IRISH people who lived thousands of years ago likely had black skin similar to a discovery made in Britain this week, according to DNA research.
On Wednesday, geneticists at University College London and the Natural History Museum revealed that ‘Cheddar Man’ – a Mesolithic skeleton found in a Somerset cave in 1903 – had “dark to black skin”, blue eyes and curly hair.
Cheddar Man – who had previously been portrayed as having brown eyes and light skin – was among the first permanent settlers to make the UK their home, and is related to around 10 percent of the modern population there.
Scientists extracted the DNA by drilling a hole into his skull and drawing out bone powder, with subsequent findings suggesting that light-skinned Europeans evolved later than previously thought.
Speaking on RTÉ Morning Ireland, professor of population genetics at Trinity College Dublin, Dan Bradley, said his team have made similar findings about early Irish people.
In a joint project with the National Museum of Ireland, Trinity are compiling data from two Irish individuals who lived over 6,000 years ago – and have already discovered that they possessed similar traits to Cheddar Man.
Dutch Paleo-artists Adrie and Alfons Kennis discuss creating the remarkable face of Cheddar Man for forthcoming Channel 4 doc.
(NB: All three men are quite hairy, but Cheddar Man is the one in the middle) pic.twitter.com/ocDEPaYn5M
— Channel 4 Press (@C4Press) February 7, 2018
“The earliest Irish would have been the same as Cheddar Man and would have had darker skin than we have today,” Prof Bradley said.
“We think [ancient Irish populations] 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.
“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.”
Prof Bradley added that his findings suggest that early Irish men and women originated from areas such as Spain and Luxembourg.
Similarly, Cheddar Man’s tribe migrated to Britain at the end of the last Ice Age and shared DNA with individuals in Spain, Luxembourg and Hungary.
“They came here very probably by boat,” Prof Bradley said. “They ate a lot of fish, hunted wild boar and gathered plants and nuts.”
The research also suggests that there were around 30-40,000 people living on the island of Ireland during the era when darker skin was common.
The scientists at Trinity College Dublin and the National Museum of Ireland hope to publish their research in full by the end of this year.