult. Seen here in a scanning electron micrograph, the epidermis is a tough coating formed from overlapping layers of dead skin cells, which continually slough off and are replaced with cells from the living layers beneath. Pale, milky skin, flaxen hair, and light irises are indicative of albinism, as in this African-American woman.

Each adhesive dot on former Banbury, Australia, lifeguard Don Bennewith represents a removed melanoma. Thirtysomething Kelly Curtis braces for an injection of muscle-paralyzing Botox, a popular treatment for aging skin. Beyond providing armor, insulation, and air-conditioning, skin has long served as a canvas for cultural expression. National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series. Get up close with some of the world's most fascinating underground communities, from gangs to cults to organized crime families.
As the global population soars toward nine billion by 2045, this corner of Africa shows what's at stake in the decades ahead.
Albinos have less melanin, a natural pigment that helps protect the skin against damage from the sun.
You might think that pediatric cancers might have been subject to evolutionary selection, but my guess is that they have always been too rare to provoke protective selection. Most investigators believe that black pigmentation was an essential adaption to protect naked, pale skin against solar ultraviolet radiation, which is high all year round near the equator.
Ideas have included damage to sweat glands and degradation of folate and other essential nutrients in blood circulating through the skin. This is on the grounds that in modern-day Caucasians, it is usually benign or is lethal too late in life to influence evolution. This was in part due to the reduced pressure from UVR skin damage, but also because black skin became a disadvantage, possibly because [pale skin is better at generating vitamin D] and dark skin is more susceptible to frostbite. But unless Jared Diamond and Darwin [two scientists who dismissed skin cancer as a factor in evolution] are right and skin color variation is just incidental and endorsed by sexual preferences, then there has to be an evolutionary logic.
We are trying to come up with the most plausible answer in the light of all the evidence availablea€”which is the way science always works.
If the child comes in the safety of the night, it will be born here, in this earthen house warmed by an iron stove. The conflict was both nationalistic and religious, but devout Muslims regarded it as a jihad, or holy war.
They have mounted frequent offensives to stamp out resistance, at great cost in lives to Afghan civilians. The mujahidin claim to control as much as 80 percent of the countryside, while Soviet troops and an army of Afghan conscripts defend parts of major cities, a few main roads, and fortified posts in some rural areas. The light of his lantern reveals the graceful geometric designs his children have daubed on the walls with the red earth of the mountains.
She is happy to talk to me, as it has been a long time since the family has had a female guest.
One of the fighters, Bahram Jan, is perhaps 40, a big man with a commanding voice who used to buy cars in Kabul and sell them in Jaji. They exchange greetings with my companions and stop for a few moments to tell news of Kabul, or Kunduz in the north.
The bombing is on the other side of Ali Khel today, one says stoically, but just two days ago this area was heavily bombed.
Refugees from the Panjsher Valley, a center of resistance, told me how their walnut and mulberry trees were systematically cut down by the enemy during Soviet offensives.
Though the back wall gapes and half the floor is missing, the mosque is still sacred, and someone has strewn fresh straw on the floor. These are the remains of small mines shaped like butterflies, which can take off the hand or foot of an unwary person or injure livestock. The fort at Ali Khel appears deserted, but inside are Afghan government soldiers and some Soviet officers. The fighting goes on for hours in the frosty night, the mujahidin firing Kalashnikov automatic rifles and a heavy machine gun or two at the solid walls of the fort, the enemy post answering with machine guns, mortar fire, and occasional flares. I am invited to sit with the men, and I join them in the nightly ritual of listening to the BBC World Service for news of the outside world and news of their own war. The Soviet Union has ignored five previous resolutions, claiming that they constitute interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Against the counterpoint of a nearby wedding, where women chant and bang hand drums, the survivors recount their stories. Akbar Khan, a middle-aged man who used to be a farmer and a driver in Kabul, speaks for himself and his village.
The old face is that of an exotic crossroads, a wild frontier town near the foot of the Khyber Pass. Most of Pakistan’s refugee population of about three million is concentrated in this province, though refugees are settled in a long crescent from Chitral in the rugged Hindu Kush range of northern Pakistan to the deserts of Baluchistan Province.
Today the Khyber, except for a strip 50 feet (15 meters) wide on either side of the road administered by the Pakistani government, remains under the control of local Pashtun tribes. They may be smuggling cloth, untaxed cigarettes, whiskey, or raw opium to be processed into heroin.
Older camps have become sprawling villages as refugees have built houses out of earth, as in their native villages. The reason for the delay, according to Pakistani refugee officials, was the process of recounting previously registered refugees.
A group of 150 families from Baghlan, in Afghanistan’s north, had walked for more than a month.
