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Cheddar Man’s Family

December 7, 2014

Scientists call Britain’s oldest complete skeleton “Cheddar Man.” He lived around 7150 B.C.E., when forest covered Britain and antelope roamed, along with wild horses. Cheddar Man’s people were hunter-gatherers, and they ate the antelope and horses — along with each other, most likely. Butcher marks on his skeleton suggest someone carved him up, possibly after murdering him.

Cheddar Gorge, where Cheddar Man lay in a cave for 9,000 years

Cheddar Gorge, where Cheddar Man lay in a cave for 9,000 years

Cheddar Man lived almost 4,000 years before civilization arose anywhere on the globe. He died more than 4,000 years before Britons built Stonehenge, fifty miles away, and a thousand years before Britain separated from Europe and became an island. He’s so distant that we can’t even guess what language he spoke. Yet we know his family still lives in England.

In 1997, Oxford scientists extracted mitochondrial DNA from Cheddar Man’s skeleton. That’s the sort of DNA we all inherit from our mothers. Then the scientists checked DNA among the locals around Cheddar Gorge, where the skeleton had been found in a cave. A forty-two year old history teacher, living a mile away, had the same mitochondrial DNA. For nine thousand years, Cheddar Man’s family has stayed put.

I suggested recently that the English don’t descend primarily from the Anglo-Saxons or even the Celts but rather from an earlier population. I guess Cheddar Man and his family prove it.

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Photo: Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, UK, by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 — provided through Wikimedia Commons

© 2014 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

One Comment leave one →
  1. John Keagy permalink
    December 8, 2014 8:36 am

    Wow. I’m British and I love cheese…

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