Cheddar Man is a human male fossil found in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. The skeletal remains date to around the mid-to-late 9th millennium BC, corresponding to the Mesolithic period, and it appears that he died a violent death. Analysis of his nuclear DNA indicates that he was a typical member of the Western European hunter-gatherer population at the time, with a most likely inferred phenotype of blue-green eyes, dark brown or black hair, and dark or dark-to-black skin, with no genetic adaption for lactase persistence into adulthood.


Cheddar Man is a human male skeleton found in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. The skeletal remains date to around the mid-to-late 9th millennium BC, corresponding to the Mesolithic period, and it appears that he died a violent death. A large crater-like lesion just above the skull's right orbit suggests that the man may have also been suffering from a bone infection.

Cheddar Man
Common nameCheddar Man
SpeciesHomo sapiens
Age9th millennium BC
Place discoveredGough's Cave
Date discovered1903

Excavated in 1903, Cheddar Man is Britain's oldest near-complete human skeleton. The remains are kept by London's Natural History Museum, in the Human Evolution gallery.[1][2]

Analysis of his nuclear DNA indicates that he was a typical member of the Western European hunter-gatherer population at the time, with a most likely phenotype of blue-green eyes, dark brown or black hair, and dark or dark-to-black skin, with no genetic adaption for lactase persistence into adulthood.[3]

Archaeological context

The near-complete skeleton, an adult male who probably died in his early twenties, was discovered in 1903 by labourers digging a drainage ditch. No grave goods have been reliably associated with the skeleton. It is likely that Cheddar Man was moved to the cave after death as part of what may have been a Mesolithic funerary practice, although it is also possible that he simply died in situ.[3]

Cheddar Man has been directly radiocarbon dated on two separate occasions, giving calibrated dates of 8540–7990 BC and 8470–8230 BC.[4]


The upper body of the Cheddar Man.

Cheddar Man was relatively small compared to modern Europeans, with an estimated stature of around 1.66 metres (5 ft 5 in), and weighing around 66 kilograms (146 lb). Proportionally, he is in most respects similar to modern Europeans, and may be described as 'cold-adapted', but with a high crural index (thigh length to leg length ratio) which is much higher than the modern European average and higher even than the modern sub-Saharan African average, and a high tibia length-to-trunk height ratio similar to modern North Africans.[5]



Nuclear DNA was extracted from the petrous part of the temporal bone by a team from the Natural History Museum in 2018.[6][7] While the relevant genetic markers on the Cheddar Man genome have low sequencing coverage, limiting the accuracy of the predictions, they suggest (based on their associations in modern populations whose phenotypes are known) that he most likely[6] had intermediate (blue-green) eye colour, dark brown or black hair, and dark or dark-to-black skin, with no derived allele for lactase persistence.[3][a][8] These features are typical of the Western European population of the time, now known as Western Hunter-Gatherers, another example being Loschbour man discovered in Luxembourg. This population forms about 10%, on average, of the ancestry of Britons without a recent family history of immigration.[3] Brown eyes, lactose tolerance, and light skin are common in the modern population of the area. These genes came from later immigration, most of it ultimately from two major waves, the first of Neolithic farmers from the Near East, another of Bronze Age pastoralists, most likely speakers of Indo-European languages, from the Pontic steppe.[3][9]


About 85% of his ancestry can be modelled as coming from the c. 14,000–7,000-year-old Villabruna genetic cluster, and only c. 15% from the Goyet Q2 cave cluster whose genes are found in association with the Late Upper Palaeolithic Magdalenian culture. He is not closely related to the earlier Magdalenian individuals found in the same cave, whose ancestry is entirely from the Goyet cluster. The genomes of all British Mesolithic individuals sequenced to date other than Cheddar Man can be modelled as only Villabruna-related (WHG) ancestry, without additional Goyet-related admixture.[10] The results of the Natural History Museum study gave evidence that Cheddar Man's ancestry, and the wave of anatomically modern humans he was part of, originated in the Middle East. This suggests that his ancestors would have left Africa, moved into the Middle East and later headed west into Europe, before eventually traversing Doggerland, a land bridge which connected Britain to continental Europe. It is estimated that 10% of the genomes of modern white British comes from this population of anatomically modern humans.[11]

