New DNA analysis carried out last month on Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, known as Cheddar Man, has revealed that he and the Mesolithic group he belonged to had dark to black skin and blue eyes, contradicting scientists long-held belief that Cheddar Man and his ancestors had pale complexions.
Prior to the latest DNA analysis, which was carried out by a team of University College London researchers, Cheddar Man hadn’t been studied since 1996. The original results have since been criticised, however, as they were not subjected to peer review.
Dr Chantal Conneller, senior lecturer in prehistory at Newcastle University, took part in a two-year archaeological dig in Jersey from 2013 to 2015 and believes there is strong evidence to suggest that the same group that became the first modern Britons might have also settled in Jersey at around the same time.
She based her theory on the discovery of certain tools, which she and the team found at Les Marionneux, St Mary, which were very similar to those found in parts of Europe, where Cheddar Man is thought to have travelled from.
‘The recent analysis carried out this year [of the Cheddar Man] has shown that some of the first people to settle in Britain from Europe had dark skin and based on the similarities between the tools we found in Jersey to those found in continental Europe [on separate unrelated digs], it is very likely that the same group also came to the Channel Islands.’
The Cheddar Man fossil was discovered more than 100 years ago in Somerset and his DNA and appearance has been the subject of much speculation over the years. It is thought that approximately ten per cent of people of white British ancestry alive today are Cheddar Man’s descendants.
Cheddar Man’s genetic profile places him with a number of other Mesolithic-era Europeans whose DNA has already been analysed and traced to early migrating humans who came from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg at the end of the last Ice Age.