Friday, 16 March 2018

Who Do You Think You Are?

via National Geographic
Ten thousand years ago in the period that followed the ending of the last glacial age, Britain was still attached to Europe. It was joined to the Continent by a large area of land called Doggerland lying predominantly in the area that is now occupied by the North Sea and the English Channel. Doggerland acted like a dam against ever rising sea levels which over time gradually eroded and became reduced to low-lying islands. It is considered that Doggerland was finally submerged following a tsunami caused by the Storegga Slide resulting in the final separation of Britain from Europe. Today an area known as 'Doggerbank' still lies beneath the North Sea, but importantly 'Doggerbank' represents that remnant of land which thousands of years ago once formed a substantial land-bridge across to the European Continent.


Cheddar Gorge via Wiki
Over ten thousand years ago humans crossed Doggerland from Europe and settled in what is now the British Isles. One of the areas was here, in the west country, less than one hour south of our home.
Their settlement was in and around the area surrounding Cheddar Gorge, a perfect place for hunter gatherers to live. Very little is known about these people, but in 1903 the almost complete skeletal remains of a 10,000 year old prehistoric human were discovered - the oldest human remains ever found in Britain. A male, in his mid-twenties still showing a good set of teeth, revealing no signs of how he had died, with a height of 5ft/5ins, weighing 10 stone, and who widely became known as 'Cheddar Man'. His remains were found 20m (65 ft.) inside a cavern called Gough's Cave, the largest of 100 caverns situated within the Gorge
For the last 115 years, Cheddar Man has been in the Natural History Museum, London, surrounded by speculation about how this ancient Britain might have looked, and it is only recently that the possibility of discovering his full genome has arisen. With the ever continuing scientific advances in collecting and understanding DNA evidence, a team of museum scientists together with experts from University College London (UCL) drilled a 2 mm hole inside prehistoric man's skull to gather bone powder from his petrous bone. This is the densest bone in the human body and was, therefore, considered especially good for hopefully having safeguarded his ancient DNA.
A computer generated 3D image of his skull was done and sent to two Dutch forensic reconstruction experts who began the task of modelling his face
The DNA of people presently living in the Cheddar area was taken, some had family links going back more than 400 years in the Cheddar area. Although 400 years is a minuscule period of time compared to 10,000 years it was hoped that some interesting data might be forthcoming.
Whilst the Dutch Forensic experts were busy reconstructing Cheddar Man's features the scientists awaited the results of his DNA test hoping to to be able to confirm his appearance - what colour eyes and hair would he have? Would he resemble a Viking?
When the DNA results were finally analysed they proved to be unexpected and even surprising - Cheddar Man's DNA indicated that he had blue eyes, dark coloured curly hair and 'dark' to 'black' skin pigmentation. This cutting edge research suggests that the lighter pigmentation considered to be a defining feature of northern Europe is a far more recent phenomenon, and...............
................importantly this is now the face that is the representative of the population occupying all of northern Europe 10,000 years ago. 
It was subsequently discovered that the DNA taken from the current population of Cheddar shared at least 10% of Cheddar Man's DNA, as does most of Britain and northern Europe too.
I was inspired to write this after watching an intriguing programme on Channel Four following the research and progress of this project between the Natural History Museum, University College London, and the two Dutch forensic reconstructors.
Cheddar Man via UCL

47 comments:

  1. What an excellent article, Rosemary - a really good summary. I love this story - I've long reckoned we're all hybrids anyway and it amuses me to mention this to people who think they're 'pure' one thing or another. Love the map too - one of the best showing Doggerland that I've seen. But what's so special about Howick (unless, of course, you live there)?

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    1. Good gracious Mike, I hadn't noticed that, and what about Goldcliff too - somewhere that I have never even heard of before!!! Methinks I shall have to do some research.
      Yes, I find it amusing too, but also a bit disconcerting when you consider all of those who feel that they are purely and exclusively local to our country.

