The first Britons were dark skinned, DNA study reveals


A new analysis of a 10,000-year-old Somerset skeleton has revealed that the earliest Britons were black-skinned, with dark curly hair and possibly blue eyes.

In a joint project between Britain's Natural History Museum and University College London, scientists have used pioneering genetic sequencing and facial reconstruction techniques to prove that the first hunter-gatherers successfully to inhabit Britain were far darker in complexion than previously thought.

Archeologists found scraps of DNA in the ear of the Mesolithic "Cheddar Man", the oldest complete skeleton ever found in the UK and one of the museum's most treasured specimens. That led to the groundbreaking discovery. Moreover, they cross-referenced the genomes of modern inhabitants of Cheddar, near Gough's Cave in the Cheddar Gorge where the remains were discovered in 1903, as well as other fossils from across Europe.

Contrary to popular belief, the results show, that the founding generations of Britons owed more in appearance to Paleolithic Africans.

"The historical perspective that you get just tells you that things change, things are in flux, and what may seem as a cemented truth that people who feel British should have white skin, through time is not at all something that is an immutable truth. It has always changed and will change", Dr. Yoan Dieckmann, from University College London, said.

Cheddar Man is thought to be about five foot five inches tall, around 10 stone with good teeth and have died in his early 20s. But genetic sequencing that would have been impossible just ten years ago, allowed archaeologists to determine the colour of its skin, eyes, and hair.

The resulting information was then passed to Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis, who specialize in palaeontological model making. The results will be revealed the First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man airs on Channel 4 on Sunday, February 18.

Professor Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum, noted that: "The combination of quite dark skin and blue eyes is something that we don't imagine is typical, but that was the real appearance of these people, something that's quite rare today".