Published: Thu, February 08, 2018
Science | By Dan Gutierrez

First modern Briton Cheddar Man had 'dark to black skin'

First modern Briton Cheddar Man had 'dark to black skin'

Model makers Adrie (L) and Alfons Kennis pose with their full face reconstruction model, made from the skull of a 10,000 year old man, known as Cheddar Man, Britain's oldest complete skeleton, during a press preview at the National History Museum in London on February 6, 2018. A group of scientists from the London Natural History Museums carried out the work of reconstructing the face.

Cheddar Man died about 10,000 years ago, during the time when the first settlers arrived from mainland Europe to Britain. These temporary visitors came during an ice-age thaw, but were driven out - like all previous humans in Britain - when temperatures dropped again.

"They had dark skin and majority had pale coloured eyes, either blue or green, and dark brown hair", said Dr Booth.

Results showed he had blue eyes but, much to the surprise of theorists, had dark, curly hair and "dark to black" skin colouring - he was previously believed to have paler skin due to the European connections.

Dr Tom Booth, a postdoctoral researcher working with the Museum's human remains, stated that "Until recently, it was always assumed that humans quickly adapted to have paler skin after entering Europe about 45000 years ago..." This discovery shows that skin color doesn't dictate geographic origin.

According to the release, DNA was extracted from bone powder taken from Cheddar Man's skull. For over 100 years, scientists have tried to reveal Cheddar Man's story, posing theories as to what he looked like, where he came from and what he can tell us about our earliest ancestors. It was ascertained that Cheddar Man belonged to Haplogroup U5. Following ancient humans migration pattern, it can be seen how they ended up in Britain.

Researchers believe Cheddar Man's ancestors emigrated from Africa to the Middle East before heading into Europe.

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He also goes by "Cheddar Man". In fact, judging from his genome, Cheddar Man was closely related to the so-called Western Hunter-Gatherers.

They then teamed up with researchers at UCL to analyse the results, including gene variants associated with hair, eye and skin colour.

Mr Alfons Kennis said the DNA findings were "revolutionary".

Genetic material from a 10,000-year-old skeleton suggests the oldest-known Briton had dark skin and blue eyes.

"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", Booth said on the museum website.

The Cheddar Man's skeletal remains are now kept on loan at the Natural History Museum in London, in the Human Evolution Gallery, while a replica set sit in the cave in Somerset.

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