A DNA sample from a 10,000-year-old skeleton discovered in Gough Cave near Cheddar Gorge, England, offers a remarkable revelation: the first modern British people had “dark brown to black skin.” According to recent analysis, they also had dark curly hair and blue eyes. In other words, whiteness in Europe is a much newer thing than we thought.
The so-called Cheddar Man was a hunter-gatherer during the Mesolithic period, which ended just before the appearance of agriculture. While Britain was populated and abandoned by humans during earlier periods, archaeologists think that humans lived on the island continuously from Cheddar Man’s time through to present day. This is part of what makes the details about his appearance so meaningful. Cheddar Man’s genome shows that Europeans didn’t develop pale skin until a few thousand years ago, rather than tens of thousands of years ago when humans first migrated west onto the European continent.
The reconstructed bust shows an early human that looks similar in appearance to Paleolithic Africans. This suggests that the population moved from Africa through the Middle East, then across Europe and onto Britain thanks to the Doggerland land bridge, which connected the continent to the island during the time Cheddar Man was alive. Scientists say that DNA from the Cheddar Man population can be linked to about 10 percent of the genetic make-up of modern Europeans.
“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 feel the British should have white skin through time, is not at all something that is an immutable truth,” Dr. Yoan Dieckmann, a University College London who participated in the study, told the press. “It has always changed and will change.”