Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cheddar Man

Cheddar Man is the name given to the remains of a human male found in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. The remains date to approximately 7150 BC, and it appears that he died a violent death. It is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton.

Excavated in 1903, the remains are kept by the Natural History Museum in London, but are not currently on display. A replica of the skeleton is exhibited in the "Cheddar Man and the Cannibals" museum in Cheddar village.

The death of Cheddar Man remains a mystery. There is no scientific evidence to suggest how he died, although a hole in his skull suggests violence. Speculation based on scientifically investigated known ritual or warfare practices which existed during this early period is inconclusive.

In 1996, Bryan Sykes of Oxford University first sequenced the mitochondrial DNA of Cheddar Man, with DNA extracted from one of Cheddar Man's molars. Cheddar Man was determined to have belonged to Haplogroup U5a, a branch of mitochondrial haplogroup U. U5a, the specific haplogroup of Cheddar Man, is known to be the oldest truly modern human (not Neanderthal) mtDNA haplogroup in Europe.

Bryan Sykes' research into Cheddar Man was filmed as he performed it in 1997. As a means of connecting Cheddar Man to the living residents of Cheddar village, he compared mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) taken from twenty living residents of the village to that extracted from Cheddar Man’s molar. It produced two exact matches and one match with a single mutation. The two exact matches were schoolchildren, and their names were not released. The close match was a history teacher named Adrian Targett, meaning that he was a direct descendant of Cheddar Man through his maternal line.

Sykes argued that this modern connection to Cheddar Man (who died at least three thousand years before agriculture began in Britain) makes credible the theory that modern-day Britons are not all descended from Middle Eastern migratory farmers who entered Britain about 10,000 years ago. Instead, modern Britons are descended from ancient European Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherer tribes, who much later on adopted farming.

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