Blue-eyed and dark: Meet the early Briton

Steve Phelps
February 9, 2018

By examining the DNA of Cheddar Man (Britain's oldest complete skeleton), researchers have now provided a fascinating insight into the physical appearance of Britain's early ancestors.

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 research analysed Ireland's populations from approximately 6,000 years ago as part of a joint project between TCD and the National Museum of Ireland and found that the existence of darker skin in Ireland from two different sets of remains.

Cheddar Man's 10,000-year-old skeleton was discovered near the village of Cheddar in Somerset, England, in 1903.

Scientists extracted the DNA by drilling a hole into his skull and drawing out bone powder, with subsequent findings suggesting that light-skinned Europeans evolved later than previously thought. Cheddar Man's genome shows that Europeans didn't develop pale skin until a few thousand years ago, rather than tens of thousands of years ago when humans first migrated west onto the European continent.

This shows similarities with the findings of Cheddar Man who has DNA linking him to migration from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg sometime after the last Ice Age.

"We think [the Irish examples] would be similar".

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Bradley said that these early Irish came before the "big, big change" in our genomes and culture from the onset of farming. "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.

Scientists involved in the research said they weren't entirely surprised by the findings.

A previous attempt to reconstruct the face of the Cheddar Man.

Dutch Paleo-artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis discuss creating the remarkable face of Cheddar Man for forthcoming Channel 4 doc.

We know from other archaeological research that he was a hunter-gatherer, and during his life he would have eaten seeds, nuts, red deer, wild aurochs, and freshwater fish.

It took close to three months to build the model, with its makers using a high-tech scanner which had been designed for the International Space Station. And maybe it gets rid of the idea that you have to look a certain way to be from somewhere.

"It's a story all about migrations throughout history", he told Channel 4 in a documentary to be aired on 18 February. "We are all immigrants", he added.

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