British Mesolithic hunter gatherers like Cheddar Man contribute negligibly to the ancestry of modern British people, due to later migrations like those of Neolithic farmers and the Bell Beaker culture effectively completely replacing the previous inhabitants of Britain, with the WHG/Villabruna ancestry in modern British people instead deriving from continental hunter gatherers.[12]

Uniparental haplogroups

Reconstructed head of the Cheddar Man based on the shape of his skull and DNA analysis, shown at the National History Museum in London (2019).[13][14]

Cheddar Man's Y-DNA belonged to an ancient sister branch of modern Haplogroup I2-L38 (I2a2).[3] The I2a2 subclade is still extant in males of the modern British Isles and across other parts of Europe. The mitochondrial DNA of Cheddar Man was discovered to be haplogroup U5b1 by a Natural History Museum study in 2018 using next generation sequencing.[3] Some 65% of western European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers had haplogroup U5; today it is widely distributed, at lower frequencies, across western Eurasia and northern Africa. In 1996, Bryan Sykes of the University of Oxford first sequenced the mitochondrial DNA from one of Cheddar Man's molars as U5a using PCR testing. The difference between the older result and the 2018 Natural History Museum result was attributed to the use of older PCR technology and possible contamination.[15][16][17][18]

Soon after the discovery of the skeleton, Cheddar Man became part of a discourse of British nationalism and cultural heritage, with an initially proposed age of 40,000-80,000 years.[19] The specimen was heralded by some as the 'first Englishman'.[19]

The analysis of Cheddar Man's mitochondrial DNA by Bryan Sykes in 1996 was broadcast on a regional television programme in the UK, Once Upon a Time in the West. The programme emphasised the connection between Cheddar Man and Adrian Targett,[20] a history teacher from a local school, both of whom belonged to mitochondrial DNA haplogroup U5, although this cannot demonstrate a direct connection between Cheddar Man and this individual, and many people with the same mtDNA haplogroup could probably be found even within the local area. The programme generated coverage in national and international media, which focused mainly on the supposed relationship between Cheddar Man and the local history teacher, and failed to emphasise that mitochondrial DNA is only passed on through the mother, and makes up only a small proportion of an individual's genome.[21] In 2018, the publication of the genetics study by Brace et al. and subsequent facial reconstruction of a dark-skinned and blue-eyed Cheddar Man resulted in widespread media coverage.[11][22] This coverage again described Cheddar Man as the "first Brit" (despite older remains of modern humans being known from Britain). Public discourse surrounding the reconstruction of Cheddar Man heavily revolved around the themes of immigration, national identity, race, and Brexit. Some saw Cheddar Man's predicted dark skin colour as a helpful riposte to anti-immigration arguments, while others condemned it as fake news and left-wing politically correct propaganda.[22] A dark skin colour was "strongly suggested" through exhaustive DNA studies. The current scientific consensus holds that populations living in Europe became lighter-skinned over time because pale skin absorbs more sunlight, which is required to produce enough vitamin D. There are a handful of genetic variations linked to lighter skin; it was determined in the study that Cheddar Man had "ancestral" versions of all these genes, strongly suggesting he would have had "dark to black" skin tone, but combined with blue eyes.[22][11]

See also


  1. ^ These predictions were obtained using a multinomial logistic regression model based on a panel of 36 carefully selected SNPs with a low sensitivity of 0.26 for classifying intermediate skin (compared to 0.99 and 0.90 for white and black skin, respectively). The accuracy of the model used could be further improved with "additional (but currently unknown) SNP predictors once identified via future GWAS".[7]


