Is EVERYONE related to Cheddar Man? South African man’s £20 DNA test reveals there’s a 99% chance he’s related to Stone Age Brit… despite his parents’ tests suggesting otherwise
A South African man says he’s been ‘taken for a ride’ by an ancestry website that told him he was a DNA match with the mythical ‘Cheddar Man’, who died 10,000 years ago in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge – and the ancient man’s last surviving ‘relative’ agrees.
Last Christmas, 23-year-old Declan Miles created an account on popular heritage site My True Ancestry and paid £20 for his DNA samples to be mapped.
The site claims to use advanced archaeogenetics to create more accurate samples of an individuals genealogy by ‘comparing [results] to thousands of ancient samples from real archaeological sites.’
By doing this, the site claims it is able to discover the ‘ancient relatives’ of users.
However, Declan – who until last year had never stepped foot in the UK has disputed the test’s accuracy after it told him he was a ‘top 99% match to Cheddar Man’s sample.’
23-year-old Declan was told by a DNA site he was a 99% match to a sample from Stone Age Brit Cheddar Man
But the proud South African has refused to believe it and claims he’s been ‘taken for a ride’
Cheddar Man’, who died 10,000 years ago in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge
His bones are the oldest near-complete human skeleton ever found in Britain
Cheddar Man’s bones caused a sensation when they were unearthed in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset in 1903.
The bones are the oldest near-complete human skeleton ever found in Britain and scientists said they were surprised to discover that the earliest Briton would be considered ‘black’ if he lived today.
READ MORE: Look familiar? Social media users go into meltdown after a reconstruction of 10,000-year-old Cheddar Man shows a resemblance to David Dickinson and Lord Sugar
Experts have theorised that Cheddar Man is directly related to 1 in 10 people living in the UK today but Declan is adamant he isn’t one of them.
He told MailOnline: ‘I don’t believe in it.
‘I laughed when I read it. It said: “You are the top 99% match to the sample just makes your relationship to this individual exceptional.”
‘I also did my parents and their tests take you back to Ireland and Lithuania.
‘It also told me I was a match with Roman gladiators who fought in York!
‘That one I can at least tell in parties – nobody will understand who Cheddar Man is!’
Coming to terms with the news that he is genetically linked a 10,000 West Country skeleton has been hard for Declan to take.
He continued: ‘I don’t know how I’m meant to feel.
‘Are you meant to feel like familiar connection to these people, or there’s like interest or something, ’cause I look nothing like him at all.’
However Declan’s shock result might not be as unique as it seems.
Declan’s result (pictured) told him he was a top 99% match to Cheddar Man’s sample
It also told him he had close matches to Roman gladiators that fought in York
Sites like My True Ancestry are known colloquially in the business as ‘Deep Ancestry’ sites and have been criticised by some experts for specialising in forms of genetic astrology.
What this means in practice is that the sites may exaggerate an individuals genetic links with different eras as they are merely comparing their genomes with samples from the past.
So rather than tracing back thousands of years relative by relative – which would be impossible – companies like My True Ancestry are in essence checking for similarities between current day and ancient genomes and extrapolating a link between them.
This throws up problems as the sites are not able to definitively say whether any user DNA sample is a direct match to one in their system.
Instead, sites like My True Ancestry use nebulous phrasing to suggest a closer and more personalised link for each user.
Professor Turi King is a scientist, presenter, speaker and author who recently hosted DNA Family Secrets alongside Stacey Dooley on BBC 2.
She told MailOnline that the nature of the limited genome screening used by the companies couldn’t stand up to any proper scrutiny.
She explained: ‘What these companies are doing is looking for genetic matches with DNA sequences that they’ve got in their database that they have taken from you know it’ll be ancient. DNA studies this kind of thing, and all it’s doing is it’s looking for matches in there.
‘You’re coming back as 25% Phoenician or something. What?
‘What does that really mean? It’s not like the Phoenicians were a single population, and were just in one place.
‘We know that, you know, Phoenicians would have had all kinds of different ancestry.
‘Quite often the DNA sequences that you get from ancient remains are not complete making comparison almost meaningless.’
These thoughts were echoed by University College London’s Mark Thomas, an internationally recognised leader in Evolutionary Genetics and Ancient DNA, who has been an outspoken critic of DNA analysis websites in the past.
Professor Turi King said the nature of the limited genome screening used by the companies couldn’t stand up to any proper scrutiny
He told MailOnline: ‘You only have to go back to go back about 5-6,000 years, and everybody who was alive is either the ancestor of everybody alive today or of nobody alive today.
‘The reality is that we have to use these sort of terms very precisely because what sounds like the same thing often means very, very different things.
‘So when a site says he’s a 99% match to Cheddar Man. That is really not clear what that could possibly be.
‘But if it’s if what they mean by it is 99% of his genome is identical to Cheddar man. Well, yeah, 99% of everybody’s genome is identical to everybody else’s genome so that’s a fairly meaningless statement.
‘If they’re saying they’re 99% sure that he’s a direct descendant of Cheddar man. Well, sorry, but they just cannot demonstrate that, because they can’t demonstrate that he has any descendants. If he had any descendants, then everybody’s a descendant.
‘They’re basically making statements that I think they are perfectly aware are going to be misinterpreted by their customers.’
But where then does that leave Declan, or for that matter Cheddar Man’s first discovered ‘relative’ 68-year-old retired teacher Adrian Targett, who lives in the village of Cheddar, Somerset.
