Why does ‘Whitehawk Woman’ have dark skin?

Since the opening of our Elaine Evans Archaeology Gallery last month, some people have queried why the facial reconstruction of ‘Whitehawk Woman’ has dark skin. Below is an explanation of some of the research and advice that supported the creation of this reconstruction.

Photo showing reconstructed head and neck of Neolithic woman. She has dark skin, black hair and plays with a necklaceBrighton’s ancestors are central to the interpretation of the Royal Pavilion & Museum’s new archaeology gallery which opened to the public on 26 January 2019. The remains of five individuals are displayed alongside facial reconstructions created by a forensic artist.

During the research phase in the run up to the opening of the gallery, the human remains were studied by a number of scientists across several scientific disciplines.

All of our individuals were included in a project based at the Natural History Museum in London, which aimed to establish and interpret information about our European ancestors from ancient DNA. The same team of scientists released results of research to the public in 2018 about ‘Cheddar Man’, a ten thousand year old modern human from the Mesolithic Period, whose ancient DNA demonstrated that he was dark skinned.

While DNA could not be retrieved from Whitehawk Woman, the ‘Cheddar Man’ team advised that she would probably have had dark skin of a southern Mediterranean/Near Eastern/North African colour, brown hair and brown eyes. This is based on the genetic analysis of ancient individuals dating to the Neolithic from around Europe as well as from Britain specifically. This information was passed on to our forensic artist who included it within the facial reconstruction on display in the new gallery.

The same analysis produced predictions of lighter skin for other individuals included in the gallery and these predictions were also included in their facial reconstructions.

In each instance where ancient DNA was not recoverable from our individuals, we followed the same scientific advice on likelihood of their physical characteristics.

67 Responses

  1. Evan Bartlett

    Your explanation is not very helpful with regards to this question, because it doesn’t negate the fact that the reconstruction is not based on any genetic evidence or reliable science. It goes against all evidence on Neolithic European farmers looked like in terms of skin complexion. It is already widely known that the Neolithic farmers in Europe were the first ones to introduce light skin to the continent. Facial reconstructions have already been done, based on actual Neolithic EEF (Early European Farmer) remains of a girl in Greece dating to circa 7,000 BC, the closest in time and place to the original Anatolian farmer population. This woman was clearly shown to have much lighter skin, the somewhat “olive” complexion found in all Mediterranean populations who largely descend from these Neolithic farmers, such as the Sardinians who today are still almost genetically identical to them. They are much lighter skinned than this reconstruction. The reconstruction of the remains of Oetzi the Iceman, another Neolithic farmer of the period, was also shown to have very light skin.

    There is simply zero evidence to support the very dark complexion of Whitehawk Woman used in this reconstruction. Even the facial features have little empirical evidence as support. Every population that today genetically descends mostly from the Neolithic Mediterranean farmers of the Natufian culture, of whom the Anatolian farmers descend, has much lighter complexions of an “olive” like to very light brown to white colouration, whether Greeks, Turks, Levantines, Assyrians, North Africans, Italians, Iberians, Sardinians, etc.

      • Paul Ingham

        The Natufians were the Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherer inhabitants of the western “Fertile Crescent”. They were probably the first people to intensively process wild grass seeds, the technology that eventually led to the Neolithic farming revolution. Genetically they overwhelmingly match current populations of the Near and Middle East. Less than 10% matches sub-Saharan Africans (6.8% Omoitic from the Ethiopian highlands).
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natufian_culture#Genetics

    • Steve

      The museum’s obvious pandering to the multicultural agenda is an embarrassment to common sense and evidence based analysis

    • M. Daley

      If there is no DNA for this woman and Cheddar man had blue eyes, why did the experts on him say this woman would have brown eyes?

  2. J.P.A.R.

    I have to agree with Evan. This Neolithic woman is presumably not from the same Hunter Gatherer ancestry as Cheddar Man but is one of the later ‘farmers’ with Near Eastern origins. The explanatory note actually mentions her probably having a complexion like that of ‘southern European, Near Eastern or modern North African’ populations, and yet the reconstruction has a far darker tone than people do in any of these places (yes, even including North Africa.)

