Social media meltdown over ‘first Brit’ Cheddar Man

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‘Extraordinary’ DNA findings that the first ancient Britons had black skin, dark curly hair and blue eyes, have sent social media users into meltdown.

Details of analysis of the bones of ‘Cheddar Man’, who died 10,000 years ago in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge, were published to much fanfare this morning.  

Reactions online have ranged from cheesy-puns to comparisons with well known media personalities. 

Among Twitter users to comment on the story was editor-at-large of the Mail Online’s US site, Piers Morgan.

Writing on the site, he said: ‘I think I’ve solved the mystery of Cheddar Man’. 

He compared the appearance of the ‘first Brit’ to business tycoon and Apprentice star Lord Alan Sugar.

A number of comparisons have been drawn with TV personalities and film characters.

Michael Moran‏ said: ‘This Cheddar Man guy. Feel like I’ve seen him before. Didn’t he once have a popular Sunday night TV show?’. 

He then posted an image of 90s Brit TV character Lovejoy.

NormanCGull said: ‘Oldest known modern Briton had dark skin and blue eyes say researchers.’ 

He compared Cheddar man to antiques expert and mahogany hued TV host David Dickinson. 

A number of users poked fun at the cheesy nature given to the remains found in Cheddar Gorge, as well as puns posted online. 

Mark Wallace said: ‘New archaeological reconstruction of Cheddar Man.’ 

He posted the comment alongside an image of a man wearing a cheese costume .

Lanre Bakare ‏said: ‘Cheddar Man is Thulsa Doom.’ 

This is a reference to a character from cult 80s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Conan the Barbarian.

The Natural History Museum and Channel 4 unveiled a reconstruction of the ancient human yesterday, which was made for a documentary: The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man.

Cheddar Man’s bones caused a sensation when they were unearthed in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset in 1903.  

The bones are the oldest near-complete human skeleton ever found in Britain and scientists said they were surprised to discover that the earliest Briton would be considered ‘black’ if he lived today.

The research suggests the first inhabitants of the British isles developed white skin later on than previously thought.  

For more than 100 years, scientists have tried to reveal Cheddar Man’s story, posing theories as to what he looked like, where he came from and what he can tell us about our earliest ancestors.

Experts also revealed that Cheddar Man is directly related to 1 in 10 people living in the UK today.

Only now with cutting-edge DNA and facial reconstruction techniques can we see for the first time the face of this 10,000 year old man, and ask how 300 generations later he relates to us today.

Experts from the museum and University College London conducted genetic tests on the remains, discovered in Gough’s Cave, which were taken by drilling a bone in the skull and sequencing the DNA preserved inside. 

Dr Tom Booth, a scientist from the museum said that the findings that there was a 76 per cent chance that Cheddar Man was ‘dark to black’ – was ‘extraordinary’.

He said in the documentary: ‘If a human with that colour skin wandered around now, we’d call him black, and a lot darker than we’d expect for Europe as well.

He added: ‘It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions that are really not applicable to the past at all.’

Dr Rick Schulting, an archaeology professor at Oxford University said: ‘It may be that we may have to rethink some of our notions of what it is to be British, what we expect a Briton to look like at this time.’

Britain in the Mesolithic era, the Middle stone age around 8,000 BC, was a very different place from today.

An Ice Age had just finished and the land had become green again. Herds of aurochs – huge, wild cattle – and red deer roamed the land.

Perhaps in pursuit of game, hunter gathering tribes swept in from what is now continental Europe across a land bridge across the North Sea – known as Doggerland.

The total human population in Britain was then just 12,000.

Tests on the DNA of modern Britons reveal we have around 10 per cent of our DNA in common with Cheddar Man and his tribe.

Close genetic matches to Cheddar Man have been found in remains in western Europe at sites including Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg.

Scientists say that Cheddar Man’s ancestors arrived in the Britain via the Middle East, after coming out of Africa.

Professor Ian Barnes, research leader at the Natural History Museum, said at a screening of the documentary: ‘For me, it’s not just the skin colour that’s interesting, it’s that combination of features that make him look not like anyone that you’d see today.

‘Not just dark skin and blue eyes, because you can get that combination, but also the face shape. So all of this combines together and make him just not the same as people you see around today.’

Professor Barnes added that although this was just one individual, he said: ‘At the moment I’d suggest this is a good model for what the rest of Britain looked like.’

Professor Barnes and Dr Selina Brace extracted DNA data from bone powder by drilling a 2mm (0.07 inch) hole through the skull’s inner ear bone.

They scanned the skull and a 3D model was produced by ‘paleo artists’ Alfons and Adrie Kennis, Dutch identical twins who make life-like reconstructions of extinct mammals and early humans.

The brothers, who have created reconstructions for museums around the world and usually create models of Neanderthals, spent three months creating Cheddar Man.

‘It’s really nice to make a more graceful man, not a heavy-browed Neanderthal. So we were very excited that it was a guy from after the Ice Age. We were very interested in what kind of human he was,’ said Alfons.

 

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