Cheddar Man DNA paints portrait of Mesolithic Britain's population

In 1903, a skeleton was discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset's Gough's Cave. Decades later, scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine that the nearly complete skeleton is around 10,000 years old, placing it back to Mesolithic Britain. Thanks to DNA recovered from the skeleton and modern technology, experts have been able to recreate what the man likely looked like.

Known now simply as "Cheddar Man," this individual had been about 5.5ft tall and had died at some point in his 20s. Given the location of his remains and the time period in which he had died, Cheddar Man gives scientists clues about what the earliest inhabitants in Britain may have looked like, and it's not what some had expected.

For a long period of time, many had made the assumption that paler skin appeared relatively quickly after humans gravitated into Europe. However, DNA extracted from Cheddar Man shows that he had skin pigmentation levels one would typically find in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Natural History Museum.

According to postdoctoral researcher Dr. Tom Booth who is working with the Natural History Museum's human remains collection, the European population at that time largely had dark brown hair, pale green or blue eyes, and dark skin. "Cheddar Man subverts people's expectations of what kinds of genetic traits go together," Booth said.

As for Cheddar Man specifically, researchers say he would have been a hunter-gatherer during the Mesolithic period, would have been lactose intolerant, and he would have subsisted on a diet of things like wild cattle, red deer, nuts and seeds, and even fish. How this individual died is unknown; his skull shows a hole, but researchers don't know whether that was caused during excavation or if it was involved in his early demise.

SOURCE: Natural History Museum