Living things have had a hint of ginger for ten million years, a study shows.
Scientists found fragments of the pigment molecule that causes coloring in fossilized frogs.
The discovery of pheomelanin will allow paleontologists to better reconstruct the original colors from the fossils of extinct organisms.
This was followed by laboratory tests on black, reddish and white feathers to track how pigments are broken down during fossilization.
The find suggests that some ancient people were redheads – such as Fred Flintstone’s cartoon wife Wilma and daughter Pebbles.
The work was led by University College Cork in collaboration with Swedish, Japanese and Chinese scientists.
Dr. Tiffany Slater from UCC said: “This discovery is so exciting because it enables paleontologists to better detect different melanin pigments in many more fossils.”
“This will paint a more accurate picture of ancient animal colors and answer important questions about the evolution of colors in animals.
“Scientists still don’t know how or why pheomelanin evolved because it is toxic to animals, but the fossil record may solve the mystery.”
Her colleague Prof Maria McNamara said the tests were key to understanding fossil chemistry and proved that trace biomolecules “can survive cooking during the fossilization process”.