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9,000-Year-Old Cheddar Man Has Living Descendant Still Living in The Same Area

9,000-Year-Old Cheddar Man Has Living Descendant Still Living in The Same Area

Cheddar Man is the name given to the remains of a man that was found in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. Cheddar Man was discovered around the turn of the 20 th century, and has been dated to the Mesolithic period. It seems that there was not much research done on Cheddar Man, and he was probably a set of prehistoric remain amongst many. It was, however, around the end of the same century that one of the most sensational findings related to this prehistoric individual was made – it was found that he had a living descendant living in the same area.

The Discovery

Cheddar Man’s discovery was made in 1903. The remains of this prehistoric man were found 20 m (65 ft.) inside Gough’s Cave, the largest of 100 caverns in Cheddar Gorge, under a layer of stalagmite, above which was another layer of more recent material. Cheddar Man was found to have been buried alone near the mouth of a deep cave, and results from dating suggest that he lived 9000 years ago, during the Mesolithic period. It looks as though little research has been done on Cheddar Man since his discovery, and it may be said that he was a relatively obscure figure.

Stalagmites and stalactites in Gough's cave

Stalagmites and stalactites in Gough's cave ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

An article was published in 1914, 11 years after Cheddar Man’s discovery, which was entitled “The Cheddar Man: A Skeleton of Late Paleolithic Date”. One of the things in the title that may immediate strike a reader is the designation of Cheddar Man to the Late Paleolithic period, several thousand years prior to the Mesolithic period which he is today thought to have live in. One of the analyses done by the authors of the paper was the measurement of Cheddar Man’s skull. These measurements were then compared with some other specimens of prehistoric skulls. Apart from that, the other remains, such as the teeth and limb bones, were also studied.

Cheddar Man’s DNA

In 1997, it was reported that a living descendant of Cheddar Man had been found. In the report, it was written that DNA had been found in the pulp cavity of one of Cheddar Man’s molars. The DNA was examined at Oxford University’s Institute of Molecular Medicine. The results from the analysis were then compared with the DNA of 20 local individuals whose families were known to have been living in Cheddar for several generations. One of these individuals was identified as a descendant of Cheddar Man.

Skull found in Gough's Cave

Skull found in Gough's Cave ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Cheddar Man’s Family

The DNA of Adrian Targett, who was 42 years old when that discovery was made, was found to match that belonging to Cheddar Man. According to science, this genetic fingerprint is said to have been passed down from mother to child. In other words, Targett and Cheddar Man both share a common maternal ancestral. It may be added that Targett was not the only one from his family to have not moved away from his ancestral land. It was reported that there were 46 individuals in his extended family, and most of them had remained in the Somerset area.

A Paleolithic human skull from Gough's Cave

A Paleolithic human skull from Gough's Cave ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

It may be pointed out that Cheddar Man, whilst arguably the most famous set of human remains to have been found in Cheddar Gorge, is not the only one. In one report, the site has been dubbed in as “Britain’s prime site for Paleolithic human remains”. Another set of well-known human remains were discovered several decades ago. These are three cups, made from the skulls of two adults and a three-year-old child. These remains were re-examined several years ago, and it was found that the making of skull cups was a traditional craft, and that the skulls were obtained after their owners died naturally. In addition, the other human bones were found to have shown signs of butchery, indicating that cannibalism was practiced by these prehistoric people.

Top image: Alladdin's Cave, a chamber and mirror pool inside Gough's Cave. ( GFDL) & a photo of Cheddar Man’s skull. ( Public Domain )

By Wu Mingren

References

Arthur, C., 1997. The family link that reaches back 300 generations to a Cheddar cave. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/the-family-link-that-reaches-back-300-generations-to-a-cheddar-cave-1271542.html

Jackson, N., 2016. The Cheddar Man and Cannibals Museum. [Online]
Available at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-cheddar-man-and-cannibals-museum

Lyall, S., 1997. Tracing Your Family Tree to Cheddar Man's Mum. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/24/world/tracing-your-family-tree-to-cheddar-man-s-mum.html

Nuthall, K., 1997. There's no place like home, says 'son of Cheddar Man'. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/theres-no-place-like-home-says-son-of-cheddar-man-1271817.html

Sample, I., 2011. Cheddar cave dwellers ate their dead and turned their skulls into cups. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/feb/16/cheddar-cave-skull-cups

Seligman, C. G. & Parsons, F. G., 1914. The Cheddar Man: A Skeleton of Late Palaeolithic Date. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 44, pp. 241-263.

The BBC, 2011. Cheddar Man, the oldest skeleton, to be shown on TV. [Online]
Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/somerset/hi/people_and_places/newsid_9392000/9392086.stm

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