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How 'Cheddar Man' flips British identity

This week, researchers from the Natural History Museum in London revealed a facial model of a fossilized Stone Age hu...

Posted: Feb 9, 2018 8:36 AM
Updated: Feb 9, 2018 8:36 AM

This week, researchers from the Natural History Museum in London revealed a facial model of a fossilized Stone Age hunter-gatherer who died around what is now the English town of Cheddar, in Somerset -- for which he is named "Cheddar Man."

We don't (and won't) know what Cheddar Man's buddies called him while he was doing his hunting and gathering 10,000 years ago. But DNA sampling taken from his skull has told us plenty of other stuff, including the color of his eyes (blue) and the texture of his hair (curly).

But the most striking we now know about Cheddar Man is that he was black.

Or, to be more accurate and use a less culturally loaded and potentially anachronistic description, he was dark- to black-skinned. Historically, this is not supposed to be surprising: Europeans have only been pale-faced for about six millennia. But of course, it is. The vague assumption most of us here carry over from schooldays is that the "original" Brits were white, then the slave trade, empire and postwar immigration happened, at which point we became less white.

Looking at the reconstructed bust of Cheddar Man asks us to stand all this on its head.

There are not many people with dark skin in Cheddar today: the most recent UK census tells us that in 2011 only 2% of the population of Somerset county, where the village is situated, reported themselves as being BME (black and minority ethnic). The UK average is about 14%. By contrast, more than 94% of Somerset residents in 2011 self-categorized as White British.

It is salutary to realize that at some distant point in the Mesolithic past, all that would have been reversed.

Cheddar Man's skin color is linked to the fact that he was descended from a population group that migrated to Europe about 14,000 years ago, long before another wave of migration brought lighter-skinned inhabitants. He is, therefore, a posthumous poster boy for the long view on British immigration: a topic that has recently been added to the high school history syllabus with the intention of getting students to understand "how the identity of the people of Britain has been shaped by their interaction with the wider world."

This is more than just a matter of historical curiosity or educational partiality. Like many other places in the world, Britain today is feverishly absorbed with the issue of immigration. Much of the debate and campaigning leading up to the 2016 Brexit referendum concerned immigration and immigration played on the minds of the majority of those who voted "leave."

Cheddar is in an area that voted 61.2% to leave. That is, you might say, ironic, because the uncommon appearance of its most ancient known inhabitant reminds us that there is really no such thing as a native Briton, white or otherwise.

There are just a bunch of people who happen to be here, right now.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 703345

Reported Deaths: 13194
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion959691716
Lake51222940
Allen38926670
Hamilton34288404
St. Joseph33770539
Elkhart27117431
Vanderburgh22034393
Tippecanoe21671212
Johnson17451374
Porter17206297
Hendricks16735310
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Madison12302337
Vigo12155244
Monroe11385166
LaPorte10800204
Delaware10312184
Howard9617211
Kosciusko9068113
Hancock7939139
Bartholomew7854153
Warrick7675155
Floyd7542176
Wayne6880198
Grant6773170
Boone6524100
Morgan6370138
Dubois6071117
Marshall5753108
Dearborn568075
Cass5671102
Henry5563100
Noble537983
Jackson492369
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Lawrence4332118
Gibson427389
Harrison426570
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DeKalb406684
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Martin82415
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Switzerland7698
Union69610
Ohio55511
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1048109

Reported Deaths: 18917
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1217031352
Cuyahoga1063982060
Hamilton779451165
Montgomery49883989
Summit45144907
Lucas39826760
Butler37638568
Stark31348894
Lorain24090472
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Mahoning20822583
Lake19915362
Clermont19397228
Delaware17972130
Licking16089206
Fairfield15646196
Trumbull15521459
Medina14815259
Greene14613236
Clark13576288
Wood12709184
Portage12313194
Allen11303229
Richland11017198
Miami10511212
Muskingum8688127
Wayne8543209
Columbiana8527226
Pickaway8421120
Marion8360135
Tuscarawas8359239
Erie7540153
Ross6692145
Hancock6683123
Geauga6527146
Ashtabula6458164
Scioto6280100
Belmont5591158
Union556247
Lawrence5458102
Jefferson5283147
Huron5270113
Darke5264121
Sandusky5164119
Seneca5093118
Washington5074107
Athens499454
Auglaize474884
Mercer470384
Shelby455089
Knox4371108
Madison421058
Putnam420298
Ashland412086
Fulton407966
Defiance399996
Crawford3858100
Brown385555
Logan372276
Preble369598
Clinton359659
Ottawa355478
Highland346059
Williams323274
Champaign318556
Jackson306951
Guernsey305848
Perry289349
Fayette276948
Morrow274439
Hardin263563
Henry263166
Coshocton258257
Holmes252699
Van Wert238662
Gallia233246
Pike232431
Adams227552
Wyandot226353
Hocking208958
Carroll188947
Paulding168538
Meigs141438
Noble132737
Monroe128841
Morgan106423
Harrison105336
Vinton81414
Unassigned02
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