Documentary to reveal surprising face of Britain’s oldest complete human
24 January 2018
A television documentary will follow Museum scientists as they help deduce the astonishing facial appearance of Britain's oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man.
Channel 4 will broadcast The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man on Sunday 18 February.
The 60-minute film follows the Museum researchers as they use modern techniques to extract DNA from the ancient bones. Together with colleagues from UCL, they have analysed the DNA to determine Cheddar Man's origins and the likely colour of his skin, eyes and hair.
Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis, specialists in palaeontological model making, have taken this data and combined it with physical measurements from scans of the skull.
The documentary features the unveiling of the resultant model head to the Museum's scientists - a rare opportunity for the researchers to see their studies brought alive.
Dr Selina Brace, Museum researcher in ancient DNA, thinks the model is 'really, really cool'.
'To have worked so extensively on this individual, sampling, extracting and sequencing his DNA, and then to actually see that individual made flesh - it's amazing. You certainly don't get to see that everyday.'
Cheddar Man lived in the Somerset area around 10,000 years ago. He was buried in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, where his remains were found in 1903.
His tribe was one of the first groups of people to move back into Britain at the end of the last Ice Age. Britain has been inhabited ever since, but the genetic makeup and consequent appearance of the population has varied considerably over this time.
The bones, owned by the Longleat Estate, are on loan to the Museum. The skeleton is on display in the Museum's permanent Human Evolution gallery.
The last attempt to reconstruct the face of the Cheddar Man resulted in the model pictured below. Channel 4's documentary will unveil a new, significantly altered model.
Since discovering Cheddar Man in 1903, scientists have endeavoured to reveal the individual's story. But key questions such as what he looked like, where he came from and how he relates to us have been impossible to answer - until now.