A cutting-edge scientific analysis that was conducted by researchers from London’s Natural History Museum reveals that the remains of Britain’s oldest intact skeleton from 10,000 years ago had dark to brown skin and blue eyes.
The fossil was unearthed in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England.
Initially, experts assumed that the “Cheddar Man” had pale skin and fair hair, but his DNA depicts a different picture.
The analysis of his DNA strongly suggests that he had a very dark brown to the black complexion, blue eyes and dark curly hair.
The lead researcher of London’s Natural History Museum team, Prof Chris Stringer, who had been studying the skeleton of Cheddar Man for about 40 years, explained that the DNA pulled from the fossil suggest that the earliest Europeans look nothing like scientists thought.
“So to come face-to-face with what this guy could have looked like – and that striking combination of the hair, the face, the eye color and that dark skin: something a few years ago we couldn’t have imagined and yet that’s what the scientific data show.”
In an attempt to isolate DNA from the 10,000-year-old fossil, scientists at the Natural History Museum drilled a small hole into the skull of Cheddar Man and drew a small sample of bone powder.
Dr Selina Brace and Prof Ian Barnes who was part of the research team and revealed that they weren’t sure if they’d get any DNA from the remains. But fortunately for them, they were able to isolate a full genome from the powder that was extracted. This genome led them to their conclusions.
Further analyses were conducted on genes which are known to be linked to hair color and texture, skin color and eye color.
Although there are a handful of genetic variants linked to reduced pigmentation in skin tone, including some that are very widespread in European populations today, it was established that the Cheddar Man had “ancestral” variants of all these genes.
This strongly suggests that he would have had blue eyes with dark to black skin tone.
Reports suggest that over time, populations living in Europe now became light-skinned with fair hair because of the ability of pale skin to absorb more sunlight that is needed to produce sufficient vitamin D which people living in the cooler and cloudier climate would have required.
The most recent discovery indicates that pale skin may have emerged later with the advent of farming as people were obtaining less vitamin D through dietary sources like oily fish.
Experts also believe that the Cheddar Man most likely lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. He carved bows and arrows, made sharp blades from flints for butchering animals and used antlers to whittle harpoons for spearfishing.
Tom Booth, an archaeologist at London’s Natural History Museum where the search for Cheddar Man’s ancient DNA began as well as where the findings will be displayed, suggests that genes for lighter skin weren’t always as widespread and that they were not common until much later.