'Cheddar Man' DNA Study Rewrites Britain's Entire Racial History With a Surprising Skeleton Find

Thursday, 08 February 2018 - 11:09AM
Thursday, 08 February 2018 - 11:09AM
'Cheddar Man' DNA Study Rewrites Britain's Entire Racial History With a Surprising Skeleton Find
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Image credit: YouTube

National identity in modern Britain is complicated to say the least. After centuries of Imperialism, it's very difficult to identify what it means to truly be British—a fact that is proving increasingly important moving forward in a country that is severing ties with its largest trade partners over a desire to gain cultural independence.

To the majority of Brits, national identity isn't tied to the color of a person's skin, the culture they grew up in, or even the place they were born. Black or white, Muslim, Christian, or Athiest, everyone can be British so long as they share a unifying self-depreciative sense of humor, a love of free healthcare, and a fondness for tea.

This idea of Britain as a multicultural ethnic mixing pot is apparently older than anybody realized. A new study into the earliest known inhabitant of the British Isles has revealed something surprising: the so-called "Cheddar Man" was, in fact, dark-skinned.

The Cheddar Man is named after Cheddar Gorge, a location in Somerset, in England, where cheddar cheese was first popularized. The Cheddar Man is around a thousand years old at this point, dating back to the period immediately after Ice Age and a time when Britain was a very different place. It's believed that the Cheddar Man was among the earliest immigrants to the British Isles, back when there was possibly still a narrow land bridge from neighboring France.

Researchers from London's Natural History Museum and University College London have recently engaged in a study that re-analyzed the Cheddar Man's remains, in order to better understand what he would have looked like. DNA samples were taken from Cheddar Man's bones, from which it was possible to reconstruct his appearance.

According to an official statement:

Opening quote
"Cheddar Man had blue eyes, dark-colored curly hair and 'dark to black' skin pigmentation. Previously, many had assumed that he had reduced skin pigmentation. The discovery suggests that the lighter pigmentation now considered to be a defining feature of northern Europe is a far more recent phenomenon."
Closing quote

This discovery is not that much of a surprise to DNA experts who recognize the development of humanity over the past several thousand years. It's long been understood that our earliest ancestors were black and that the lighter skin pigmentation present across northern Europe evolved relatively recently in human history.

Still, though, this new discovery helps to better cement the idea that British identity has little to do with skin color. Approximately ten percent of modern Britons descended from these earliest settlers, showing just how ridiculous it is to claim that Britain has ever been the domain of a single ethnic group.

What's not yet clear is how so many of the Cheddar Man's descendants ended up developing fairer skin. It's possible that this was the result of new tribes of immigrants mingling in with the earliest Britons, or it could simply be the result of thousands of years of overcast weather that meant that the locals never actually saw the sun for more than three days a year.

Either way, the Cheddar Man is a nice reminder that human genetics is a lot more complicated than some people believe and that there really is no solid way of defining and categorizing people based on the color of their skin.

Presumably, if he were alive today, the Cheddar Man would be a fan of Monty Python and would watch the Doctor Who Christmas special every year, which is really the only test of British identity that anyone will ever need.

Science News