Why is the first modern Briton called Cheddar Man?

Feb 09, 2018, 01:57
Why is the first modern Briton called Cheddar Man?

The fossil of the "Briton" was unearthed from Gough's Cave in Somerset, a century ago.

"Cheddar Man", Britain's oldest, almost 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.

His ancestors migrated to Europe from the Middle East after the Ice Age and today, 10% of White British people are descended from the group.

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.

The Cheddar man had actually a dark to black skin and instead of having brown eyes, he actually had blue eyes.

"Cheddar Man subverts people's expectations of what kinds of genetic traits go together", said Tom Booth, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum who worked on the project.

Channel 4 will broadcast The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man on Sunday 18 February.

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. 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. Based on the shape of the skull, a team of model-makers reconstructed Cheddar Man's face with a 3D printer.

Prof Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, first excavated at Gough's Cave 30 years ago, said: "I first studied "Cheddar Man" more than 40 years ago, but could never have believed that we would one day have his whole genome - the oldest British one to date!"

Perhaps what's most remarkable about this Cheddar Man news is a hard truth. We now know about his skin colour, hair, facial features and eye colour, which has not been possible until now.

Cheddar Man, thought to have died in his twenties and have had a relatively good diet, lived in Britain when it was nearly completely depopulated. Scientist extracted the DNA from the bone powder of Cheddar Man by drilling a 2-millimeter hole in his skull.

Selina Brace, one of the Natural History Museum's ancient DNA experts who took part in sequencing Cheddar Man's genome, was quoted as saying the model was "really, really cool".

Britain was periodically settled and then cleared during ice ages until the end of the last glacial period about 11,700 years ago, since when it has been continuously inhabited. They have identified the remains of six individuals: three adults, two adolescents and a young child, aged approximately 3 years old, all of whom all sustained human butchery or chewing damage.