First People in Britain Had 'Dark to Black Skin': DNA Analysis

A DNA study recently revealed that ancient Britons had dark skin and blue

"Cheddar Man", Britain's oldest, almost complete human skeleton, had dark skin, blue eyes and dark curly hair when he lived in what is now southwest England 10,000 years ago, scientists who read his DNA have discovered.

Specialists from the NHM have succeeded in extracting viable DNA from the 10,000 year-old-skeleton, a first for a British individual of that age. Then they sequenced the Cheddar Man's genome, and built a face based on the genetic information and other archaeological evidence.

Researchers Professor Barnes and Dr Selina Brace from the Natural History Museum and University College London extracted DNA data from bone powder by drilling a 2mm hole through the skull's inner ear bone. But when the scientists analyzed the DNA with cutting age technology and also did a facial reconstruction of the skeleton, they got surprised by the results. "It's been fantastic working with this excellent team, and getting to sample one of the most important human skeletons in the museum collection".

His name is Cheddar Man.

But while initial reconstructions portrayed him with light skin and brown eyes, the full DNA analysis has shown him to have "dark to black skin".

The scientists further revealed that Cheddar Man belonged to a group of people known as the "Western Hunter-Gatherers"-Mesolithic era individuals from Spain, Hungary, and Luxembourg".

Dutch "paleo artists" Alfons and Adrie Kennis created a likeness of Cheddar Man based on the British scientists' findings, showing a man with long curly hair, a short beard and striking blue eyes. The Kennis brothers are experts in recreating scientifically accurate animals and humans, with a focus on human evolution. To see the face of the first Brit, someone we could all be related to, is absolutely fascinating.

National identity in modern Britain is complicated to say the least.

Prof Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, first excavated at Gough's Cave 30 years ago, said: "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 be able to completely reconstruct what Cheddar man looked like in so much detail from such a small amount of DNA is incredible.

The team homed in on genes known to be linked to skin color, hair color and texture, and eye color.

Cheddar Man, thought to have died in his twenties and have had a relatively good diet, lived in Britain when it was nearly completely depopulated. He adds: "We're delighted to be playing a part in these historic findings".

"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", Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, told The Guardian.



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