The First Brit Secrets of the 10000 Year Old Man review –

first_imgBritain's oldest complete skeleton  Adrie (left) and Alfons Kennis sit beside their full facial reconstruction model of a head based on the skull of Britain's oldest complete skeleton We learned that Stone Age people kept dogs and made shelters out of wood and animals skins, which could be quickly moved if needed. You may have known all this already, but there was a twist in the tale.Around 5,000 years before Cheddar Man, temporary visitors appeared in Britain during an ice age thaw. It appeared, from cut and chew marks on bones, that they were cannibals.Dr Silvia Bello examined the finger and toe bones of a toddler and two teenagers, which were probably crushed “between the teeth to suck the grease.” It was enough to put anyone off their supper, especially if chicken wings were on the menu.Intriguingly, the cannibalism wasn’t driven by hunger. Instead, the team thought that the act of drinking out of your dead nan’s skull, for example, was a sign of respect. So was Cheddar Man descended from cannibals? In which – case dun, dun, dun – were we? Oo-er. The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man (Channel 4) started with a Union Jack flag billowing against a cloudy sky and Speaker Bercow’s idiosyncratic “Order! Order!”. “There’s been a lot of talk lately about Britain,” boomed narrator Jim Carter (Downton Abbey’s Mr Carson). “About who belongs and who doesn’t.”“Now science is about to reveal the truth about where we come from,” he continued. “And. Who. We. Really. Are.”It was a sensationalist beginning. The edit flashed forward to what would be the climactic scene: the exposing of Cheddar Man’s face. Dun, dun, dun! Up went the curtain to reveal the first Brit who, as you’ll know if you’ve read the news recently, was not the light-skinned Viking once assumed.Thankfully, the hyperbole ended there. The story was told by the impressive group of ancient DNA experts at the Natural History Museum, genetics professors at UCL and archaeologists who worked together to analyse the entire DNA of Britain’s oldest skeleton for the first time.Beforehand, the facts about Cheddar Man were sparse. His skeleton was unearthed in Gough’s Cave, Cheddar Gorge, Somerset in 1903. He was 5 ft 5, 10 stone, and died in his early twenties about 10,000 years ago.Using the latest sequencing technology, the scientists conducting the full DNA analysis promised to tell us what he looked like, where his ancestors were from, and how he related to us today.The documentary artfully brought the story of Cheddar Man to life. Animated maps of Mesolithic Europe showed bands of hunter gatherers hopping across Doggerland to set up home in Britain. A flint turned into a knife to slice through raw flesh and harpoons were whittled from antlers. But back to the main question. What did he look like? Charismatic Dutch identical twins and prehistoric model-makers Alfons and Adrie Kennis were tasked with the reconstruction. Details started to flood in as DNA was crunched in London. Eyes? Blue. Hair? Dark and curly.The real surprise was skin colour. It turned out he had much darker skin than expected, suggesting that paler skin in Britain and Europe may be a far more recent phenomena than previously thought. We learnt that Cheddar’s ancestors came from the Middle East, which had been suspected but never proven – and that we share his genetic legacy.Even if you’d seen photos already, the reveal was quite something. The model of Cheddar Man looked like a real man, with intelligence, humour and sensibility. And, no, there wasn’t a direct link with the cannibals. But, as one of the scientists said, it may be we have to rethink some of our notions of what it means to be British. Britain’s oldest complete skeleton  Adrie (left) and Alfons Kennis sit beside their full facial reconstruction model of a head based on the skull of Britain’s oldest complete skeletonlast_img