Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Britain's 'Cheddar Man' Had Dark Skin, Blue Eyes- Scientists Find

Cheddar Man's facial reconstruction Cheddar Man's facial reconstruction
Theresa Hayes | 09 February, 2018, 01:49

Cheddar Man is the oldest skeleton found in Britain, and DNA analysis of his body has revealed that he had dark to black skin, coarse black hair and blue eyes.

DNA work carried out by researchers from the Natural History Museum (NHM) and University College London (UCL) has shed new light on Cheddar Man, a skeleton discovered 103 years ago in Gough's Cave, Somerset.

"Cheddar Man subverts people's expectations of what kinds of genetic traits go together", said Tom Booth, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum who worked on the project.

Complete with dark brown or black skin, blue eyes, and curly, dark-brown hair, he's likely the distant relative of migrating hunter-gatherers.

The so-called Cheddar Man was a hunter-gatherer during the Mesolithic period, which ended just before the appearance of agriculture.

They would then have travelled west into Europe, before crossing the ancient land bridge called Doggerland which connected Britain to continental Europe.

Representing the oldest and most complete human skeleton ever recovered in the country, the team was, of course, thrilled about the opportunity to study the specimen.

Further examination has shown that the man was short by today's standards - about 5ft 5in - and possibly died in his early 20s.

It was this cool, stable limestone cave environment that preserved the Cheddar Man's DNA for thousands of years - and he is the oldest British individual to have had his whole genome sequenced. Scientists say that DNA from the Cheddar Man population can be linked to about 10 per cent of the genetic make-up of modern Europeans.

They scanned the skull and a 3D model was produced by "paleo artists" Alfons and Adrie Kennis, who make life-like reconstructions of extinct mammals and early humans.

A Channel 4 documentary following the reconstruction of Cheddar Man - The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000-Year-Old Man - airs on Sunday 18 February. It's always been understood that our earliest ancestors were black and that the lighter skin pigmentation present across northern Europe evolved relatively recently in human history. Normally it is believed that British people have a fair complexion and are mostly white people. It was probably the advent of agriculture.

Initially, it was assumed that he had pale skin, but the new analysis and facial reconstruction have revealed the opposite.

It's thought ancient humans living in northern regions developed pale skin because it absorbs more sunlight, which is needed to produce vitamin D. To be able to completely reconstruct what Cheddar man looked like in so much detail from such a small amount of DNA is incredible. Cheddar Gorge is indeed the birthplace of cheddar cheese, but despite his name and his origins, Cheddar Man could not eat cheese.