DNA analysis suggests that the first modern Britons, who lived some 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin and blue eyes, scientists said on Wednesday.
The scientists from London’s Natural History Museum analysed DNA from an almost complete Homo sapiens skeleton, known as Cheddar Man, after it was found in a cave in Cheddar Gorge in south-western England in 1903.
“Cheddar Man was a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer – fully modern human – with dark skin and blue eyes,” the scientists said.
They said that he was about 166cm tall and had probably died in his 20s.
“Until recently it was always assumed that humans quickly adapted to have paler skin after entering Europe about 45,000 years ago,
“Pale skin is better at absorbing UV light and helps humans avoid vitamin D deficiency in climates with less sunlight,” said researcher Tom Booth.
The team found Cheddar Man had “genetic markers of skin pigmentation usually associated with sub-Saharan Africa,” adding that this was “consistent with a number of other Mesolithic human remains discovered throughout Europe.”
“Cheddar Man subverts people’s expectations of what kinds of genetic traits go together,” Booth said.
“It seems that pale eyes entered Europe long before pale skin or blond hair, which didn’t come along until after the arrival of farming.
“He reminds us that you can’t make assumptions about what people looked like in the past based on what people look like in the present.”