The ‘Cheddar Man’ is illuminating our origins and annoying racists

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The oldest modern Briton was dark skinned with blue eyes, according to a new facial reconstruction — calling into question a lot of old assumptions.

Researchers at University College London and the Natural History Museum have found that the so-called Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest skeleton, had dark skin. The discovery was made thanks to DNA which had been preserved inside the body’s inner ear bone, which scientists were able to extract and sequence against the known human genome. They found genetic markers consistent with blue eyes, and skin pigmentation usually found in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Cheddar Man was then given a new face, thanks to the efforts of paleontological model experts Alfons and Adrie Kennis, who transformed this new data (along with existing physical parameters) into a reasonable approximation of what he would have looked like. Until recently, it had been assumed that the Cheddar Man had white skin, and this had been reflected in previous simulations of his appearance.

An earlier reconstruction of the Cheddar Man.

“It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all,” says Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum.

The Cheddar Man’s ancestors are believed to have travelled from Africa to the Middle East, before settling in Britain. The genes for lighter skin pigment, which enables the skin to absorb more sunlight and produce vitamin D, are now believed to have emerged much later than previously believed. Long story short; black people have been in Britain for a minute.

This new development has already ruffled the feathers of white nationalists online, with many of them simply refusing to believe the science. “More propaganda from the lunatic left,” wrote one Daily Mail commentor. “I do wonder how much political correctness is involved here,” said another, while one simply stated: “I don’t believe that.”

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That’s the sad news. Learning that people of different races have been here for ten millennia won’t stop racists telling them to “go back where they came from.” You can present a bigot with facts, and all you’ll get back from them is feelings. Inarticulate, illogical, deeply stupid feelings, disguised as discourse.

Even worse, this news might lead to even more baffling xenophobic arguments. At least one Twitter user has already tried the “you can’t call me racist if all of us are black” line.

One in ten contemporary Brits are believed to be related to the Cheddar Man, who was dug up from Gough’s Cave in Somerset more than one hundred years ago. And while there are plenty of ignorant folk who will choose to disbelieve these new details, the rest of us can nerd out at the opportunity to learn more about where we came from.

The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man will air on Channel 4 on Sunday 18 February.