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Skull of the Cheddar Man

Cheddar Man is a human male fossil found in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. The skeletal remains date to the Mesolithic (ca. 9100 BP) and it appears that he died a violent death. A large crater-like lesion just above the skull's right orbit suggests that the man may have also been suffering from a bone infection.

Excavated in 1903, Cheddar Man is Britain's oldest complete human skeleton. The remains are kept by the Natural History Museum in London in the new Human Evolution gallery.[1]

Analysis of his nuclear DNA indicates that he was a typical member of the western European population at the time, with lactose intolerance, dark skin, blue eyes, and dark curly or wavy hair.[2]


DNA sequence data

Nuclear DNA was extracted from the petrous part of the temporal bone by a team led by Ian Barnes, of the Natural History Museum in 2018.[3] The genetic markers suggested (based on their associations in modern populations whose phenotypes are known) that he probably had blue eyes, dark to very dark skin, dark curly or wavy hair, and lactose intolerance.[4] These features are typical of the European population of the time, now known as western European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. This population forms about 10%, on average, of the ancestry of Britons without a recent family history of immigration.[4] However, one of the geneticists of the team has subsequently expressed misgivings about these conclusions, while other geneticists have stated that it is simply impossible for current genetics to identify the skin colour of any ancient human of this age.[5]

Genetic change since the Mesolithic

Brown eyes, lactose tolerance, and lighter skin are common in the modern population of the area. These genes came from later immigration, most of it ultimately from two major waves, the first of Neolithic farmers from the Near East, another of Bronze Age pastoralists, most likely speakers of Indo-European languages, from the Pontic steppe.[2][6] There may also have been natural selection for lighter skin in Europe, related to the need for more vitamin D synthesis in less sunny climates.[4]

The mitochondrial DNA of Cheddar Man was of haplogroup U5b1.[2] Some 65% of western European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers had haplogroup U5; today it is widely distributed, at lower frequencies, across western Eurasia and northern Africa. In 1996, Bryan Sykes of the University of Oxford first sequenced the mitochondrial DNA from one of Cheddar Man's molars.[7][8][9]

Earlier inhabitants

There was no genetic link with the other skeletons from Gough's Cave, which are 5,000 years older than Cheddar Man. For much of this intervening period, the last glaciation of Europe had made the area unsuitable for human life.

See also


  1. ^ "Human Evolution". Natural History Museum. Retrieved 17 November 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c Brace, Selina; Diekmann, Yoan; Booth, Thomas J.; Faltyskova, Zuzana; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Ferry, Matthew; Michel, Megan; Oppenheimer, Jonas; Broomandkhoshbacht, Nasreen; Stewardson, Kristin; Walsh, Susan; Kayser, Manfred; Schulting, Rick; Craig, Oliver E.; Sheridan, Alison; Pearson, Mike Parker; Stringer, Chris; Reich, David; Thomas, Mark G.; Barnes, Ian (18 February 2018). "Population Replacement in Early Neolithic Britain". bioRxiv: 267443. doi:10.1101/267443. 
  3. ^ "Early Briton from 10,000 years ago had dark skin and blue eyes". New Scientist. 7 February 2018. Retrieved 8 February 2018. 
  4. ^ a b c "Cheddar Man FAQ". Natural History Museum. Retrieved 2018-03-18. 
  5. ^ Colin Barras (21 February 2018). "Ancient 'dark-skinned' Briton Cheddar Man find may not be true". New Scientist. (subscription required)
  6. ^ Haak, Wolfgang; Lazaridis, Iosif; Patterson, Nick; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Llamas, Bastien; Brandt, Guido; Nordenfelt, Susanne; Harney, Eadaoin; Stewardson, Kristin; Fu, Qiaomei; Mittnik, Alissa; Bánffy, Eszter; Economou, Christos; Francken, Michael; Friederich, Susanne; Pena, Rafael Garrido; Hallgren, Fredrik; Khartanovich, Valery; Khokhlov, Aleksandr; Kunst, Michael; Kuznetsov, Pavel; Meller, Harald; Mochalov, Oleg; Moiseyev, Vayacheslav; Nicklisch, Nicole; Pichler, Sandra L.; Risch, Roberto; Guerra, Manuel A. Rojo; Roth, Christina; Szécsényi-Nagy, Anna; Wahl, Joachim; Meyer, Matthias; Krause, Johannes; Brown, Dorcas; Anthony, David; Cooper, Alan; Alt, Kurt Werner; Reich, David (10 February 2015). "Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe". bioRxiv: 013433. doi:10.1101/013433 – via 
  7. ^ Bramanti, B; Thomas, MG; Haak, W (October 2009). "Genetic discontinuity between local hunter-gatherers and central Europe's first farmers". Science. 326 (5949): 137–40. doi:10.1126/science.1176869. PMID 19729620. 
  8. ^ Malmström, H; Gilbert, MT; Thomas, MG (November 2009). "Ancient DNA reveals lack of continuity between neolithic hunter-gatherers and contemporary Scandinavians". Current Biology. 19 (20): 1758–62. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.017. PMID 19781941. 
  9. ^ Sykes, Bryan, Blood of the Isles (Bantam, 2006) pp. 5–12

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