The Cheddar Man rolls out a surprise

Analysis of 10000-year-old DNA finds first modern Brits had dark skin, blue eyes

Analysis of 10000-year-old DNA finds first modern Brits had dark skin, blue eyes

Now, 115 years after the day he was found, Cheddar Man makes the important leap from myth to reality thanks to a combination of facial reconstruction techniques and innovative DNA techniques-the DNA obtained from drilling a 2mm hole in Cheddar Man's skull was sequenced to achieve the remarkable results.

The scientists from London's Natural History Museum and University College London (UCL) analysed DNA from an nearly complete Homo sapiens skeleton, known as Cheddar Man after it was found in a cave in Cheddar Gorge in south-western England in 1903.

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.

A bust of Cheddar Man, complete with shoulder-length dark hair and short facial hair, has been created using 3D printing.

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"Until recently it was always assumed that humans quickly adapted to have paler skin after entering Europe about 45,000 years ago", said researcher Tom Booth.

It's thought ancient humans living in northern regions developed pale skin because it absorbs more sunlight, which is needed to produce vitamin D.

The results pointed to a Middle Eastern origin for Cheddar Man, suggesting that his ancestors would have left Africa, moved into the Middle East and later headed west into Europe, before eventually crossing the ancient land bridge called Doggerland which connected Britain to continental Europe.

The findings of the joint project between Britain's Natural History Museum and University College London transformed the way people had previously seen Cheddar Man, who had been portrayed as having brown eyes and light skin in an earlier model. And much better teeth.

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The team then subjected the extract to shotgun sequencing, which involves defining millions of tiny fragments of the genome and mapping them against the modern human genome.

Once that information had been confirmed, palaeontological reconstruction experts reconstructed his face.

Cheddar Man does not share any direct ancestry with the people who inhabited Gough's Cave almost 5,000 years earlier. There is damage to his skull that could indicate an accidental or violent death, although it could also have been damaged during excavation. But whether he was covered purposefully or the sediment built up over time is, again, unknown. "They ate a lot of fish, hunted wild boar and gathered plants and nuts".

Around 10 percent of the British population shares DNA with the Mesolithic population to which the Cheddar Man belonged, but they aren't direct descendents.

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Discoveries like this bear witness to the fact that modern notions of racial and ethnic identity are just that, modern, and that the genetic landscape that shapes our appearance in these times is infinitely more complex than we could have ever imagined.

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