We’re fascinated by heritage and genetics here at Finders International, so the new findings relating to Cheddar Man grabbed our attention this week.
Ground-breaking new analysis has revealed that the first modern Briton had ‘dark to black’ skin, according to research carried out on his remains. Cheddar Man is a human male fossil that was found in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset in 1903. He is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, and he is thought to have lived some 10,000 years ago.
The new examination of his DNA alongside a facial reconstruction has revealed that Cheddar Man would have had a darker complexion that was previously thought. He also had blue eyes and dark, curly hair. Previous reconstructions of what he looked like weren’t based on DNA data.
Specialists from the Natural History Museum and University College London took DNA samples from bone powder they extracted by drilling a hole through the skull’s inner ear bone. They scanned the skull and “paleo artists” who specialise in reconstructions of extinct mammals and early humans recreated a 3D model of Cheddar Man’s head.
The Natural History Museum’s research leader, Professor Ian Barnes, said it wasn’t so much the colour of Cheddar Man’s skin that was interesting to him, but the combination of features he had, which made him look, unlike people you’d see today.
Alfons and Adrie Kennis, the paleo artists, said they’d enjoyed working on Cheddar Man’s reconstructions because he wasn’t a Neanderthal – the kind of model they usually recreate.
Cheddar Man is thought to have died in his early 20s. Scientists believe he had a good diet and that he lived in Britain when it was almost completely depopulated.
Britain is thought to have been first populated about 900,000 years ago, with the oldest fossils being about half a million years old. The country was unoccupied between about 180,000-60,000 when Neanderthals returned, later becoming extinct and modern humans reaching the country roughly 40,000 years ago. Habitation was intermittent because of the climate until 11,700 when the country became continuously occupied.
Genetically, Cheddar Man is part of a group of people called the Western Hunter-Gatherers, thought to have come from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg. It’s thought his ancestors migrated to Europe from the Middle East, and some 10 percent of white British people today are descended from this group.
In an article in the Independent, Alfons Kennis said the research maybe got rid of the idea we have to look a certain way to be from somewhere, and it also proved that we’re all immigrants.
Danny Curran, Finders International managing director and founder, said: “Finding out more about our origins is always fascinating stuff. Our research into family trees goes back a few generations and is usually reveals people who have moved all over the place, echoing what has gone on for thousands of years.”
A documentary about the new findings will be shown on Channel 4 on Sunday 18 February, called The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000-Year-Old Man.
If you need help researching or verifying your own family tree, Finders International offers this service. We can also quickly and easily trace next of kin or missing or unknown heirs. A list of our services is available here.