How far back does Black British History go? We know that it goes back way further then Windrush, the Great World Wars and even in Tudor or Victorian times Going back further, it becomes blurry, though some would say there has always been a black presence in Britain even if not in large numbers.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Cheddar man? It’s a Mesolithic skeleton of the oldest known complete skeleton of the Homo sapiens species to be found in Britain. The skeleton which is around 10,000 years old was discovered during drainage improvements for Gough’s Cave, a popular tourist attraction in Somerset.
It was initially assumed that the Cheddar man had pale skin and fair hair. However, in 2018 scientists used DNA analysis to determine that Cheddar man, had dark skin, with blue eyes and wavy hair. The DNA of the skin pigmentation was likely to have been one of the two most highly pigmented i.e. dark or dark to black and not one of the lighter categories. The versions of genes responsible for lighter skin pigmentation in North West Europeans is not said to have arrived into Europe until thousands of years after Cheddar man died.
While people had previously assumed Cheddar man to be light skinned, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise that he was dark skinned as previous DNA studies from Mesolithic individuals recovered from Spain, Luxembourg and Hungary identified that these individuals lacked the versions of genes that are associated with reduced skin pigmentations in modern, light skinned Europeans. Cheddar man belonged to the same population referred to as Western European Mesolithic hunter gathered so Cheddar’s pigmentation shouldn’t really have been that much of a surprise.
In essence, was the first Brit actually black?
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