In the camps of the north, near Chitral, are light-skinned Tajiks from Panjsher Valley, Badakhshis from the high Hindu Kush, and rugged, sharp-faced Nuristanis. Perhaps half the shops here are rented by Afghans, mostly carpet sellers, silversmiths, and dealers in antique goods. They have lived here for three years but have been unable to build a mud house because the camp lies on sand.
He sits in his wheelchair at the orthopedic center of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Peshawar, laughing and badgering me for a picture.
The mud roof of the school building has fallen in because of heavy rain one night several months before. On the orders of the provincial refugee commission, several men are busy building a high mud wall around the camp to screen the widows from the eyes of men. It is not hot on this late November day, but Naim is sweating with the effort of his body to fight off the effects of its injuries, and his voice is weak and halting. We listen to a cassette of my interview with Naim, while men and children gather in the small oblong guesthouse.
Like most of their mujahidin counterparts, Garik Moradovich Dzhamalbekov and Nikolai Vasilovich Balabanov are young, in their early- to mid-20s. The two defectors, who speak to me in Persian when we are left alone, have heard that several Soviet soldiers have gone to England and the United States, and they are hoping Canada or the United States will accept them. Enthusiastically they run through the dusty obstacle course, climb swinging ladders, rappel down cliffs, scale sheer walls, and run through fire, their plastic shoes falling off as they leap. At 32, this charismatic young leader is revered by his followers as much for his reputation for honesty and bravery in battle as for his membership in a family of hereditary religious leaders.
As we watch the men receiving instruction on captured Soviet weapons, I ask him the meaning of the black flag that flies over the camp.
The holy warriors, Ishaq among them, spread their pattu on the ground, their weapons before them, and stand and bow and stand again. Engineered from cow-tendon collagen, shark cartilage, and silicone, this skin substitute, Integra, helps surgeons close burn wounds until new skin grows in. Melanin, a pigment, determines the color of skin and protects humans from the sun's ultraviolet rays.
One in 17,000 Americans are albinos, and their lack of the pigment melanin leaves them defenseless against the sun's cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. Researchers there subjected test participants to a variety of simulated weather conditions to test how long it takes skin to become frostbitten. Melanomas are malignant tumors that begin as pigmented moles and are caused by excessive sun exposure. Skin grafts and transplants help reduce infection and fluid loss (which burn patients with extensive skin loss are especially susceptible to), but transplants carry several risks, including bleeding, infection, and rejection of the graft. Americans spend over 300 million dollars annually injecting themselves with botulinum toxin, a poisonous substance that, when used in minute doses, temporarily smoothes wrinkles.

Here, a woman in Srinagar, Kashmir, displays her henna-painted hands, illustrating one of skin's greatest roles: human canvas for the artistic and the spiritual. In my paper I suggest this is taking cancer out of the relevant context and that the experience of African albinos illustrates very vividly what the impact of intense UVR might have been on early humans.
On this cold November night she is busily preparing food for the six mujahidin, Afghan freedom fighters, who have escorted me across the Pakistani border to Afghanistan’s embattled Paktia Province and into this small village in the Jaji region.
If her baby comes in the day, she is likely to be in the damp bomb shelter hewn into the ground under the fields outside the village, her birth pangs accompanied, perhaps, by the roar of jets and bombs. By December 1979 the central government was in danger of collapse, and in a three-day operation beginning on Christmas Eve, thousands of Soviet troops invaded the country, claiming to have been invited under the terms of a 1978 friendship treaty.
At this time of year the land is all gray and brown, except where odd patches of snow lie, and the trees are bare but for a few limp yellow leaves.
He is a font of war stories: These ruins were an Afghan government post till the mujahidin took it last year.
Near the battlefields the mujahidin seem relaxed, unconcerned with the rivalries and disunity that plague Afghan parties in exile in Pakistan. In the shadow of carved wooden columns, the men turn away from the destruction behind them, face the niche that marks the direction of Mecca, and pray. Designed to maim, they are scattered from helicopters on inhabited areas and important routes. The 120 rounds issued to each of my escorts will not last the night, and some must be conserved for the journey back to Pakistan.
But there are questions as to how much of this aid has actually arrived inside Afghanistan.
The modern face is that of a noisy, congested, polluted city that is estimated to have doubled in size in five years since the Soviet invasion. Tribal areas are generally off-limits to foreigners, but photographer Steve McCurry and I get special permission from the governor. Pakistan, despite government efforts to reduce poppy growing, is among the world’s major exporters of heroin. Pakistanis, who opened their country in the name of Muslim hospitality and the Pashtun tradition of panah, or asylum, are now faced with the largest refugee population in the world. They are allowed to come and go, even to work and trade, as long as they own no immovable property.
