Ancient Briton had dark skin and blue eyes, scientists find

LONDON (Reuters) - "Cheddar Man", Britain's oldest, nearly complete human skeleton, had dark skin, blue eyes and dark curly hair when he lived in what is now southwest England 10,000 years ago, scientists who read his DNA have discovered.

The finding suggests that the lighter skin pigmentation now seen as typical of northern Europeans is far more recent than previously thought, according to researchers from University College London (UCL) who took part in the project.

Cheddar Man's skin color was described as "dark to black" by the scientific team which also included researchers from London's Natural History Museum, where the skeleton is on display in the Human Evolution gallery.

6 PHOTOS
'Cheddar Man' -- Britain's oldest, nearly complete human skeleton
See Gallery
'Cheddar Man' -- Britain's oldest, nearly complete human skeleton
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. **PLEASE NOTE: PHOTOGRAPHS ARE EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 GMT February 7, 2018** / AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Model makers Adrie (L) and Alfons Kennis pose with their full face reconstruction model, made from the skull of a 10,000 year old man, known as 'Cheddar Man', Britain's oldest complete skeleton, during a press preview at the National History Museum in London on February 6, 2018. **PLEASE NOTE: PHOTOGRAPHS ARE EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 GMT February 7, 2018** / AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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. **PLEASE NOTE: PHOTOGRAPHS ARE EMBARGOED UNTIL 00.01 GMT February 7, 2018** / AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Dr. Chris Stringer, principal researcher of human origins at the Natural History Musuem, holds the skull of the 'Cheddar Man' March 7. The 'Cheddar Man' who lived over 9,000 years ago in Cheddar Gorge has recently undergone a series of experiments to extract ancient DNA from his skull. BRITAIN CHADDER
Professor Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum holds the 9 thousand year-old skull of 'Cheddar Man' with Dr Bryan Sykes of Oxford University. The Ancient Biomolecules Initiative grand final was held at the Natural History Museum. (Photo by John Stillwell - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Remains of the Cheddar Man which was found in Goughs Cave, Cheddar Gorge and is Britain's oldest complete human skeleton dated at approx 7150 BC, on display at the Cheddar Caves Museum, Somerset, circa 1975. (Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"To go beyond what the bones tell us and get a scientifically based picture of what he actually looked like is a remarkable, and from the results quite surprising achievement," said Chris Stringer, the museum's research leader in Human Origins.

Unearthed in 1903 in a cave at Cheddar Gorge, in the county of Somerset, the Mesolithic-era man was a hunter-gatherer whose ancestors migrated into Europe at the end of the last Ice Age.

Three hundred generations later, around 10 percent of indigenous British ancestry can be linked to Cheddar Man's people, scientists say.

As part of a project commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television station for a documentary, experts from the Natural History Museum's ancient DNA lab drilled a tiny hole into the skull in order to extract genetic information.

The DNA was unusually well-preserved, enabling the scientists to sequence Cheddar Man's genome for the first time and to analyze it to establish aspects of his appearance.

Then, a pair of Dutch artists who are experts in palaeontology model making, Alfons and Adrie Kennis, used a high-tech scanner to make a three-dimensional model of Cheddar Man's head.

The model, which UCL and the Natural History Museum said rendered Cheddar Man's face with unprecedented accuracy, shows a man with dark skin, high cheekbones, blue eyes and coarse black hair.

The model will be shown on the Channel 4 documentary, which is scheduled to be aired on Feb. 18.

Selina Brace, one of the Natural History Museum's ancient DNA experts who took part in sequencing Cheddar Man's genome, was quoted as saying the model was "really, really cool".

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Stephen Addison)

Read Full Story