Cheddar Gorge via WikiTheir 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.
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.
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