S u m m a r y :
The face of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has been revealed: the individual had blue eyes with dark skin and hair.
Meet Cheddar Man, the First British
Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, dating back to around 10,000 years ago and nicknamed ‘Cheddar Man’, now has a face thanks to more accurate scientific technique and methodology: the individual apparently had blue eyes, and dark, curly hair, and dark to black skin.
His remains were found back in 1903 in Gough’s Cave at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, and has captured the attention of scientists ever since. Researchers have put forth a number of theories about his origin, physical appearance, and the evidence of previous populations that might have been conserved in him. They have attempted to reconstruct his story, and the new study constitutes the first one that has given a face to his name.
Blue Eyes, Not the Original Norm
The new findings challenge previous beliefs based on assumptions of a more reduced skin pigmentation, implying that this defining characteristic of northern Europeans is a much more recent occurrence.
Drilling A Hole in Cheddar Man’s Skull
The study was conducted by a team of researchers from University College London (UCL), Human Evolution and DNA experts from the Natural History Museum, together with prehistoric model makers; the discoveries were featured as a documentary entitled, First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man. It is the one first whereby Cheddar Man’s DNA has been fully read. No other individual from Britain that is as old as him has had its genome sequenced before; a sufficient amount of his DNA was recovered as it was well-preserved, and the researchers collected it in few milligrams of bone powder recovered through drilling a 2mm hole in his skull. After the sequencing, the DNA was analysed to derive the physical characteristics of its owner. Then, using these results, model makers built a 3D skull with the help of a hi-tech scanner.
“Cheddar Man’s genetic profile places him with several other Mesolithic-era Europeans from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg whose DNA has already been analysed. These ‘Western Hunter-Gatherers’ migrated into Europe at the end of the last ice age and the group included Cheddar Man’s ancestors,” explains study author Mark Thomas.
This population can be traced in about 10% of indigenous British ancestry.
A Remarkable Achievement
“I first studied ‘Cheddar Man’ more than 40 years ago, but could never have believed that we would one day have his whole genome—the oldest British one to date! To go beyond what the bones tell us and get a scientifically based picture of what he actually looked like is a remarkable (and from the results quite surprising!) achievement,” says research leader, Chris Stringer.