Cheddar lives matter

Last night Channel 4 aired the documentary on the genome sequencing and facial reconstruction of Cheddar Man, the 8,000BCE mesolithic skeleton discovered in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge a century ago. It was interesting and well done, though of course the “Hey Presto” effect of unveiling the reconstruction was lost because his photo has been splashed over every newspaper and TV channel for the last fortnight.

The big shock horror news item, matched by some of the build-up in the documentary, was that Cheddar man was very dark-skinned. “I think members of the public will be surprised” said one of the researchers. But nobody has mentioned that well-read members of the public were not, since it has been known for some time that the genetic recipe for light skin only evolved about 8,000 years ago in the Near East – at least as far as British populations go, for light skin existed in extreme Northern Europe long before. See this interesting 2015 summary.

So the research, stripped of its hype, only confirmed what was already likely – that Cheddar man came from the dark-skinned western European population-type which (even in that 2015 article) was known to exist in Spain, Luxembourg and Hungary at that time. Thus it shows that skin colour is more ornamental than adaptive: like the Shulammite woman in Song of Songs, Cheddar Man was dark but comely.

None of that stopped either the British press, or posters on BioLogos, making jokes about how it was one in the eye for the Far Right BNP that the earliest Britons were black, and how some US children’s books about cave-men had got it right by having a (token) African-American black character.

It’s sad to me that all such banter, well-meant though it is, only serves to perpetuate a discredited and outdated concept of “race” which really ought simply to be allowed to sink into history. Yet it’s perpetuated by the very efforts made to “stamp out racism”. Cheddar man, though he was black, was not “a black”. He’d have had to perm his slightly curly hair to have an “Afro”, and he wasn’t a “brown eyed handsome man” after the pattern described by Chuck Berry because he had honky blue eyes – but he wasn’t “a honky”. Neither did he have any more or less “soul” than you. The fact is that his particular “race” no longer exists, though if I’m a typical Brit about 10% of my genome comes from his people, which is more than the amount of “Irish blood” I get from my Roscommon-born great-great-great grandfather, owing no doubt to the founder-effect.

Even at that early date, Cheddar Man was the result of many waves of migration around Europe, Asia and Africa. And there have been many and complex migrations since, one bringing white skin and farming from Anatolia, one bringing the Indo-European tongue from Iran, one bringing the Romans and their cosmopolitan legionaries, another the Anglo-saxons, then the Vikings, then the Normans and so on. My wife is descended from French Huguenots. Those waves are why, in treating the Genesis table of nations as an historical document, it’s not that easy to identify just which radiation of ANE people is represented in the genes and archaeology, but why it’s worth trying. But it does fit the general pattern of the regular mixing of humanity that makes the Genealogical Adam hypothesis so realistic.

So the whole idea of pure races simply doesn’t hold water. This was the main point of the 2002 book by Steve Olson, Mapping Human History, which in showing this historical mixing led directly to the research which (in other hands) underpins Genealogical Adam. Yet only last week my previous employer (the NHS) sent me a survey about my satisfaction with my pension arrangement (it comes in very handy, thankyou), which ended with a rather strange little section asking me intimate details about my preferred gender, sexual orientation and race. This, I suppose, was in order to ensure that all categories were treated equally – which of course we would be if they knew none of that information anyway. But since I know, even without getting my DNA sequenced, that I have a genome comprising European, Near Eastern, African, Iranian and who knows what other genes – for most of which my light skin, (once) light brown hair and friendly grey eyes are not a marker, then any self-identification with an imaginary “ethnicity” is simply perpetuating a lie.

I have told readers here before that I had an obviously “Afro-Caribbean” patient whose twin sister was equally obviously “Anglo-Saxon” – there was a TV programme about them. I gather from the news that a black-white pair of monozygous twins has recently been born somewhere – presumably the difference is epigenetic. Using the term “mixed race” for such families implies that there are races to mix, which there aren’t. This is well proven.

