Groundbreaking research has revealed that the first modern Briton, who died 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin and blue eyes.
Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset.
But an unprecedented examination of his DNA, along with a facial reconstruction of the fossil, shows that the young man would have had a darker complexion than previously thought, along with blue eyes and dark, curly hair.
Previous reconstructions of Cheddar Man, which were not based on DNA data, depicted him with a lighter skin tone.
Yet research by evolution and DNA specialists at the Natural History Museum and UCL suggests that the pigmentation associated with northern European ancestry is a more recent development.
The research and remodelling process was documented for Channel 4 show The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man.
Professor Ian Barnes, research leader at the Natural History Museum, said: “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.
“Not just dark skin and blue eyes, because you can get that combination, but also the face shape.
“So all of this combines together and makes him just not the same as people you see around today.”
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Cheddar Man, thought to have died in his twenties having had a relatively good diet, lived in Britain when it was almost completely depopulated.
Although previous populations had settled in Britain long before his arrival, they were wiped out before him and he marked the start of continuous habitation on the island.
Genetically, he belonged to a group of people known as the “Western Hunter-Gatherers”, Mesolithic-era individuals from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg.
His ancestors migrated to Europe from the Middle East after the Ice Age and today, 10% of White British people are descended from the group.
Paleo artists Alfons Kennis, who produced the 3D model of Cheddar Man, said: “People define themselves by which country they’re from, and they assume that their ancestors were just like them.
“And then suddenly new research shows that we used to be a totally different people with a different genetic makeup. People will be surprised, and maybe it will make immigrants feel a bit more involved in the story.
“And maybe it gets rid of the idea that you have to look a certain way to be from somewhere. We are all immigrants.”
The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man airs on Channel 4 on Sunday February 18.