Earliest known British person had dark skin, blue eyes, researchers say

Scientists said the first modern Briton man had dark skin and blue eyes. This is a collected human face portrait

The groundbreaking discovery was made in a "stroke of luck" after archaeologists found scraps of DNA in the ear of the Mesolithic "Cheddar Man", the oldest complete skeleton found in the United Kingdom and one of the museum's most treasured specimens.

Scientists found that Cheddar Man would have had a darker skin pigmentation than previously suspected. "For years, little was known about this European ancestor, outside of his 5' 5" height and assumed death in his early 20s.

Tests conducted by a team of researchers from University College London (UCL) and London's Natural History Museum found that "Cheddar Man", who lived in southwest England nearly 10,000 years ago, had dark to black skin and bright blue eyes.

The findings are a dramatic departure from earlier reconstructions, which depicted the first Brit as a lighter skinned male.

In 1996, Bryan Sykes - Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics at Oxford University analyzed DNA extracted from Cheddar Man's molars; he also analyzed a 12,000-year-old tooth found in the same cave as Cheddar Man.

The DNA was unusually well preserved, enabling the scientists to sequence Cheddar Man's genome for the first time and to analyse it to establish aspects of his appearance.

Tottenham MP David Lammy, who is black, said knowing of the existence of Cheddar Man would have helped him to deal with hard questions when he was younger. However, that assumption has now been debunked. The skeleton is dated to a time not long after the first settlers crossed from continental Europe to Britain at the end of the last ice age.

The researchers say the evidence suggests that Europeans' light skin coloring developed much later than experts had thought.

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To perform the DNA analysis, scientists obtained a small amount of bone powder by drilling into Cheddar Man's skull. Adrie and Alfons Kennis, a team of Dutch model makers, were responsible for the reconstruction process and relied on 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies to complete the face.

Prof Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, first excavated at Gough's Cave 30 years ago.

"To go beyond what the bones tell us and get a scientifically-based picture of what he actually looked like is a remarkable - and from the results quite surprising - achievement".

It is believed that Cheddar Man was part of the hunter-gather population, and carved flints into sharp blades that he used to butcher animals.

The story of the Cheddar Man's new face and how researchers at the Natural History Museum in London sequenced his genome will soon appear in a documentary, due to air on Channel 4 on February 18.

A further investigation by Tom Booth - an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum along with a team assigned to the project uncovered the deeper truth of Cheddar Man's lineage.

Mr Alfons Kennis said the DNA findings were "revolutionary".

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