A new DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has concluded that early Britons had dark skin, dark hair, and light eyes — upending assumptions about what the area’s indigenous population really looked like.
The skeleton, known as “Cheddar Man,” was first discovered over 100 years ago in Gough’s cave in Cheddar Gorge, in the southwest of the country (hence the nickname). The skeleton is from the Mesolithic era, or Middle Stone Age, and dates back more than 10,000 years. Researchers at the Natural History Museum in London and University College London came to the conclusion, which was reported on Wednesday.
“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,” the Natural History Museum reported.
The news is also really one of the best things in 2018 so far, given the growing prominence of white supremacy in Western politics, based on faulty conceptions of nativism and race.
“He reminds us that you can’t make assumptions about what people looked like in the past based on what people look like in the present, and that the pairings of features we are used to seeing today aren’t something that’s fixed,” said Tom Booth, a Natural History Museum archaeologist involved in the research.
“It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all,” he told the Guardian.
“What may seem a truth — that people who feel British should have white skin — through time it’s not all something that is an immutable truth,” said Yoan Diekmann, a biologist at UCL who also worked on the project.
The research will be the feature of a Channel 4 documentary The First Brit, Secrets Of The 10,000-year-old Man.
Many quickly pointed out how amazing the news was, given the politics of the last few years. “Britain First unsure who to hate after discovering the first Briton had dark skin,” read the headline of one piece in the satirical News Thump, referring to the far-right fringe group known for its blatant Islamophobia. “This feels like the punchline to a very long, very cruel joke about humanity’s obsession with racial identity,” read a piece in the Independent, which also highlighted how in post-Brexit Britain, many of the country’s far-right have been criticizing Prince Harry’s engagement to African American actress Meghan Markle.
Unsurprisingly, some people were unwilling to accept the news that race is a social construct and that identities change over time. The far-right corners of the internet called the report “revisionism” or “politically motivated.”
But other corners of the internet were actually pretty great.
A lot of people wanted to know if the people who spread racial hatred are still okay after seeing the report.
Also, this skeleton is named Cheddar Man, so naturally, people had some perfectly cheesy jokes.