Though idleness still plagues the camps, where there are many farmers without land, shepherds without flocks, and shopkeepers without shops, some men have found work on the roads, in refugee-camp bazaars, or driving three-wheeled taxis leased from Pakistanis or buses and trucks brought from Afghanistan. For example, on the theory that children are too guileless to exaggerate the number of family members, teams of checkers questioned children from each family.
Now they camped by the huge Kachaghari refugee camp outside Peshawar under makeshift tents made of blankets. Later I hear that he has learned to walk on the two small artificial limbs the center made for him and has returned to Afghanistan.
I ask the officials why these workmen are not rebuilding the roof of the girls school instead of a purdah wall, but my question is left unanswered. We were forced to come, because the unbelievers come into our houses to take away the boys, and open our cupboards, and take away little girls by the hair. One side of his face is wounded by the artillery shell that took away his left leg and broke his right leg and left arm during an attack on the fort at Ali Khel. I look into their wary faces and sense that they do not want this interview; they have seen too many journalists. They are laughing, enjoying this game, but in a moment of quiet they gather round to talk and become serious, speaking of families left behind in Afghanistan and of their commitment to the jihad.
In the silence I feel their strong and quiet faith, and wish only for a swift and happy end to the struggle forced upon them. Due to their generally fair skin and Australia's high levels of UV radiation, Aussies have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. These days they use human skin tissue taken from another part of the body or skin substitutes engineered from synthetics or other materials such as cow collagen or shark cartilage. Other scientists, including Charles Darwin, have long dismissed skin cancer as a force in evolution because it typically strikes those past childbearing age. What can I do?” She speaks in a lilting accent, the rhythms of her native Pashtu carrying over into the Dari, or Afghan Persian, that she learned in Kabul before the war. While the invasion was still in press, President Hafizullah Amin was executed and replaced by Babrak Karmal, a political rival Moscow summoned back from Czechoslovakia, where he had been sent as Afghan ambassador.
The 1984 harvest in eastern Afghanistan was less than half that of 1978, and prices of many staple foods have tripled. A fluffy gray kitten slumbers under the stove, and for a moment I forget that we are in a land at war. Later Bahram Jan will tell me the story of Commander Mohammed Naim, from the nearby village of Ali Khel, who one week before had been severely wounded while leading an attack that had resulted in the capture of 50 Afghan government soldiers.
Many Afghans have learned to explode the mines, usually by throwing stones from a safe distance. Though it is high overhead, we scatter, hiding under scrawny pine trees, covering our heads and bodies with pattu, camel-colored blankets that blend with the earth tones of the land. We are accompanied by two local officials and an escort of 15 khassadars, members of a tribal militia. Much of the opium, 400 metric tons in 1983, comes from beyond the border in Afghanistan, where it is the most profitable remaining cash crop. Nonetheless, there are anxieties about the long-term effect of so many refugees on the culture, economy, and security of Pakistan. They uncovered cases of double registration and instances in which more family members were claimed than actually exist. For another month they waited until the provincial Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees sent them to a camp for newcomers.
On the wall is a small, framed, formal black-and-white portrait of a young man in a turban—Sher's eldest brother, a mujahidin commander killed in battle near Jalalabad in 1982, at the age of 20. They speak Persian but tell me they prefer to speak Russian through a mujahidin interpreter. Naim belongs to a different party, but, says Bahram Jan, everyone loves the legendary young hero who began fighting when he did not yet have a beard. But two weeks later, in a Pakistani border town, I will watch a doctor bandage the mangled hand of a scarlet-veiled woman from Jaji who had been unwary enough to pick up the strange green plastic object. The mujahidin, and perhaps the government soldiers inside the walls of the fort, are now at prayer. The administration of 2.4 million registered refugees, at a cost of a million dollars a day, is an enormous undertaking. In Munda camp, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Peshawar, 380 families from Baghlan and Kunduz shared 180 tents. They inform us that if we do not reach the settled districts by dusk, the government cannot answer for our safety.
With that market restricted, growers have set up labs in Pakistan, and more recently inside Afghanistan, to make more profitable heroin for export to the West. The Pakistani government says it pays nearly half the cost of refugee assistance, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other countries and international agencies absorbing the rest.
At Khapianga, on a desert hillside in Kurram Agency, 700 families from Jaji camped in borrowed tents or bought ragged ones, their only water source a tiny spring that was in danger of drying up. I know this is a sacrifice, using up their precious rations of dried skim milk and sugar, but in courtesy I may not refuse. The United States is the largest contributor to the UNHCR program in Pakistan (some 20 million dollars in 1984). Drug Enforcement Administration, most of it passes by the town of Landi Kotal, near the head of the Khyber Pass.
He and other mujahidin representatives would prefer portable, lightweight British or Swedish missiles.

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