  1. ^ "Human Evolution",, Natural History Museum, retrieved 17 November 2017
  2. ^ "Cheddar Man: Mesolithic Britain's blue-eyed boy". Retrieved 1 January 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Brace, Selina; Diekmann, Yoan; Booth, Thomas J.; Faltyskova, Zuzana; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Ferry, Matthew; Michel, Megan; Oppenheimer, Jonas; Broomandkhoshbacht, Nasreen; Stewardson, Kristin; Walsh, Susan; Kayser, Manfred; Schulting, Rick; Craig, Oliver E.; Sheridan, Alison; Pearson, Mike Parker; Stringer, Chris; Reich, David; Thomas, Mark G.; Barnes, Ian (2019), "Ancient genomes indicate population replacement in Early Neolithic Britain", Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3 (5): 765–771, Bibcode:2019NatEE...3..765B, doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0871-9, PMC 6520225, PMID 30988490 Supplementary Material (p.18-19): "This individual has light or blue/green eye colour, it is not light blue, there are elements of brown/yellow in the eye to give a proposed perceived green colour. Better coverage at the low sequenced marker would clarify this but blue/hazel cannot be ruled out. It is certainly not a brown eyed or clear blue-eyed individual... Skin pigmentation [assumptions about missing information omitted] The following range for skin pigmentation prediction is possible for this individual with these parameters:... Intermediate 0.152 - 0.038 Dark-Black 0.848 - 0.962 Final prediction: Dark/Dark-to-Black skin If we omit the three missing alleles, our tool produces 0.752 and 0.248 probabilities for the intermediate and dark-black category respectively, changing the prediction ranges to 0.752- 0.038 and 0.248-0.962. However, note that this completely removes the locus from the prediction model; hence the prediction will not perform optimally (how the prediction model was made). It is therefore best to have some allele present to infer the most probable range for Cheddar Man and we derive the ranges above from the extreme allele constellations only. Explanation: The missing loci certainly impact on this prediction; however, utilizing the input of all ancestral alleles is the preferred option over the use of the derived alleles at these loci – hence 0.152 for intermediate and 0.848 for Dark-to-Black would be the most probable profile. That being said a broad range is present in both the intermediate and dark-black categories due to the missing loci. Also, this effect of skipping a skin pigmentation prediction category with regards probability values, tends to be observed more often in admixed individuals. What is important to note is the input of the dark-black prediction is significant on the intermediate category and therefore it is acceptable to propose a dark complexion individual over an intermediate/light prediction even though the intermediate range is present. It is unlikely that this individual has the darkest possible pigmentation, but it cannot be ruled out. Better sequencing coverage would clarify to what degree this individual has a dark complexion."
  4. ^ Meiklejohn, C (2011). "Radiocarbon Dating Of Mesolithic Human remains in Great Britain". Mesolithic Miscellany. 21: 20–58.
  5. ^ Holliday, Trenton W.; Churchill, Steven E. (2003). "Gough's Cave 1 (Somerset, England): an assessment of body size and shape". Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Geology Series. 58 (S1). doi:10.1017/S096804620300007X. ISSN 0968-0462.
  6. ^ a b "Ancient 'dark skinned' Cheddar man find may not be true". New Scientist. 21 February 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  7. ^ a b Walsh, Susan (2017). "Global skin colour prediction from DNA". Human Genetics. 136 (7): 847–863. doi:10.1007/s00439-017-1808-5. PMC 5487854. PMID 28500464.
