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  HOME | Science, Nature & Technology

Early Britons Had Dark Skin, Blue Eyes, UK Scientists Say

LONDON – Cutting-edge DNA analysis of Cheddar Man, the oldest near-complete human skeleton ever discovered in Britain, has enabled scientists to paint a picture of an early Briton as someone who had dark skin and blue eyes, according to researchers at London’s Natural History Museum on Wednesday.

Cheddar Man took his name from the Cheddar Gorge in the southwestern English country of Somerset, where his remains were discovered in a cave in 1903.

Carbon dating suggests he lived roughly 10,000-years-ago during the Mesolithic era and scientists considered his DNA to be indicative of the wider population of early homo sapiens in Europe, which at the time was slowly migrating north as the glaciers of the last Ice Age retracted.

“Until recently, it was always assumed that humans quickly adapted to have paler skin after entering Europe about 45,000 years ago,” said Dr. Tom Booth, a postdoctoral researcher at the Natural History Museum, according to a statement.

“Pale skin is better at absorbing UV light and helps humans avoid vitamin D deficiency in climates with less sunlight,” he added.

The DNA results from the Cheddar Man were consistent with the remains of early homo sapiens found across the European continent, suggesting that the dark skin and blue eyes were a common trait among Mesolithic hunter-gathers.

“Cheddar Man subverts people’s expectations of what kinds of genetic traits go together. It seems that pale eyes entered Europe long before pale skin or blond hair, which didn’t come along until after the arrival of farming,” Booth added in the Museum statement.

An interpretation of what Cheddar Man’s face may have looked like was designed by specialists from the Museum in cooperation with researchers from University College London, sculpted by Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis and is to be used in a documentary called “The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man” on the UK’s Channel 4.

Cheddar Man, who stood at some 166 centimeters (5-foot-4), lived in the southwest of England 300 generations ago, but some 10 percent of the modern British population can trace their DNA back to those early human settlers.

 

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