'Dark-Skinned' Cheddar Man Was Just A Wild Guess

Chris Menahan
Feb. 23, 2018

Cheddar man's "dark skin" was widely reported as a fact but it turns out it was just a wild guess, according to a new report from the New Scientist.

From the New Scientist (Un-paywalled):
A Briton who lived 10,000 years ago had dark brown skin and blue eyes. At least, that’s what dozens of news stories published this month – including our own – stated as fact. But one of the geneticists who performed the research says the conclusion is less certain, and according to others we are not even close to knowing the skin colour of any ancient human.

[...]In November 2017, [Brenna Henn at Stony Brook University, New York] and her colleagues published a paper exploring the genetics of skin pigmentation in populations indigenous to southern Africa – where skin colour varies more than many people appreciate. Just weeks before, a group led by Sarah Tishkoff at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia had published a paper on the genetics of skin pigmentation in people from eastern and southern Africa.

“The conclusions were really the same,” says Henn. “Known skin pigmentation genes, discovered primarily in East Asian and European populations, don’t explain the variation in skin pigmentation in African populations. The idea that there are really only about 15 genes underlying skin pigmentation isn’t correct.”

It now seems likely that many other genes affect skin colour. We don’t know how.

If we are still learning about the link between genes and skin pigmentation in living populations, we can’t yet predict the skin colour of prehistoric people, says Henn.

[...]Henn’s team has tested an older model that aimed to predict skin colour from DNA. When they put it to work among southern African populations, “it literally predicted that people with the darkest skins would have the lightest skin.”
Incidentally, despite this development a search of Google News shows not one single news outlet has issued a retraction.

Here's how the BBC reported on it two weeks ago:

The New Haven Register even compiled a list of tweets celebrating the news under the title, "Twitter mocks racists after DNA test shows ancient Britons had dark skin."

I guess this means reporting the truth on these new revelations will now be considered racist!

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