Meet the early Briton — Blue-eyed and dark

A full face reconstruction model made from the skull of a 10,000 year old man, known as "Cheddar Man", Britain's oldest complete skeleton is pictured during a press preview at the National History Museum in London on February 6, 2018.

Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: "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".

Cheddar Man's origin and appearance garnered growing speculation among scientists because his presence in Britain came shortly after the first people in the country traversed the English Channel from mainland Europe at the end of the last ice age, according to The Guardian.

A bust of Cheddar Man, complete with shoulder-length dark hair and short facial hair, was created using 3D printing.

The latest research was carried by a group of scientists from the University College London and London's Natural History Museum.

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

Jess Gofton tweeted: "If 1 in 10 of us are related to #cheddarman, does that mean we're all Mini Cheddars?"

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

This allowed the team to compare markers for physical traits, and determine what the Cheddar Man could have looked like. People of white British ancestry alive today are descendants of this population. His ancestors, they said, left Africa and moved to the Middle East before heading to Europe and, finally, Britain. "It has always changed and will change".

Professor Ian Barnes, research leader at the Natural History Museum, said at a screening of the documentary: "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".

Cheddar Man's DNA was also analysed back in the 1990's by Oxford University's Brian Sykes, who sequenced Mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed from mother to child) from Cheddar Man's teeth.

Questions remain, however, as to when and why Britons started to develop lighter skin. But new research shows that the skin pigment of the world's earliest known Brit was, in fact, dark brown.

Proof of this, interestingly, can be found in earlier reconstructions of Cheddar Man that reveal an emphasis on perhaps forcing a modern Eurocentric narrative.

  • Toni Ryan