Cheddar Man

Cheddar Man

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Cheddar Man is the name given to the remains of a human male found in Gough's Cave
Gough's Cave
Gough's Cave is located in Cheddar Gorge on the Mendip Hills, in Cheddar, Somerset, England. The cave is deep and is long,and contains a variety of large chambers and rock formations. It contains the Cheddar Yeo, the largest underground river system in Britain.- History :The initial sections of...

 in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

, England. The remains date to approximately 7150 BC
8th millennium BC
In the 8th millennium BC, agriculture became widely practised in the Fertile Crescent and Anatolia.Pottery became widespread and animal husbandry spread to Africa and Eurasia. World population was approximately 5 million.-Events:*c. 8000 BC—The last glacial period ends.*c...

, and it appears that he died a violent death. It is Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton.

Excavated in 1903, the remains are kept by the Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of three large museums on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, England . Its main frontage is on Cromwell Road...

 in London, but are not currently on display. A replica of the skeleton is exhibited in the "Cheddar Man and the Cannibals" museum in Cheddar
Cheddar is a large village and civil parish in the Sedgemoor district of the English county of Somerset. It is situated on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, north-west of Wells. The civil parish includes the hamlets of Nyland and Bradley Cross...


The death of Cheddar Man remains a mystery. There is no scientific evidence to suggest how he died, although a hole in his skull suggests violence. Speculation based on scientifically investigated known ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

 or warfare practices which existed during this early period is inconclusive.

Mitochondrial DNA testing

In 1996, Bryan Sykes
Bryan Sykes
Bryan Sykes is a former Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford and a current Fellow of Wolfson College.Sykes published the first report on retrieving DNA from ancient bone...

 of Oxford University first sequenced the mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 of Cheddar Man, with DNA extracted from one of Cheddar Man's molar
Molar (tooth)
Molars are the rearmost and most complicated kind of tooth in most mammals. In many mammals they grind food; hence the Latin name mola, "millstone"....

s. Cheddar Man was determined to have belonged to Haplogroup U5, a branch of mitochondrial haplogroup U
Haplogroup U (mtDNA)
In human mitochondrial genetics, Haplogroup U is a human mitochondrial DNA haplogroup.-Origins:Haplogroup U descends from a woman in the Haplogroup R branch of the phylogenetic tree, who lived around 55,000 years ago...

, which has also been found in other Mesolithic human remains. Sykes got DNA from the 9,000 year old Cheddar Man's tooth, and from a 12,000 year old Cheddar tooth from the same cave.

Bryan Sykes' 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 twenty living residents of the village to that extracted from Cheddar Man’s molar. It produced two exact matches and one match with a single mutation. The two exact matches were schoolchildren, and their names were not released. The close match was a history teacher named Adrian Targett. They, like anyone else carrying haplogroup U5 today, share a common ancestor many thousands of years ago with Cheddar Man through his maternal line.

Sykes argued that this modern connection to Cheddar Man (who died at least three thousand years before agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 began in Britain) makes credible the theory that modern-day Britons are not all descended from Middle Eastern migratory farmers who entered Britain about 10,000 years ago. Instead, modern Britons (and Europeans generally) are descended from ancient European Palaeolithic and Mesolithic
The Mesolithic is an archaeological concept used to refer to certain groups of archaeological cultures defined as falling between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic....

A hunter-gatherer or forage society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were...

tribes, who adopted farming much later.