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  2. Interesting topic. I've rock climbed and explored the caverns under Cheddar Gorge many years ago and that was a major highlight of my trip around that part of the UK- both the show caves and a full day potholing trip deeper underground so I can see why they would settle there to live. A real Swiss cheese landscape- though I prefer cheddar to eat, taste wise.

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    1. The real McCoy cheddar cheese is still made in the gorge and matured in one of the caves.

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  3. Very interesting post and I learned a lot. I am not disturbed by such an origin, but there are certainly those who do not agree with it. * Great Applause for you for solving the mystery with me. Yes, this is the garden of Villa Taranto in Italy. You have certainly admired him too and you remember him well. Regards.

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    1. I think that Cheddar Man has a very pleasant appearance and a kindly face - anthropologists have long believed that we all originate from 'Lucy' who was found in Ethiopia.
      Yes, Villa Taranto has a spectacular and very memorable garden.

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  4. The world is full surprises ha,ha! Very amusing, great post.

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    1. Glad that you enjoyed the read - the research definitely makes you think and perhaps reconsider previously held notions.

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  5. Another very interesting post Rosemary. It fascinates me that forensic scientists can reconstruct a face from bone and DNA.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozO4YB98mCY

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    1. Being able to do this so accurately is, as you know, a fairly recent thing - the break throughs in DNA are now really quite remarkable.
      I will check out the youtube site - thank you.

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  6. I find what they're doing with DNA and reconstruction so interesting.

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    1. There are currently great advances being made all of the time currently which, I find particularly interesting.

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  7. I've seen the articles on Cheddar Man recently, but I can't recall seeing any photos of the gorge. What a beautiful, stark locale!

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    1. It must have been a perfect spot for those who lived there so long ago.

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  8. Hello Rosemary, How fascinating to simultaneously explore geographic and evolutionary history. Of course everything is subject to revision, but the more we posit and examine, the more we will learn. Although I read a book before about the geology of England, I missed the Natural History Museum, so that will be a must-see on my next visit. (I have so many must-sees in Britain now, I may have to take up residence!) Speaking of Lucy, did you know that she was discovered by Donald Johanson from the Cleveland (Ohio) Museum of Natural History?
    --Jim
    P.S. I am waiting to see how many comments will cite this early example of 'Brexit,' so I am refraining from so doing.

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    1. Hello Jim - I think that you must have read my mind. The Brexit issue was definitely hovering around my thinking too when I wrote this post.

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  9. Great post. I Found the map fascinating. When I visited UK in 2011 I drove through the gorge, so know exactly where that is. Best Wishes from NZ.

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    1. Thank you for visiting - glad that you enjoyed seeing the map and I was interested to learn that you have driven through Cheddar Gorge.

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  10. Very interesting - saw something of this on television here recently and they spoke to someone from Cheddar who shared his DNA

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    1. Apparently we all share some of his DNA - you too, Susan.

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  11. It is so wonderful how far science and technology have come so that we can all but recreate this human.

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    1. It is an important piece of information in the jigsaw of life.

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  12. How fascinating is that!
    Science brings such wonders of long ago.

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    1. Science is changing so many of what it appears were wrongly perceived ideas.

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  13. Dearest Rosemary,
    Very interesting and I did read about it in Dutch also.
    Did you also learn that Cheddar Man was lactose intolerant?
    And the finding that only a couple of thousand years ago Europeans got a lighter skin color due to the no longer enough vitamine D absorbed in their food, thus creating the possibility for getting it from sunlight.
    Great job done by those Dutch twin-brothers Alfons en Adrie Kennis!
    Hugs and happy weekend.
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - thank you for this additional information - this cutting edge research, which I am sure you will agree, may still unfold many more of our questions with answers.
      Credit must go to all of those concerned - I consider the face recreated by the Dutch twins to be a face that all of us can recognise and relate to today.

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    2. Happy St. Patricks Day to you too.

