I was reminded of this last night while watching a British National History Museum video on the latest DNA analysis of Cheddar Man. I therefore went back and found the earlier post. Boy, do I feel a little silly.
To explain this, this is an excerpt from what I wrote at the time:
When I first studied what was then called English history, there is another interesting story in the use of this name, I was struck by the constant waves of invasion. I suppose I assumed, I know that I assumed, that this meant the replacement of one group of people by another, essentially extinguishing the earlier group. We now know that this is not true because of the rather remarkable case of Cheddar Man.
In 1903 the complete skeleton of a human male was excavated from Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, hence the name Cheddar man. We now know that the remains date to approximately 7150 BCE, at least three thousand years before the advent of agriculture in the area. It appears that he died a violent death, perhaps related to the cannibalism practiced in the area at the time.
In the late 1990s, Bryan Sykes of Oxford University sequenced the mitochondrial DNA of Cheddar Man with DNA extracted from one of Cheddar Man's molars. He then, and this is something that I suspect that I would have regarded as a gimmick, tested the DNA of a sample of twenty residents of the modern Cheddar village. He found two exact matches plus one very close match.
Leaving aside the excitement of the two school children who gave the exact match and probably have the oldest scientifically established family tree in the world, the results show that Cheddar Man's family continued to reside in the same locality for perhaps 350 generations, surviving through all the invasions and changes.
It also made me wonder about the role that DNA testing might play if we could do it in the appropriate way in extending our knowledge of Australia's Aboriginal past.
We know that Aboriginal populations were not static, but shifted over time. We do not really understand those shifts.I was right, of course, on the potential role that DNA tests might might play in increasing our understanding of the deep Aboriginal past, but I seem to have really jumped to uncritical conclusions on Cheddar Man. I also did not give my own sources in that original post, although it was based on news reports.
The results of the latest research is summarised in these stories:
- Kerry Lotzof, Cheddar Man: Mesolithic Britain's blue-eyed boy, National History Museum
- Jennifer Hassan, Meet Cheddar Man: First modern Britons had dark skin and blue eyes. Washington Post
- Paul Rincon,Cheddar Man: DNA shows early Briton had dark skin, BBC
- Robin McKie, Cheddar Man changes the way we think about our ancestors, The Guardian
- Tim Collins, Was Cheddar man white after all? There's no way to know that the first Briton had ‘dark to black skin’ says scientist who helped reconstruct his 10,000-year-old face, Daily Mail. The Daily Mail gives a link through to research results, Population Replacement in Early Neolithic Britain
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.
Current thinking is that the Mesolithic population that Cheddar Man belonged to was mostly replaced by the farmers that migrated into Britain later.Now how do we relate this to the conclusions in my earlier post?
Well, first of all, considerable doubt has been cast on Professor Sykes original results. The new results are consistent with the earlier picture of multiple invasions. They also, I think, provide hints at the merging of populations over time. Beyond that, I am not sure!
The National Museum video, though, is worth watching as an introduction to the painstaking world of research and the results that can arise.For my part, I will leave the original post standing because it represents part of the evolution of my own thinking over eleven years, but add a qualification and link to this post.
Comments that might elucidate and educate me are very welcome! .