Scientific face of first Briton inspires flurry of cheesy jokes

08 February, 2018, 00:36 | Author: Lucy Floyd
  • Full facial reconstruction model of a head based on the skull of Britain's oldest complete skeleton on display during a screening event of The First Brit Secrets Of The 10,000 Year Old Man at The Natural History Museum in London

A new DNA analysis shows that this ancient man's skin was dark - showing genetic traits similar to that of people from sub-Saharan Africa, according to the findings, a collaboration between the Natural History Museum, University College London, and Channel 4. Professor Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum said in a statement. This is only possible because of spectacular breakthroughs in DNA sequencing.Their results will transform both the way we visualise our 10,000 year old ancestors and our understanding of how we relate to them. Researchers believe the British Isles have only been continuously settled by humans since about 1,000 years before Cheddar Man lived.

To find Cheddar Man's appearance, the team used genes that are linked to skin color, hair color and texture, and eye color.

"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 added.

In an earlier model, Cheddar Man had been portrayed as having brown eyes and light skin. This also means that scientists can infer with a reasonable degree of confidence what the man must have looked like millennia ago just by matching his genes with characteristics from a database.

The 10mm of bone powder drilled from Cheddar Man's skull was enough to reveal anticipated clues into his phenotype and hunter-gatherer lifestyle. As the oldest near-complete skeleton of our species, this new knowledge gives us a good look at what life might have been like for one of our early ancestors who lived around 10000 years ago.

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"It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions or very recent constructions, that really [is] not applicable to the past at all", said Tom Booth, an archaeologist from the Natural History Museum who worked on the reconstruction.

"'Of course facial reconstruction is part art and part science...but there are some standards of how thick the tissue is in different regions of people's faces so they can use those conventions to develop the morphology of the face".

Then, a pair of Dutch artists who are experts in palaeontological model-making, Mr Alfons Kennis and his brother, Mr Adrie Kennis, used a high-tech scanner to make a three-dimensional model of Cheddar Man's head.

"For me, it's not just the skin colour that's interesting, it's that combination of features that make him look not like anyone that you'd see today", the museum's Ian Barnes tells New Scientist. "We are all immigrants".

The process of analysis and 3D remodelling was undertaken for Channel 4 documentary "First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man" set to be aired on 18 February.



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