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  14. Absolutely fascinating, Rosemary. I have never heard of Doggerland, and loved the map. Those amazing river systems, showing the remaining rivers in the UK to be tiny tributaries of a massive system. Cheddar Man is a very cheery looking fellow, and I guess his dark skin does support the idea that earliest man moved out from Africa. As another commenter suggests, I have wondered if the gentler sunlight further north gradually caused development of fair skin. His blue twinkling eyes look very Irish to me - but perhaps that is because it is the 17th March.

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    1. I think that he has a lovely face Patricia - much more gentle than the images created in my childhood of so called 'Cave Men'.
      When we booked to go to Ethiopia, which was sadly cancelled, we had hoped to see 'Lucy' long considered, by anthropologists, to be the ancestor of us all.

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  15. What a fascinating post Rosemary! How incredible to have so much of interest in your local environs, every inch of the UK seems to be roiling with history. I find the history of the early arrivals to Britain to be absolutely riveting.
    I will be visiting the Cotswolds in early May and am hoping to tip toe through the blue bells.
    Am thinking of basing myself in one of the pretty villages for a week.
    I have been revisiting many of your older posts and enjoying the insights you offer into your beautiful part of the world. Your photography and articles are wonderful, thank you!

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    1. Dear Wendy - it is so lovely to hear from you - I had assumed that you had given up blogging.
      It is lovely that you will be visiting the Cotswolds in May - let me know if you need any information as I would be happy to help or may be we could even meet?
      Thank you for your kind comment.

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  16. Dear Rosemary,
    Thank you for this very informative post. You have done so much research. Thank you for taking the time to give us this great information.
    I had my Ancestry checked and was surprised at the outcome. Your research answers a lot of questions.

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    1. Dear Gina - thank you for your very kind comment. If, as a result of my collating this research together, it has been helpful to you, then I am delighted. The documentary showing all of the work involved with the different scientists was fascinating.

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  17. So interesting I missed that programme, it was good to find out all about the fascinating research. Sarah x

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    1. If you are interested in seeing the programme, I am sure that it is still available on 4OD Sarah.

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  18. Really interesting reading, and amazing what modern technology is able to discover / create !

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    1. Scientific advances being made today are, I agree, absolutely amazing.

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  19. By the way, great title :-)

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  20. This is a fascinating topic, Rosemary. I have watched programmes re the Cheddar Man and one that referenced the Dogger Bank. I find the face reconstructions exciting to watch.
    Planning to have a DNA test done sometime, but am considering the different companies who offer the service. They vary in the type of information produced and are quite expensive, so will wait until I've considered all options.
    Thank you for this great post bringing everything together so well.

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    1. Dear Betty - I am pleased that you enjoyed reading this post. I found the documentary extremely interesting, and in particular because anthropologists have always said that we all originated from North Africa, and it now looks as if they were right.
      It should be interesting to have your DNA done.

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  21. How very interesting. I am so glad I came over to read this very informative piece.

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    1. Thank you Loree for visiting and for your kind comment which I appreciate very much.

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  22. Dear Rosemary – Thank you for this informative post. It’s interesting that the mystery of human history and that of ancient times are uncovered by the cutting-edge technology. I feel familiar to the face of the photo, maybe because he looks like the scientifically supposed face of Jyomon Japanese (10000BC- 400BC). The current Japanese archipelago was formed at the Last Glacial Maximum about 20,000 years ago, detached from the continent.

    Recently I’ve paced down blogging. I was happy with your comment. How’s the weather? In Japan, the long intense cold winter looked to end suddenly last week, but today it’s so cold and is snowing in Tokyo with 0.7 degrees C now. Snow on Vernal Equinox Day is so unusual.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - we had another blast of bitter cold weather from Siberia last weekend, but fortunately very little snow fell here. Today it is beautiful, bright sun, blue skies, calm peaceful day. The weather is strange, but hopefully and with luck the cold is now going away.
      Science is continually opening our eyes these days - I found the cutting edge technology surrounding the research into Cheddar Man absolutely fascinating.

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