Some 20 years ago, in an amazing piece of DNA detective work, using genetic material taken from the cavity of one of Cheddar Man’s molar teeth, scientists were able to identify Mr Targett, 62, as a direct descendant.
The initial scientific analysis in 1997, carried out for a TV series on archaeological findings in Somerset, revealed Mr Targett’s family line had persisted in the Cheddar Gorge area for around nine millennia, their genes being passed from mother to daughter through what is known as mitochondrial DNA which is inherited from the egg.
To put it simply, Adrian Targett and Cheddar Man have a common maternal ancestor.
Adrian Targett and Cheddar Man are thought to have a common maternal ancestor.
Mr Targett’s family line had persisted in the Cheddar Gorge area for around nine millennia (Pictured: Cheddar Man’s skull)
Declan has said he has no plans to have a family reunion with Adrian despite their ‘ancestry’
MailOnline caught up with him and asked him whether he had heard the news that he could potentially have a new Cheddar-relative in the unassuming South African Declan.
He laughed: ‘I’m still the only one in the village. The main thing is that science has been able to link us.
‘The other day someone told me I had the longest family tree in the world. I replied: ‘ I have the longest family tree with gaps in the middle.’
‘Everyone has a DNA profile as long as me they just don’t know who’s at the end of it!
‘As for your South African friend, it could be possible but it’s very unlikely!
‘I hope he’s not too disappointed or surprised by the result – you never know what these DNA sites will say.’
Sadly, from Declan’s point of view it seems hopes of a 10,000 year on family reunion are just that, hopes.
Declan said: ‘He looks exactly like him. I look nothing like him.
‘I think it’s been a few generations too many for us to meet up. I think I’ll leave them in peace -it’s just not correct.’
READ MORE: Meet my ancestor CHEDDAR MAN: Separated by 10,000 years but linked by DNA, the Somerset history teacher who says ‘just look at the family resemblance’
Markus Kangas, CEO of MyTrueAncestry told MailOnline that provide ‘comprehensive results.’
He said: ‘We have the largest ancient DNA data collection of any service available – several times a week our researchers collect and add dozens of new ancient specimens such as Cheddar man. We compare user DNA to every single ancient specimen we have and provide comprehensive results.
‘This is done by sample match – how close is your overall genetics to the specimen (measured in genetic distance).
‘Deep Dive match – how many consecutive raw SNP (genetic markers) do you share with the ancient specimen? Long consecutive shared DNA segments provide statistical evidence of relations. This is further done by not only seeing if you share such SNP chains, but how long your shared chains are compared to the ENTIRE user database – all anonymously.
‘Y-DNA haplogroup analysis – we compare any differences in your haplogroup tree to see if your Y-DNA matches or differs from the samples.
‘Cheddar man’s overall genetics is fairly Germanic with some Celtic influence. Anyone who has similar overall genetics will have a “genetic distance” of various levels to him.
‘Various tools on our website let one explore this further by epoch as well as comparisons to other ancient samples.
‘Not only can the user see how close their modern DNA profile matches him, but also how they compare to other users.
‘Deep Dive is where this gets very interesting and clearly what is misunderstood. Our latest statistics for 1M users indicates
1980 users share at least 1000 SNP in chains (genetic markers) with 116 users share at least 2000 SNPs in chains and 28 users share at least 3000 SNPs in chains.
‘Cheddar man has a Y-DNA haplogroup of I2a2. This is specific but not highly granular – as a result a user needs to have this particular haplogroup as well as no differences in markers until I2a2 – if they are say I2a2b, then they match perfectly with a “distance” of 1.’
WHO WAS THE CHEDDAR MAN AND WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT HIM?
Cheddar Man, unearthed in 1903 in a cave in Somerset, lived around 10,000 years ago. A huge hole in his skull (pictured) suggests he died a violent death
Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed in 1903 in Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset.
The prehistoric male lived around 10,000 years ago, and a huge hole in his skull suggests he died a violent death.
Other remains found at Gough’s Cave have been linked to cannibalistic rituals, trophy display and secondary burial by prehistoric humans.
Cheddar Man, thought to have died in his twenties and have had a relatively good diet, lived in Britain when it was almost completely depopulated.
Although previous populations had settled in Britain long before his arrival, they were wiped out before him.
The Cheddar Man marked the start of continuous habitation on the island, making him among the very first modern Britons.
Genetically, he belonged to a group of people known as the ‘Western Hunter-Gatherers’, Mesolithic-era individuals from Spain, Hungary and Luxembourg.
Cheddar Man, thought to have died in his twenties and have had a relatively good diet, lived in Britain when it was almost completely depopulated. Pictured is a reconstruction of the prehistoric male’s remains as they were found in a Gough’s Cave a century ago
His ancestors migrated to Europe from the Middle East after the Ice Age and today, 10 per cent of White British people are descended from the group.
Scientists have reconstructed the Cheddar Man’s face several times using the shape of his skull and assumptions about the appearance of the first Britons.
Most of these analyses were not based on DNA data, and assumed he was white with light hair.
But an unprecedented examination of his DNA in February 2018 showed the young man would have had a darker complexion than previously thought.
The prehistoric man had blue eyes and dark, curly hair, the analysis revealed.
Researchers said the unusual combination of features ‘make him look not like anyone that you’d see today’.
The prehistoric man’s remains are currently on display at London’s Natural History Museum, while a replica is exhibited in the ‘Cheddar Man and the Cannibals’ museum in Cheddar village.
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