Some of the first modern settlers of Britain from 10,000 years ago had dark skin and curly hair, according to new analysis of a historic skeleton.
The “Cheddar Man” fossil was discovered in 1903 in a cave in the village of Cheddar in Somerset, southwest England. He is the oldest complete skeleton to have been discovered in Britain, and would have been part of the last wave of immigrants to populate the region after the ice age.
Today’s white Britons can trace their roots back to descendants of these people, and it was initially believed that “Cheddar man” had fair hair and skin.
Now, after cutting-edge DNA analysis and facial reconstruction by a team of scientists from the Natural History Museum and University College London, it is believed he had blue eyes, “dark brown to black skin” and “dark curly hair.”
The pioneering research, published in advance of a TV documentary, shows that the pale skin that is characteristic of modern Europeans is a more recent phenomenon than previously thought. It also suggests that a person’s geographical origin was not always associated with the color of their skin.
“The Cheddar Man’s genetic profile places him in a wider population than England,” Yoan Diekmann, a lead researcher in the project, told CNN. “He belonged to western hunter gatherers from Spain, Luxembourg, Germany there are even traces to the Middle East and today 10% of our ancestry can be linked to this population.”
Although the man lived in the in the middle Stone Age, before the development of farming, Diekmann explained that these men had dogs, lived in small communities and were very sophisticated for their time.
The team that analyzed Cheddar Man were able to extract a full genome set from fragments of his skull.
“I first studied ‘Cheddar Man’ more than 40 years ago, but could never have believed that we would one day have his whole genome!,” Chris Stringer, a researcher at the Natural History Museum, said in a statement. “To go beyond what the bones tell us and get a scientifically based picture of what he actually looked like is a remarkable achievement.”
In 1997, CNN reported that a man who lived in Cheddar village learned he was a direct descendant of Cheddar Man as scientists compared DNA from the two and found it to be a match.
First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man will air on Channel 4 on February 18.