  8. ^ "Cheddar Man FAQ". Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  9. ^ Haak, Wolfgang; Lazaridis, Iosif; Patterson, Nick; Rohland, Nadin; Mallick, Swapan; Llamas, Bastien; Brandt, Guido; Nordenfelt, Susanne; Harney, Eadaoin; Stewardson, Kristin; Fu, Qiaomei; Mittnik, Alissa; Bánffy, Eszter; Economou, Christos; Francken, Michael; Friederich, Susanne; Pena, Rafael Garrido; Hallgren, Fredrik; Khartanovich, Valery; Khokhlov, Aleksandr; Kunst, Michael; Kuznetsov, Pavel; Meller, Harald; Mochalov, Oleg; Moiseyev, Vayacheslav; Nicklisch, Nicole; Pichler, Sandra L.; Risch, Roberto; Guerra, Manuel A. Rojo; Roth, Christina; Szécsényi-Nagy, Anna; Wahl, Joachim; Meyer, Matthias; Krause, Johannes; Brown, Dorcas; Anthony, David; Cooper, Alan; Alt, Kurt Werner; Reich, David (10 February 2015). "Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe". Nature. 522 (7555): 207–211. arXiv:1502.02783. Bibcode:2015Natur.522..207H. bioRxiv 10.1101/013433. doi:10.1038/nature14317. PMC 5048219. PMID 25731166.
  10. ^ Charlton, Sophy; Brace, Selina; Hajdinjak, Mateja; et al. (24 October 2022). "Dual ancestries and ecologies of the Late Glacial Palaeolithic in Britain". Nature Ecology & Evolution. 6 (11): 1658–1668. Bibcode:2022NatEE...6.1658C. doi:10.1038/s41559-022-01883-z. ISSN 2397-334X. PMC 9630104. PMID 36280785. S2CID 253109710.   Text was copied from this source, which is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
  11. ^ a b c Devlin, Hannah; correspondent, Hannah Devlin Science (7 February 2018). "First modern Britons had 'dark to black' skin, Cheddar Man DNA analysis reveals". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 16 March 2023.
  12. ^ Patterson, Nick; Isakov, Michael; Booth, Thomas; Büster, Lindsey; Fischer, Claire-Elise; Olalde, Iñigo; Ringbauer, Harald; Akbari, Ali; Cheronet, Olivia; Bleasdale, Madeleine; Adamski, Nicole; Altena, Eveline; Bernardos, Rebecca; Brace, Selina; Broomandkhoshbacht, Nasreen (27 January 2022). "Large-scale migration into Britain during the Middle to Late Bronze Age". Nature. 601 (7894): 588–594. Bibcode:2022Natur.601..588P. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-04287-4. ISSN 0028-0836. PMC 8889665. PMID 34937049.
  13. ^ Conneller, Chantal (29 November 2021). The Mesolithic in Britain: Landscape and Society in Times of Change. Routledge. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-000-47515-9.
  14. ^ Details on the reconstruction from the Natural History Museum: "Cheddar Man: Mesolithic Britain's blue-eyed boy". Natural History Museum.
  15. ^ Cheddar Man & the Origins of the British (Dr. Tom Booth)
  16. ^ Bramanti, B; Thomas, MG; Haak, W (October 2009). "Genetic discontinuity between local hunter-gatherers and central Europe's first farmers". Science. 326 (5949): 137–40. Bibcode:2009Sci...326..137B. doi:10.1126/science.1176869. PMID 19729620. S2CID 206521424.
  17. ^ Malmström, H; Gilbert, MT; Thomas, MG (November 2009). "Ancient DNA reveals lack of continuity between neolithic hunter-gatherers and contemporary Scandinavians". Current Biology. 19 (20): 1758–62. Bibcode:2009CBio...19.1758M. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.017. PMID 19781941.
  18. ^ Sykes, Bryan, Blood of the Isles (Bantam, 2006) pp. 5–12
  19. ^ a b Oikkonen, Venla (2018). Population Genetics and Belonging. Cham: Springer International Publishing. pp. 102–103. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-62881-3. ISBN 978-3-319-62880-6.
  20. ^ url= |title=The family link that reaches back 300 generations to a Cheddar cave
  21. ^ Oikkonen, Venla (2018). Population Genetics and Belonging. Cham: Springer International Publishing. p. 104. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-62881-3. ISBN 978-3-319-62880-6.
  22. ^ a b c Brophy, Kenneth (2018). "The Brexit hypothesis and prehistory". Antiquity. 92 (366): 1650–1658. doi:10.15184/aqy.2018.160. ISSN 0003-598X. S2CID 158426247.

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