|'Cheddar Man', Britain's oldest, nearly complete human skeleton, had
dark skin, blue eyes and dark curly hair when he lived in what is now
southwest England 10,000 years ago. The finding suggests that the
lighter skin pigmentation now seen as typical of northern Europeans is
far more recent than previously thought, according to researchers from
University College London (UCL) who took part in the project.
Unearthed in 1903 in a cave at Cheddar Gorge, in the county of Somerset,
the Mesolithic-era man was a hunter-gatherer whose ancestors migrated
into Europe at the end of the last Ice Age. Three hundred generations
later, around 10% of indigenous British ancestry can be linked to
Cheddar Man's people, scientists say.
Experts from the Natural History Museum's ancient DNA lab drilled a tiny
hole into the skull in order to extract genetic information. The DNA was
unusually well-preserved, enabling the scientists to sequence Cheddar
Man's genome for the first time and to analyse it to establish aspects
of his appearance. Then, a pair of Dutch artists who are experts in
palaeontological model making, Alfons and Adrie Kennis, used a high-tech
scanner to make a three-dimensional model of Cheddar Man's head.
The model, which UCL and the Natural History Museum said rendered
Cheddar Man's face with unprecedented accuracy, shows a man with dark
skin, high cheekbones, blue eyes and coarse black hair.