Earliest known British person had dark skin, blue eyes, researchers say

Earliest known British person had dark skin, blue eyes, researchers say
Posted at 11:32 AM, Feb 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-07 07:18:46-05

LONDON (RNN) – The oldest known British modern human had dark skin, blue eyes, and curly black hair, according to research done by University College London and Britain’s National History Museum.

He also goes by “Cheddar Man.”

Cheddar Man’s bones, the oldest nearly complete skeleton found in Britain, were found in a cave in Somerset in the southwest of England in 1903. DNA from one of the skeleton’s teeth revealed it was about 10,000 years old.

In 1997 researchers discovered a genetic descendant of Cheddar Man still living in the same area as the Cheddar Gorge caves for which Cheddar Man, who is believed to have died in his 20's, is named. It is estimated 10 percent of modern indigenous British ancestry can be linked to the population Cheddar Man belonged to.

“Cheddar Man’s genetic profile places him with several other Mesolithic-era Europeans from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg whose DNA has already been analyzed. These ‘Western Hunter-Gatherers’ migrated into Europe at the end of the last ice age and the group included Cheddar Man’s ancestors,” Mark Thomas, a University College London professor of genetics, evolution, and environment, said in a UCL release.  

Thomas and a fellow professor, Yoan Diekmann, used DNA sequencing techniques to determine his appearance. According to the release, DNA was extracted from bone powder taken from Cheddar Man’s skull. Cheddar Man’s full genome is the oldest ever sequenced for a British individual and was done by Natural History Museum scientists Ian Barnes and Selina Brace.

The data was given to model makers Adrie and Alfons Kennis, brothers who constructed a model of the early human for Channel 4, Britain’s public broadcasting channel. The station is releasing a documentary on Cheddar Man called First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man.

“He is just one person, but also indicative of the population of Europe at the time," said researcher Tom Booth in a Natural History Museum release. “They had dark skin and most of them had pale colored eyes, either blue or green, and dark brown hair.”

Booth said Cheddar Man’s dark hair and blue eyes “subverts people’s expectations” about the pairing of certain genetic traits.

“It seems that pale eyes entered Europe long before pale skin or blond hair, which didn't come along until after the arrival of farming,” Booth said. “He reminds us that you can't make assumptions about what people looked like in the past based on what people look like in the present.”

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