Britain’s earliest modern settlers had dark skin and blue eyes, according to new research

In a groundbreaking discovery, Scientists from UCL and the Natural History Museum have revealed that Britain’s oldest nearly complete skeleton had dark skin, curly hair and blue eyes.

Britain’s earliest modern settlers had dark skin and blue eyes, according to new research

It was previously thought that Cheddar Man, whose 10,000-year old remains were found in 1903 in Gough’s Cave at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, would have had a lighter skin pigmentation. However, thanks to cutting-edge science, researchers were able to extract the skeleton’s full DNA profile and build a complete image of how his face would have looked.

“Cheddar Man’s genetic profile places him with several other Mesolithic-era Europeans from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg whose DNA has already been analysed, Professor Mark Thomas, one of the scientists who analysed the DNA, explained.

“These ‘Western Hunter-Gatherer’s’ migrated into Europe at the end of the last ice age and the group included Cheddar Man’s ancestors.”

Today, around 10% of the indigenous British population can be linked to Cheddar Man’s ancient ancestry.


Cheddar Man © Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London [2018]

To collect a small amount of the skeleton’s bone powder, scientists from The Natural History Museum first drilled a 2mm wide hole into the ancient skull. This sample was then analysed by researchers from UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment, and because the DNA was unusually well-preserved, there was enough genetic information to enable a full facial reconstruction. Dutch artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis used a hi-tech scanner to build the 3D model of the skull, which they were then able to “flesh out” with facial features, based on the results of the DNA research.

Prof Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, said of the groundbreaking discovery:

“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.”

Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who was involved in the project, told the Guardian, “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.”

The surprise ethnicity of early Brits may prove upsetting to far-right groups on the rise throughout the Western world. Some far-right types have gone to great lengths to prove their white European ancestry, even being disappointed when the results didn’t match their prejudices – and this new historical evidence simply makes the (scientifically illiterate) argument about indigenous populations being displaced look even shakier.

The research was carried out for a Channel 4 documentary, First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man, which will be shown on Sunday 18th February.

Main image credit: Channel 4

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