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You are here: Home / Health / Cheddar Man: Dark Skin, Blue Eyes
Oldest Known Briton Cheddar Man Had Dark Skin, Blue Eyes
Oldest Known Briton Cheddar Man Had Dark Skin, Blue Eyes
By Hannah Devlin Like this on Facebook Tweet this Link thison Linkedin Link this on Google Plus
The first modern Britons, who lived about 10,000 years ago, had "dark to black" skin, a groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain's oldest complete skeleton has revealed.

The fossil, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough's Cave in Somerset. Intense speculation has built up around Cheddar Man's origins and appearance because he lived shortly after the first settlers crossed from continental Europe to Britain at the end of the last ice age. People of white British ancestry alive today are descendants of this population.

It was initially assumed that Cheddar Man had pale skin and fair hair, but his DNA paints a different picture, strongly suggesting he had blue eyes, a very dark brown to black complexion and dark curly hair.

The discovery shows that the genes for lighter skin became widespread in European populations far later than originally thought -- and that skin color was not always a proxy for geographic origin in the way it is often seen to be today.

Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: "It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all."

Yoan Diekmann, a computational biologist at University College London and another member of the project's team, agreed, saying the connection often drawn between Britishness and whiteness was "not an immutable truth. It has always changed and will change."

The findings were revealed ahead of a Channel 4 documentary, which tracked the ancient DNA project at the Natural History Museum in London as well as creating a new forensic reconstruction of Cheddar Man's head.

To perform the DNA analysis, museum scientists drilled a 2mm-diameter hole into the ancient skull to obtain a few milligrams of bone powder. From this, they were able to extract a full genome, which held clues about this ancient relative's appearance and lifestyle.

The results pointed to a Middle Eastern origin for Cheddar Man, suggesting that his ancestors would have left Africa, moved into the Middle East and later headed west into Europe, before eventually crossing the ancient land bridge called Doggerland which connected Britain to continental Europe. Today, about 10% of white British ancestry can be linked to this ancient population.

The analysis also ruled out an ancestral link with individuals inhabiting Gough's Cave 5,000 years earlier, who appear to have performed grisly cannibalistic rituals, including gnawing on human toes and fingers -- possibly after boiling them -- and drinking from polished skull cups.

Britain was periodically settled and then cleared during ice ages until the end of the last glacial period about 11,700 years ago, since when it has been continuously inhabited.

Until now, though, it hasn't been clear whether each wave of migrants was seeded from the same population in mainland Europe; the latest results suggest this was not the case.

The team homed in on genes known to be linked to skin color, hair color and texture, and eye color. For skin tone, there are a handful of genetic variants linked to reduced pigmentation, including some that are very widespread in European populations today. However, Cheddar Man had "ancestral" versions of all these genes, strongly suggesting he would have had "dark to black" skin tone, but combined with blue eyes.

Scientists believe that populations living in Europe became lighter-skinned over time because pale skin absorbs more sunlight, which is required to produce enough vitamin D. The latest findings suggest pale skin may have emerged later, possibly when the advent of farming meant people were obtaining less vitamin D though dietary sources like oily fish.

Cheddar Man would have lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, making sharp blades from flints for butchering animals, using antlers to whittle harpoons for spear fishing and carving bows and arrows.

© 2018 Guardian under contract with NewsEdge/Acquire Media. All rights reserved.

Image credit: iStock.

Tell Us What You Think


Christopher Meehan:
Posted: 2018-02-09 @ 10:10pm PT
Besides this being biased by a singular individual, there is a MAJOR CONCERN for society by slanting such political bias:

(1) Race is different than skin-color. "Pure" (if any still exist) Africans lack Neanderthal DNA, whereas nearly all descendants from migrating populations are descendants from hybridization of Neanderthal, Denisovan, and untold other encounters.

(2) This "Cheddar Man" was not a black African AT ALL. He was a partially Neanderthal (Cauc)Asian from the great migration. And the smug look they put on his face of self-satisfactions is frankly patronizing as well as insulting to humans of all races.

(3) MOST IMPORTANTLY: ARGUMENTS AGAINST RACISM ARE ETHICAL/MORAL!!!! It is IMPERATIVE that we don't base our entire "recovery" from racist elitism on biological arguments that all races are the same.
There are DIFFERENT RACES. We in some ways are VERY different.

IT IS THE DIFFERENCES THAT MAKE US HUMAN!!! No human is better than any other human because of his/her race. This is an utter insult to humanity's progress in truly overcoming racism. It is a farce, and a fallacy, and can be perverted with the truth (this guy, whoever he was, was NOT a black African and likely might've had fairer skin than this politically nonsense bust. But even if jet-black, he was a jet-black caucasoid!

Shall we then use this as evidence that the Caucasians are the superior rightful inhabitants of the British Isles??? What then to make of the fact that news coverage of this seems to suggest an inherent SUPERIORITY of black skin, yet ironically perverted to be some sort of right-to-superiority by victimization?

So then THIS informs our concept and debate of immigration issues (again WHOLLY unrelated to both RACE and SKIN COLOR)...?
I fear for the day when the next charming politician with an eye for biological details starts to point out that this is all utter nonsense.


Posted: 2018-02-09 @ 6:20am PT
Cool. Give more info about it. Do an indep. studies, follow scientific method and then it might be believable. With current political correctness bull and utter black washing that UK and US are into, it wouldn't surprise me if this was false.

Posted: 2018-02-08 @ 11:41pm PT
I think 'strongly suggests' is a more solid and safe statement to make than using 'had' as in the headline. However jumping to a solid scientific conclusion based on this one finding does say something.

Posted: 2018-02-08 @ 10:46am PT
This is bollox, just because they found one example...they draw this whole conclusion, definitely other agendas at play here!

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