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Analysis of 10,000-year-old DNA finds first modern Brits had dark skin, blue eyes

His name is Cheddar Man.

He’s got nothing to do with cheese nor is he a famous rapper.

His remains were found in a cave at Cheddar Gorge in 1903, and it was found he was a Mesolithic hunter-gather who roamed modern-day Britain 10,000 years ago.

Scientists believe that around 10% of white British people can be traced back to Cheddar Man’s kin.

Cheddar Man is the oldest skeleton found in Britain, and DNA analysis of his body has revealed that he had dark to black skin, coarse black hair and blue eyes.

Researchers from the University of College London (UCL) drilled a tiny hole into Cheddar Man’s head to extract bone powder for analysis. Since the DNA contained in the bone powder was in oddly good nick, the scientists were able to sequence Cheddar Man’s genome and draw conclusions about his appearance.

It was previously thought that Cheddar Man has light skin and brown eyes, but the new analysis showed that he was actually much darker.

What this means is that the genes for lighter skin appeared in Europe far later than originally thought.

“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 at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, told The Guardian.

This is not the first time that science has proven that race is a social construct. Over the last two decades, scientists have studied genomes from different parts of the world and shown that there is no single genetic variant belonging to any particular group.

Cheddar Man and his people probably left Africa and passed through the Middle East before winding up in what is now Britain.

The full findings of the study will be shown in a Channel 4 documentary that will also include a lifelike 3D model of Cheddar Man’s head.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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