Cheddar Man is a human male fossil found in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. The skeletal remains date to the Mesolithic (ca. 7150 BC), and it appears that he died a violent death. A large crater-like lesion just above the skull's right orbit suggests that the man may have also been suffering from a bone infection at the time. It is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton.
Excavated in 1903, the remains are kept by the Natural History Museum in London, currently on display in the new Human Evolution gallery. 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. A hole in his skull suggests violence, and Gough's Cave was used for cannibalism, trophy display or secondary burial by pre-historic humans. Speculation based on scientifically investigated known ritual or warfare practices which existed during this early period is inconclusive.
Mitochondrial DNA testing
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 U5, a branch of mitochondrial Haplogroup U, which has also been found in other Mesolithic human remains. Sykes obtained DNA from the 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man's tooth and from a 12,000-year-old tooth found from the same cave.
Bryan Sykes's 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 20 living residents of the village to that extracted from Cheddar Man’s molar. He found two people who shared the same mtDNA as Cheddar Man, because around 10% of Europeans belong to Haplogroup U5. They, like anyone else carrying haplogroup U5 today, share an ancestor with Cheddar Man of many thousands of years ago through his maternal line.
However, the Cheddar Man results have never been subjected to peer review in an academic journal. It has been suggested that the sequence was from contaminating modern DNA.
- Genetic history of the British Isles
- Kents Cavern
- List of human evolution fossils
- List of prehistoric structures in Great Britain
- Prehistoric Britain
- Swanscombe Heritage Park
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- Media related to Cheddar Man at Wikimedia Commons