Why is the first modern Briton called Cheddar Man?


The first modern Briton, who lived around 300 generations ago, had "dark to black" skin, groundbreaking research has revealed.

Cheddar Man - who had previously been portrayed as having brown eyes and light skin - was among the first permanent settlers to make the United Kingdom their home, and is related to around 10 percent of the modern population there. However, Cheddar Man had "ancestral" versions of all these genes, strongly suggesting he would have had "dark to black" skin tone, but combined with blue eyes.

The Natural History Museum first extracted the DNA to make the analysis possible. "Cheddar Man is special because he represents the population occupying Europe at the time", said Tom Booth, a bio-archaeologist at the museum.

At first, scientists Professor Ian Barnes and Dr Selina Brace, were anxious that the DNA would not be useable.

Unearthed over a century ago in Gough's Cave in Somerset, Cheddar Man is believed to have lived in what is now called Britain some 10,000 years ago.

The densest bone in the human body is the petrous part of the temporal bones at the sides of the skull, and it was this that the team drilled into to extract a sample. It's always been understood that our earliest ancestors were black and that the lighter skin pigmentation present across northern Europe evolved relatively recently in human history. "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, and that the pairings of features we are used to seeing today aren't something that's fixed".

"The historical perspective that you get just tells you that things change, things are in flux, and what may seem as a cemented truth, that people feel the British should have white skin through time, is not at all something that is an immutable truth", Dr Yoan Dieckmann, a University College London who participated in the study, told the press.

The research points to a Middle Eastern origin for Cheddar Man, suggesting that his ancestors would have left Africa and then moved into the Middle East. "The current, very light skin we have in Ireland is at the endpoint of thousands of years of surviving in a climate where there's very little sun", Bradley said.

The interesting name given to the ancient human can be explained by the fact that his remains were first discovered in Cheddar Gorge, a limestone gorge located in Somerset back in 1903.

"They had dark skin, and majority had pigmented eyes, either blue or green".

Proof of this, interestingly, can be found in earlier reconstructions of Cheddar Man that reveal an emphasis on perhaps forcing a modern Eurocentric narrative.