Posts Tagged ‘cheddar man’

Cheddar Man and Me

October 21, 2016

My son recently sent off for a DNA kit to discover his health risks.  He was given a £20 voucher to ‘refer a friend’, which was how I came to send off for one as well.

There were three major surprises.



Above: the oldest complete skeleton found in Great Britain is dated 9,000 years old and was found in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England in 1903.  Right, is the Natural History Museum recreation where the remains now reside in the new Human Evolution section.

Revelation no. 1:

The Cheddar in me

I have the same mtDNA (maternal) as Cheddar Man (Britain’s oldest skeletal find at >9,000 years old).  He is designated Cro-Magnon, or Mesolithic, also associated with Swedish Mesolithic.  (It’s worth remembering that nations did not exist until comparatively recently).    His haplotype was identified from a molar tooth.

He would be my oldest known relative, and is either a direct ancestor, or we share the same earlier maternal ancestor , as mitochondrial DNA is carried through the maternal line, from mother to child.


Above: from Wikipedia

I decided to visit my distant relative who now resides at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington.  There are always long queues outside.  However, it is quick moving, and once inside, there was plenty of space for me to browse the new Evolution Gallery, opened in December 2015.  If you go, it’s in the Red Zone, nearest entrance, Exhibition Road.  Tip: to avoid queuing longer than twenty minutes, arrive as near to opening time as you can, which is 10:00 am, free entrance.

All the other exhibits in the Evolution section are fascinating.  Recreations of Neanderthal Man and various others, together with timelines, skulls and skeletons makes for an absorbing visit.  A video played, introduced by historical geneticist, Chris Springer, showing a range of individuals from various ethnicities talking about themselves and their genetic background, together with the composition of their ancestry DNA.

Immediately leading on from this section is the Gift Shop – hurrah! – and I of course bought two Chris Springer books Homo Britannicus and The Origin of Our Species.  I recently acquired The Seven Daughters of Eve by DNA heavyweight geneticist Bryan Sykes.  So, expect me to be somewhat of an expert next time I update.

Revelation no. 2:

I’m a Neanderthal Man, You’re a Neanderthal Girl


Neanderthal Man – National Geographic

I am 2% Neanderthal.  As humans migrated out of Africa, they chanced upon the Neanderthals – now extinct – as they entered into Europe and became skilled toolmakers.  Most Europeans will show traces of Neanderthal in their DNA mix, up to 4%.  It was great to come face to face with a lifesize recreation at the Natural History Museum.

Revelation no. 3:

The Mystery Russian

Most surprising of all, 5% ‘East European’, which I assume is Russian, given Finland was a Duchy of Russia 100 years, up to 1917, and perhaps, some Karelians in the East, might have some intermingling, too.  This round-ish figure almost certainly means one great-great-grandparent was Russian .?).   Perhaps he looks like a typical 19th century Russian man, as exemplified by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or perhaps, a Russian woman, as epitomised by a painting by Konstantin Makovsky.

Left: Fyodor Dostoyevsky                                                            Right: Portrait of an elegant woman, Makovsky.

A surprise as my mother’s paternal line (which an academic historian in the family traced back and published via Turku University Press) is pure Finnish back to the 1600’s, and almost certainly prior.  Parish records regularly got burnt down, thanks to the popular timber structures so common throughout Scandinavia.  Therefore this mysterious Russian (…?) must have been on her maternal side.

However, re the maternal haplotype, amazing to imagine my ancestors have been schlepping around Europe for up to 40,000 years.

The Finnish gene is so homogenous, it really came out strongly.  I was impressed the kit identified this.  It cannot do this for the more heterogenous populations.  For example,  I have a percentage of general ‘Scandinavian’ and ‘broadly North Western Europe’.

For more about Cheddar Man see here:

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