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It's official, early Britons had dark skin and light eyes


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Analysis of Cheddar Man's DNA revealed that the early Britons had dark skin, blue eyes and dark curly hair.

The fossil, called Cheddar Man, is Britain’s oldest complete skeleton. He lived about 10,000 years ago among the first modern Britons. The skeleton was found in Gouch’s Cave in Somerset more than a century ago. It is believed that about 10% of white British ancestry is linked to the Cheddar Man.

Photograph: Channel 4

His appearance has been the subject of intense debate as he lived after the first people from continental Europe settled in Britain at the end of the last ice age. It was initially thought that he had pale skin and fair hair.

The research revealed that genes for lighter skin in European population became widespread much later than previously thought and that skin colour has not always been a proxy for geographic origin.

Britain was cleared during the ice ages until the last glacial period, about 11,700 years ago. From that time, researchers were unclear on whether migrants came from the same mainland European population but this analysis demonstrates this was not the case.

Scientists believe that sunlight absorption, required for vitamin D production, would have caused European populations to gain lighter skin tones over time. Furthermore, the latest findings suggest that this would have occurred when those population started farming as they were obtaining less vitamin D through dietary sources like oily fish.

The full genome analysis of the Cheddar Man suggests that his ancestors were from Africa, before moving to the Middle East. He finally reached western Europe before crossing the ancient land bridge Doggerland which connected Britain and continental Europe.

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