A new DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has concluded that early Britons had dark skin, dark hair, and light eyes — upending assumptions about what the area’s indigenous population really looked like.
The skeleton, known as “Cheddar Man,” was first discovered over 100 years ago in Gough’s cave in Cheddar Gorge, in the southwest of the country (hence the nickname). The skeleton is from the Mesolithic era, or Middle Stone Age, and dates back more than 10,000 years. Researchers at the Natural History Museum in London and University College London came to the conclusion, which was reported on Wednesday.
“Modern-day British people share approximately 10% of their genetic ancestry with the European population to which Cheddar Man belonged, but they aren’t direct descendants,” the Natural History Museum reported.
The news is also really one of the best things in 2018 so far, given the growing prominence of white supremacy in Western politics, based on faulty conceptions of nativism and race.
“He reminds us that you can’t make assumptions about what people looked like in the past based on what people look like in the present, and that the pairings of features we are used to seeing today aren’t something that’s fixed,” said Tom Booth, a Natural History Museum archaeologist involved in the research.
“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,” he told the Guardian.
“What may seem a truth — that people who feel British should have white skin — through time it’s not all something that is an immutable truth,” said Yoan Diekmann, a biologist at UCL who also worked on the project.
The research will be the feature of a Channel 4 documentary The First Brit, Secrets Of The 10,000-year-old Man.
Many quickly pointed out how amazing the news was, given the politics of the last few years. “Britain First unsure who to hate after discovering the first Briton had dark skin,” read the headline of one piece in the satirical News Thump, referring to the far-right fringe group known for its blatant Islamophobia. “This feels like the punchline to a very long, very cruel joke about humanity’s obsession with racial identity,” read a piece in the Independent, which also highlighted how in post-Brexit Britain, many of the country’s far-right have been criticizing Prince Harry’s engagement to African American actress Meghan Markle.
Unsurprisingly, some people were unwilling to accept the news that race is a social construct and that identities change over time. The far-right corners of the internet called the report “revisionism” or “politically motivated.”
But other corners of the internet were actually pretty great.
I am so here for the comments on the @MailOnline story on Cheddar Man revealing that the oldest known Briton had dark skin. Solidarity with you Mr Cheddar Man – I just wish I knew about you when I was growing up and people asked me where I was ‘really’ from. North London, bruv pic.twitter.com/JeGHGC1pNh
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) February 7, 2018
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) February 7, 2018
— Sophia (@SophiaCannon) February 7, 2018
First modern Britons had ‘dark to black’ skin, Cheddar Man DNA analysis reveals. But please, tell us more about how Black people aren’t part of British history. 🙃 https://t.co/yCpdL6bRIW
— Sister Outrider (@ClaireShrugged) February 7, 2018
A lot of people wanted to know if the people who spread racial hatred are still okay after seeing the report.
Suck on that Richard Spencer https://t.co/zomnyKYjkT
— Gary Younge (@garyyounge) February 7, 2018
Britain First hearing the news about Cheddar Man pic.twitter.com/ZAOKK482aL
— Ainsley ♈ (@AinsleyBarnett) February 7, 2018
BREAKING Leaked footage shows Britain First learning that first Britons were brown. pic.twitter.com/CusWUKbtK2
— Dr Benjamin Janaway #FBPE #LoveNHS #standup (@drjanaway) February 7, 2018
BRITAIN FIRST ARE SHAKING https://t.co/A5ATKgCWd4
— sarisha (@sarishagoodman) February 7, 2018
Imagine Katie Hopkins is gonna come out of bing in South Africa after tryna spread hate and racism and then see this picture of Cheddar Man …. it’s due to be a very peak week for her 😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/K4XHot4q2z
— Wavy Boy Smith (@MrBigzOfficial) February 7, 2018
Also, this skeleton is named Cheddar Man, so naturally, people had some perfectly cheesy jokes.
All this talk of Cheddar Man got me wanting cheese on toast. . .
— Genesis Elijah (@GenesisElijah) February 7, 2018
If 1 in 10 of us are related to #CheddarMan, does that mean we’re all Mini Cheddars?
— Jess Gofton (@JGofton) February 7, 2018
Is he the #cheddarman because he can’t resist a goud-a time? Hehehehehe
— Eva Stone (@EvaStoneMusic) February 7, 2018