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New Research Reveals Britain’s Oldest Ancestor Had Dark Skin and Blue Eyes

Full facial reconstruction model of a head based on the skull of Britain's oldest complete skeleton on display during a screening event of The First Brit: Secrets Of The 10,000 Year Old Man at The Natural History Museum, in London. (Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
Full facial reconstruction model of a head based on the skull of Britain's oldest complete skeleton on display during a screening event of The First Brit: Secrets Of The 10,000 Year Old Man at The Natural History Museum, in London. (Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Images via Getty Images)
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    Article Details:

    New Research Reveals Britain’s Oldest Ancestor Had Dark Skin and Blue Eyes

    • Author

      Thad Morgan

    • Website Name

      history.com

    • Year Published

      2018

    • Title

      New Research Reveals Britain’s Oldest Ancestor Had Dark Skin and Blue Eyes

    • URL

      https://www.history.com/news/cheddar-man-dark-skin-dna-discovery

    • Access Date

      May 23, 2018

    • Publisher

      A+E Networks

The 10,000-year-old skeleton of “Cheddar Man,” the oldest complete skeleton found in Britain, recently became a bit less mysterious. It was just revealed through DNA analysis that the man recognized as the first modern Brit had a “dark to black” skin tone.

“Cheddar Man” was discovered in 1903 in Gogh’s Cave within the village of Cheddar, Somerset. For years, little was known about this European ancestor, outside of his 5’ 5” height and assumed death in his early 20s.

However, using the DNA extracted from his skull, researchers from the London Natural History Museum and University College London surmised that “Cheddar Man” had blue eyes, dark curly hair and dark skin. “The discovery suggests that the lighter pigmentation now considered to be a defining feature of northern Europe is a far more recent phenomenon,” the researchers wrote in a statement.

The skeleton of Cheddar Man, at the London Natural History Museum, which was unearthed in Gough's Cave at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset in 1903. (Credit: London Natural History Museum/REX/Shutterstock)
The skeleton of Cheddar Man, at the London Natural History Museum, which was unearthed in Gough’s Cave at Cheddar Gorge, Somerset in 1903. (Credit: London Natural History Museum/REX/Shutterstock)

People with pale skin likely arrived in Britain about 6,000 years ago, according to the BBC, via migration from the Middle East. Europeans and Britons of the Mesolithic Era, to which “Cheddar Man” belongs, would have had a similar genetic make-up to him.

“’Cheddar Man’s’ genetic profile places him with several other Mesolithic-era Europeans from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg whose DNA has already been analyzed,” Professor Mark Thomas of UCL noted in the statement. Approximately 10 percent of Europeans are believed to be descendants of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers like “Cheddar Man.”

Prior to this DNA analysis, it was commonly believed that “Cheddar Man” would have had the same traits of pale skin and hair that became common among future generations of Britons. However, that assumption has now been debunked.

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