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Oldest-Known Briton 'Cheddar Man' Wasn't Fair-Skinned After All

Cheddar Man

The face of "Cheddar Man", Britain's oldest almost complete skeleton at 10,000 years old, is revealed for the first time and with unprecedented accuracy by UCL and Natural History Museum researchers.

But an unprecedented examination of his DNA, along with a facial reconstruction of the fossil, shows the young man would have had a darker complexion than previously thought, along with blue eyes and dark, curly hair. DNA samples were taken from Cheddar Man's bones, from which it was possible to reconstruct his appearance.

A new project from London's Natural History Museum and University College London has revealed groundbreaking DNA results that give a much clearer image of early British inhabitants.

This was documented for Channel 4 programme The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man.

"Until recently it was always assumed that humans quickly adapted to have paler skin after entering Europe about 45,000 years ago", Natural History Museum researcher Tom Booth said.

The oldest nearly-complete skeleton found in Britain, at Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, southwest England, was first encountered in a cave, all the way back in 1903.

A bust of Cheddar Man, complete with shoulder-length dark hair and short facial hair, was created using 3D printing.

Cheddar Man skull

To extract the DNA, researchers and scientists working on the project, had to insert a small incision into the skull by drilling into the bone.

Alfons Kennis, who made the bust with his brother Adrie, said the DNA findings were "revolutionary". "He reminds us that you can't make assumptions about what people looked like in the past based on what people look like in the present, and that the pairings of features we are used to seeing today aren't something that's fixed".

This allowed the team to compare markers for physical traits, and determine what the Cheddar Man could have looked like. "These "Western Hunter-Gatherer's" migrated into Europe at the end of the last ice age and the group included Cheddar Man's ancestors", explained Professor Thomas.

The research indicated that the lighter skin characteristic of modern Europeans is recent. But new research shows that the skin pigment of the world's earliest known Brit was, in fact, dark brown.

Questions remain, however, as to when and why Britons started to develop lighter skin.

Proof of this, interestingly, can be found in earlier reconstructions of Cheddar Man that reveal an emphasis on perhaps forcing a modern Eurocentric narrative.

Selina Brace, one of the Natural History Museum's ancient DNA experts who took part in sequencing Cheddar Man's genome, was quoted as saying the model was "really, really cool".