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First Irish populations had dark skin similar to Cheddar Man, DNA research suggests

This week, UK scientists confirmed that the first modern Briton had dark skin and blue eyes.

The skull of Cheddar Man
The skull of Cheddar Man
Image: Michael Stephens via PA Images

IT’S LIKELY THAT the early Irish populations had dark skin, similar to the Cheddar Man discovery made in the UK this week, according to genetic experts.

This week, UK scientists confirmed that the first modern Briton had dark skin and blue eyes, following groundbreaking DNA analysis of the remains of a man who lived 10,000 years ago.

Known as Cheddar Man, after the area in southwest England where his skeleton was discovered in a cave in 1903, the ancient made had been brought to life through the first ever full DNA analysis of his remains.

The findings of the joint project between Britain’s Natural History Museum and University College London transformed the way people had previously seen Cheddar Man, who had been portrayed as having brown eyes and light skin in an earlier model.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, professor of population genetics at Trinity College Dublin, Dan Bradley said that a project with the National Museum of Ireland has made similar findings for that of the earliest Irish populations.

The researchers working on the Irish project have compiled data from two individuals from over 6,000 years ago that provide similar results as Cheddar Man.

“The earliest Irish would have been the same as Cheddar Man and would have had darker skin than we have today,” Bradley said.

He said their findings suggest the DNA is linked to individuals from Spain and Luxembourg, people who populated western European after the last Ice Age but before the farming era.

Similarly, Cheddar Man’s tribe migrated to Britain at the end of the last Ice Age and his DNA has been linked to individuals discovered in modern-day Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg.

“We think [the Irish examples] would be similar. The current, very light skin we have in Ireland now is at the endpoint of thousands of years of surviving in a climate where there’s very little sun,” Bradley said.

“It’s an adaptation to the need to synthesise vitamin D in skin. It has taken thousands of years for it to become like it is today.”

Bradley’s research suggests that there were about 30-40,000 people on the island of Ireland at the time that the dark skin genomes date back to.

“They came here very probably by boat. They ate a lot of fish, hunted wild boar, gathered plants and nuts,” he said.

Bradley said that the team of scientists at Trinity College Dublin hope to have their research fully completed within the year.

Cheddar Man recreation

A bust of Cheddar Man, complete with shoulder-length dark hair and short facial hair, has been created using 3D printing.

It took close to three months to build the model, with its makers using a high-tech scanner which had been designed for the International Space Station.

Alfons Kennis, who made the bust with his brother Adrie, said the DNA findings were “revolutionary”.

“It’s a story all about migrations throughout history,” he told Channel 4 in a documentary to be aired on 18 February.

It maybe gets rid of the idea that you have to look a certain way to be from somewhere. We are all immigrants.
With reporting by AFP. 

Read: No-deal Brexit would cripple UK finances to tune of €91 BILLION – leaked report

More: This Waterford woman’s diary shows us what life was like in Ireland 100 years ago

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