First Modern Britons Had ‘Dark to Black’ Skin, Natural History Museum Study Reveals

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Early Britons Black
Researchers believe Cheddar Man’s ancestors emigrated from Africa to the Middle East before heading into Europe. (Photo by Channel 4)

The earliest Britons, who lived nearly 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin, dark curly hair and possibly blue eyes, according to a groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton.

Archaeologists discovered the centuries-old fossil, known as Cheddar Man, more than 100 years ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset, U.K., The Guardian reported. Since its unearthing, speculation has built around the skeleton’s origins and physical appearance.

It was first assumed that Cheddar Man had light skin and fair hair. However, a DNA analysis conducted by researchers at the Natural History Museum in London tells an utterly different story, suggesting the man had a deep complexion, curly tresses and possibly blue eyes. The finding, researchers said, revealed that fairer skin became widespread among European populations much later than originally thought and that skin color was not always an indicator of one’s geographic origins.

“… It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions or very recent constructions, that really are [not] applicable to the past at all,” Tom Booth, an archaeologist for the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, told the Guardian.

Using pioneering genetic sequencing and facial reconstruction techniques, researchers were able to cross–reference DNA/genomes extracted from the ancient skeleton and construct a modern image of his outward appearance. The 10mm of bone powder drilled from Cheddar Man’s skull was enough to reveal anticipated clues into his phenotype and hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

The study also suggested that Cheddar Man was of Middle Eastern origins, his ancestors emigrating from Africa and later settling in Europe before crossing the now-flooded land bridge known as Doggerland into modern-day Britain. Today, close to 10 percent of white British ancestry can be linked to the ancient Cheddar Ma population, researchers said.

The discovery comes just ahead of a Channel 4 documentary chronicling the DNA analysis at the Natural History Museum, along with the creation of a new forensic reconstruction of Cheddar Man’s head, The Guardian reported. The documentary, titled “First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man” is set to air on Feb. 18.

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