“Cheddar Man”, Britain’s oldest, nearly 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.
The finding suggests that the lighter skin pigmentation now seen as typical of northern Europeans is far more recent than previously thought, according to researchers from University College London (UCL) who took part in the project.
“Cheddar Man’s” skin colour was described as “dark to black” by the scientific team which also included researchers from London’s Natural History Museum, where the skeleton is on display in the Human Evolution gallery.
The reconstruction of the stone age “Cheddar Man” is based on 3D scans of the skull and information from the man’s unusually well-preserved DNA.
Cheddar Man was unearthed in 1903 in Gough’s Cave at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, and has been the topic of constant mystery and intrigue. 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.
10% of Brits can be linked to ‘Cheddar Man’
“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,” said Chris Stringer, the museum’s research leader in Human Origins.
Three hundred generations later, around 10 percent of indigenous British ancestry can be linked to Cheddar Man’s people, scientists say.
As part of a project commissioned by Britain’s Channel 4 television station for a documentary, experts from the Natural History Museum’s ancient DNA lab drilled a tiny hole into the skull in order to extract genetic information.
Then, a pair of Dutch artists who are experts in palaeontology model making, Alfons and Adrie Kennis, used a high-tech scanner to make a three-dimensional model of Cheddar Man’s head.
The model, which UCL and the Natural History Museum said rendered Cheddar Man’s face with unprecedented accuracy, shows a man with dark skin, high cheekbones, blue eyes and coarse black hair.
The full story will be shown on February 18, and is called “First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man”.