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Surprising Science

DNA sequencing reveals ‘Cheddar Man’—Britain’s oldest skeleton—was definitely not a white guy

Cheddar Man is now complete. 
A full face reconstruction model made from the skull of a 10,000-year-old man, known as 'Cheddar Man', Britain's oldest complete skeleton is pictured during a press preview at the National History Museum in London on February 6, 2018. (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/G

The oldest nearly complete skeleton found in Britain, at Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, southwest England, was first encountered in a cave, all the way back in 1903. Since then, scientists have worked hard to predict what he might look like, all the while reconstructing “Cheddar Man.”

Now, using the latest in DNA analysis, scanning technology, and modeling techniques, they have just completed his reconstruction, and he looks quite fascinating. 

Meet the 10,000-year-old man.

Photos: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.

Complete with dark brown or black skin, blue eyes, and curly, dark-brown hair, he’s likely the distant relative of migrating hunter-gatherers.  

“Cheddar Man’s genetic profile places him with several other Mesolithic-era Europeans from Spain, Hungary, and Luxembourg whose DNA has already been analyzed. These ‘Western Hunter-Gatherers’ migrated into Europe at the end of the last ice age and the group included Cheddar Man’s ancestors,” explained University College of London’s Professor Mark Thomas, one of the scientists who completed the project. 

So how did they arrive at this picture? 

DNA, from inside the skull of Cheddar Man, was sequenced. As in the entire genome.

The results will be featured in an upcoming film, “First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man,” to be released on February 18 by Channel 4. 

The news was particularly interesting because of the assumptions made when Cheddar Man was first discovered; when the skeleton was initially found, folks assumed he was white, like most Brits. 

Cheddar Man shows us that’s not the case. 

“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,” commented Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on this project. 

Much to the chagrin of some racists, it’s just not reality. 


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