Here’s a close analogy. The evils of Naziism were based on a false Victorian racial theory that the Northern Europeans were the pure descendants of the “Aryan” race (an Iranian/Indian term meaning “noble”), somehow magically endowed aboriginally, or perhaps during migration, with blue eyes, fair hair and the German tongue (just as somehow the biblical Gomer, in migrating to Germany, paradoxically became the English speaking peoples rather than the German speakers!). We all know that “Aryans” were said to be superior to, but threatened by, the Slavs, The Jews and the Negroes, each with their own faults to contaminate the superior race. From Wikipedia:

It was believed in the 19th century that Aryan was also a self-designation used by all Proto-Indo-Europeans, a theory that has now been abandoned. Scholars point out that, even in ancient times, the idea of being an “Aryan” was religious, cultural and linguistic, not racial…

Drawing on misinterpreted references in the Rig Veda by Western scholars in the 19th century, the term “Aryan” was adopted as a racial category through the works of Arthur de Gobineau, whose ideology of race was based on an idea of blonde northern European “Aryans” who had migrated across the world and founded all major civilizations, before being degraded through racial mixing with local populations. Through the works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Gobineau’s ideas later influenced the Nazi racial ideology which saw “Aryan peoples” as innately superior to other putative racial groups.

Now, with the end of the Second World War, selling the idea of “pure Aryans” became at every level impossible. The theory rightly went down the drain of history with the sewage of the Third Reich. But suppose, by some error, postwar anti-Nazi laws outlawing discrimination were still on the statute book. Suppose it were illegal to discriminate against non-Aryans, and in order to ensure this, suppose that official organisations put out questionnaires asking whether you were an Aryan, a Slav, a Jew or a Negro (or worse, a cross-breed)? Wouldn’t we be right to say that we were perpetuating the lie? Wouldn’t the persistence of those categories only encourage idiots to start standing up for the downtrodden Aryans (or the other groups as “races” with sterotypical characteristics of intelligence, or fecklessness, or whatever)? Wouldn’t it be better for intelligent people to refuse to use categories of “race” at all, and to chastise sorely those who do?

I blame the Americans, of course. Your American is always obsessed by race (and guns, and money). I’m sure it’s the effect of the climate on their racial germ plasm…

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in History, Politics and sociology, Science. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Cheddar lives matter

  1. Robert Byers says:

    Interesting thread.
    i do think GOMER was the original man from whence the german language came at babel. then one of his sons, togarmah, was the east germans and so the english amongst them. Torgamah being remember as THOR the God.
    I don’t have confidence in these reconstructions any more with these datws of 8000 years etc etc. its a modern myth.
    While its possible some darker peoples from Spain migrated to britain, Romans said the southern Welsh looked darker as speculated they were Spanish (iberians). a few years beating the celts.
    Yet Britain was colonized by a white, red/light brown hair, light colouered eyed people exclusively. there were no dark people or people with black hair!
    I don’t agree its america/Canada with a race issue more then Eyrope.
    When i watch British youtube docs on history, prehistory, etc its always a long left wing rant about how there are no real englishmen and so no moral claim to England.
    So keeping out foreigners, especially non whites, is morally, intellectually, even legally illegal.
    Race concepts matter in britain today as much as in Nazi Germany.
    For the same reason. To give and take legitamacy from peoples to live, immigrate, deny stoping immigration.
    They try to say English are mostly Celts, not Germans, and , I bet, this is done to deny Brits are a white people.
    However its not race that gives a people identity, unless they agree it does, but its About a people group seeing itself as a segregated people group and naturally breeding that way.
    I agree there was no Aryan but there was Indo europeans or, biblically, Japhetic gang. Most were white, not all, and some white peoples(Finns etc) were not japhetic.
    I think Modern britain is struggling with who owns Britain based on identity and so left wingers are trying to deny a english/white identity.
    Trying to say ealy britons were dark people is just more evolutionary type nonsense
    Maybe a few Iberians but britain was white as white can be.
    Anyways it gives no right of non whites to immigrate or be welcomed.
    Fighting nazism was about settling the legitimacy of boundaries.
    These boundary concepts are being attacked by those of the left who deny a english identity and nation.
    they believe turning early britons into dark people means modern Britons can’t see dark people as foreigners and exclude or limit their immigration.
    I know they think this way. YES they believe in race. its not america but moderrn Great Britain. evolutionism was the origin of race concepts. never existed before that.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:


    A plea – please PLEASE PLEASE try to acquire the habit of reading up on things before you write about them. There is so much error in this post that it’s not even wrong.

    Because you want to believe something doesn’t make it so. And that is especially the case when what you want to believe in are shadowy conspiracies involving – it would seem – not only left wingers and the whole world of science, but entire nations.

    Fortunately the Bible has no hint of this idea of race. It doesn’t say anything about the colour of Shem, or Ham, or Japheth – nor even Adam. Just about one family in Christ who are “no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”.

    I’ll go with that.

