Feb 7, 2018 | By Tess

Thanks to advanced DNA research and 3D printing technologies, we now know what one of the earliest British people looks like. A team from London’s Natural History Museum and University College London has just unveiled a highly realistic 3D model of the famous Cheddar Man.

Discovered in 1903 in Cheddar Grove, Somerset, Cheddar Man is the oldest full human skeleton ever found in England. He is believed to have lived during the Mesolithic Period (circa 7150 BC).

And though certain things were known about the man that became the famous skeleton—a large lesion in his skull suggested he suffered a violent death, and his skeleton showed signs of a bone infection—up until now, scientists have never had a clear picture of what the ancient man looked like.

Not only can we now gaze upon the ancient Brit, but we have also learnt something brand new about European populations at the time: they did not have pale skin.

That is, while scientists had previously thought that Europeans had pale skin tens of thousands of years ago, an analysis of Cheddar Man’s DNA has proved that dark, almost black skin was common at the time and that pale skin only came much later.

10,000-year-old Cheddar Man had very dark skin and blue eyes

“People define themselves by which country they’re from, and they assume that their ancestors were just like them,” said Alfons Kennis, one of the artists who reconstructed Cheddar Man’s head using 3D printing. “And then suddenly research shows that we used to be a totally different people with a different genetic makeup. So people will be surprised. And it maybe gets rid of the idea that you have to look a certain way to be from somewhere.”

But how did they manage to recreate the ancient human’s face so accurately?

Professor Ian Barnes and Dr. Selina Brace from the Natural History Museum were able to extract DNA profiles for Cheddar Man’s hair, eyes, and skin from the skeleton, which were then sent to a lab at University College London for genome analysis.

With this data, along with the original skull, the researchers discovered that Cheddar Man not only had very dark skin, but had blue eyes, and dark, quite curly hair. Adrie and Alfons Kennis, a team of Dutch model makers, were responsible for the reconstruction process and relied on 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies to complete the face.

(Images: Channel 4)

The project marks the oldest prehistoric person from the region to have their genome analyzed and recreated. Additionally, Cheddar Man’s DNA sample reportedly provided the “highest coverage” for any genome that has been analyzed from the Middle Stone Age in Europe.

Funnily, despite the man’s cheese-inspired named, the scientists also discovered that Cheddar Man could not have digested milk as an adult. (This would have been common at the time, as lactose-based diets were only introduced much later with agricultural societies.)

If you want to learn more about Cheddar Man and the process of reconstructing his face, the UK’s Channel 4 will be airing a documentary about the Mesolithic man, called The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man, later this month.

Recently, a team of researchers also turned to 3D printing to recreate the face of a teenage girl who lived 9,000 years ago.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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