I saw these headers go by earlier this spring, but didn’t really have time to really dive into it until now. Well, better late than never, as they wisely say. 🙂
Despite the name, the Cheddar Man isn’t some silly cheese ad bloke. Instead, he has opened doors to very intriguing discoveries about European population during the later Stone Age.
The remains of an anatomically modern human male from about 10,000 years ago were found near Bristol in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England in 1903. Recent DNA analysis of the skeleton—Britain’s oldest (almost) complete one—suggests that he had blue eyes, dark curly or wavy hair, and dark brown to black skin.
They also found that the Cheddar Man belonged to the same population as Mesolithic individuals whose bones were recovered from Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary, usually referred to as western European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers or European early modern humans.
Hannah Devlin at The Guardian writes most aptly:
“The discovery shows that the genes for lighter skin became widespread in European populations far later than originally thought – and that skin colour was not always a proxy for geographic origin in the way it is often seen to be today.
“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.’”
A new bust model of Cheddar Man was made by Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions. (See a photo of the previous model made by a team at the University of Manchester here.) They took measurements of the skeleton, scanned the skull, and 3D printed a base for their model. Then they applied certain conventions to shape the face.
I fully confess I’m having a hard time keeping track of the exact timespans and geographical limits of the various Stone Age eras in Eurasia and Africa—what’s paleolithic, mesolithic, or neolithic and where and at what time. But it is so fascinating (and delightful!) that we continue to develop new methods of finding more about our past, and that so many different disciplines seek to understand where we came from and what makes us tick.
Image: closeup of the model of Cheddar Man by Tom Barnes / Channel 4 via Natural History Museum, London