The Japan Times, March 9, 1997
Descendant of Stone Age skeleton found
LONDON (Reuter) British scientists Saturday celebrated their feat of tracing a living descendant of a 9,000-year-old skeleton and establishing the world's oldest known family tree.
In an astonishing piece of detective work, they matched mitochondrial DNA material extracted from the tooth cavity of Britain's oldest complete skeleton with that of a 42-year-old history teacher, Adrian Targett.
The genetic material showed without doubt that Targett is a direct descendant through his mother's line of the skeleton known as Cheddar Man, which was found in 1903 in caves in Cheddar Gorge in southwest England.
"It is extraordinary that the DNA survives at all, but we were able to extract it and sequence it," said Bryan Sykes of Oxford University's Institute of Molecular Medicine. "They would have shared a common ancestor about 10,000 years ago, so they are related."
Targett lives about a kilometer from the caves where Cheddar Man was found. Previous tests have shown that Cheddar Man suffered a violent death at the age of about 23 in 7150 B.C.
The Oxford University team spent months analyzing samples from the skeleton before taking DNA swabs from about 20 local people whose families had lived in the Cheddar area for generations.
Targett, who teaches modern history, said he took part only to make up the numbers.
"I was astonished when the scientists said I was the descendant. Appropriately enough, I am a history teacher, but I have to admit I know next to nothing about Cheddar Man. I suppose I really should try to include him in my family tree," he said.
Targett can now boast a lineage millennia older than that of Britain's royal family, which traces its heritage back to A.D. 829.
The oldest previously recorded relative was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Confucius, who lived in China in the eighth century B.C.
Scientists said the odds of finding a match were not as enormous as might appear, because of the relatively small number of people who lived in Britain during the Stone Age.
Sykes said the discovery strengthened the theory that the ancestors of modern-day Britons were hunter-gatherers rather than farmers.
"There has been an idea that most modern European are descended from farmers that came in from the Middle East about 10,000 years ago, reaching Britain about 6,000 years ago," Sykes told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "This kind of evidence shows that is probably not true, and that modern Britons are in fact descended from the earlier inhabitants like Cheddar Man who existed on hunting and gathering and who were not farmers."
Scientists said they were hoping to use the same technique of sampling mitochondrial DNA to prove whether Neanderthals, who died out about 25,000 years ago, were linked to modern humans or were a completely different species.
Professor Chris Stringer, a researcher at the Natural History Museum, said, "This work may finally let us end a 150-year-old argument which has existed since a Neanderthal man fossil was first found."
Targett, an only child who has no children, was still coming to terms with the idea of having a Stone Age man as a relative.
But his wife, Catherine, said, "Maybe this explains why he likes his steaks rare."