  3. Robert Byers says:

    I agree. Of coarse there was only one colour for Adam/Eve and then Noah/family. colour is only from environmental influences and so affecting human groups after migration.
    Later on there is segregation of peoples and this includes populations breeding amonst themselves and maintaining traits. So there are races of mankind or species. Same thing.
    However this thread was about other concepts.
    In saying we are one human family one must remember we are not the same people groups. upon people groups has been the problems. oNe group interfering with another.
    I do see this problem everywhere in history and today. Yes i see it in canada, america, UK. I do believe contracts are being messed with to bring results.
    Yes i suspect this DARK Briton is more then a curiousity but is another agenda of the establishment. THEY BELIEVE colour means something about identity and nationality.
    Sure they do.

  4. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    It’s certainly true that “people groups” cause problems. For one example, both Britain and Germany, with strong genetic links, killed many millions of each other’s people in two world wars. Some of them were my relatives.

    But that has nothing to do with “race”, in any biological sense. So there is nothing except prejudice to hinge immigration policy, or any other social issue, on (so-called) racial grounds.

    The answer to paranoia about research conspiracies is to learn some genetics. But if that’s too hard, the answer to colour prejudice is to work closely with, and learn from, people from different lands – I was taught surgery (well) by a dark skinned Pakistani, medicine (well) by a dark-skinned Syrian, and emergency work by another Pakistani – who happened also to be an amazing Christian. I learned pathology from a Pole, haematology from a Sri Lankan. That was at the start of my career. At the end of it I worked in a back clinic with an Indian rheumatologist, and handed my partnership over to a Nigerian, who is far better qualified than I was.

    That doesn’t alter the fact that the English, the English, the English are best… it just makes the definition of “English” fuzzy – which is a good thing, or I’d still be seen as an outsider Irishman.

  5. Robert Byers says:

    Thats the rub. thats my point about these things (or one of them). Being English isn’t fuzzy. its an attemppt to make it so for a agenda.
    In your listing these doctors you call them , accurately, by non english names. so why would they be English?? It makes Englishmen as a non entity while the others have a identity IN GREAT BRITAIN.
    Thats my point. They are attacking the right and truth of the english people as a real separate people group in order to deny them a moral and intellectual claim to england exclusively. I see it as a common left wing agenda.
    I agree thw war with Germany was not about race but was about people groups.
    Germans are another people surely.
    I don’t see how it affects immigration in britain today. i didn’t understand your point.
    You mention these foreign/British doctors from third world countries.
    I don’t understand your point unless to say they are as able as English/British people.
    Thats not my point in this thread in anyway.
    I think we agree on emost things except the . i say. agendas of a left wing desiring to change English identity to justify immigration and replacement of the English and defeat resistance.
    Indeed many english/British might cry foul about why so many doctors etc are from third world countries and out of proportion even to percentages in the country??
    Why not be doctors in their countries and not interfere with English/British folks!!
    Thats another subject.
    i agree colour doesn’t matter about the Chedder man.
    His ancestors living today in Britain are welsh or english or Scottish as can be.
    His colour is irrelevant to his identity. Yet it doesn’t make colour irrelevant to identity. it identifies people groups. And its people groups who have problems with each other as the war showed.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      It’s the corruption arising within my own people group that is the main threat to “Englishness”. My friend Dev, the rheumatologist, was more English in attitude than some of my 10th generation compatriots. And Eric, my Pakistani boss in emergency, was for decades a shining witness to Christ in a highly secularised hospital environment.

      Still, it may well be that Cheddar man’s descendants resented the influx of these pale-skinned middle-eastern guys with their new-fangled farming. And the latter certainly seem to have lost out their way of life to the bronze-age beaker people mirating west, since the genetics now suggests they were more or less wiped out by them.

      But that was long ago. The original Canadians and Americans appear to have had little say in the obliteration of their culture by European immigrants far more recently than that.

      • Robert Byers says:

        It is hard to figure out the past. who knows whom moved to where and in what numbers. It just seems to me they all spoke the celtic language, were fair in hair/eyes and probably all looked the same. i know the romans thought the south Welsh were iberians9spanish) because they looked darker and had the curly hair that they are still famous for. Tom Jones.

        The indians here were not Canadians/americans but independent tribes/nations speaking different languages and in very tiny numbers. North america was a wilderness and open for anyone to take possession. French, british, did not immigrate to another peoples land. no contract were involved.
        however if they did see a small valley as their land then it was their right to decide if someone came in. Colour being irrelevant.
        glad to hear about the christian doctor.
        The only relevance i see in it is about abortion. otherwise it makes no real difference save with Christian influence for conversion.

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