      • Very Vertical

        The truth hurt don’t it! . And the Natufian culture was Black. They even shaved their teeth and elongated their heads like other African tribes. The minion culture were also dark skinned people which dna has proven AND their own art work. Recent studies have also proven that the white skinned gene isn’t even prehistoric. Some of you are trying to put make skinned people in places and times they just didn’t exist in. Lighter skinned people had absolutely nothing to do with the Neolithic period ANYWHERE on earth! You ain’t find a “white” person anywhere on earth before 10,000 years ago. And I’m sorry a Black man had to be the first to break the news to ya. lol

        • Badger

          Mate, you are so far wrong. They may have dark skin, but the bone features ain’t African lol!

    • Katie Rodriguez

      Sorry but that’s not true. I have pictures of my Italian ancestors from Abruzzo Italy that are maybe 120 years old and they are this color or darker. I guess you also haven’t been to Naples.

  3. John Kane

    This certainly requires additional information about the genetic evidence. What is someone from the equator doing in Britain? They certainly didn’t evolve there like European descendants. This, and it seems very apparent, is some sort of an attempt to white wash history and push a narrative of dark skinned peoples being an inherent part of Britain’s cultural heritage, identity, and past. Much like how cheddar man is. What is presented without evidence can, and should be, dismissed.

    • Martin J. Wallace

      There is no attempt to “whitewash” history. DNA evidence (genes) show that early Europeans were originally dark-skinned. Remember, our species was just coming out of Africa at the time.

      People don’t instantly change colors when they walk into new continents.

      • Taylor Byler

        I don’t think people migrated directly from Africa, I think it was a process that took over a few hundred years right?

        • Jonathon Smith

          We all come out of Africa until a new bone is discovered. I suspect that it already has but it has been suppressed due to fear of being called a racist. Archeology has gone through this before. i.e. refer to the “nothing below clovis theory”.

      • Si

        Martin J Wallace
        You clearly don’t know what you are talking about. The Neolithic period began 12,000 years ago. Migrations from Africa (and there were many, both into and out of) occurred over thousands of years from perhaps 100 thousand years ago.
        There is NO DNA evidence in this case, and the evidence from Cheddar Man suggests ‘Mediterranean’ olive, not sub-Saharan African.
        This ‘reconstruction’ is clear part of a ‘Woke’ agenda on the part of Brighton Museum; a transparent attempt to ‘Blackwash’ history. It’s happening all over these days. Very strange.

      • Matt

        People who initially move out of Africa were not black. The original homo sapiens was not black. Black people themselves ( or bantu people ) originated in Western Africa.

        The Museum objective is to educate people with truth based on science. This is shameful

  4. sEEyOUiNtEA

    Some people got their undies in a twist because a suggestion of dark skin. OOOh, anything but that! Armchair forensic anthropologists, UNITE!

    • alpha

      I think it is because “southern Med/N Africa” has been made into “sub-Saharan Africa” with no scientific evidence to back the reconstruction.

      If the genetic data said they looked Nigerian, I don’t think anyone would have an issue. But it doesnt.

  5. Mat

    The Ireland Ballynahatty neolithic sample seems to bear the modern derived alleles for most of the key markers for light skin. Sure some neolithic people could have been of an intermediate complexion, but this reconstruction much like Cheddar man is propaganda which is a shame as I thought the exhibition was good overall. The reconstructions are for the most part very impressive.

  6. Roy

    Propaganda for what exactly ? The thought that people may have had non-white skin hardly seems a massive propaganda blow to anything. Having seen the exhibition, at the time it didn’t even occur to me that the skin was different.

    • Mathew

      I think the main idea behind it was to have their own ‘Cheddar man’, for obvious anti-Brexit, pro multiculturalism reasons? And being in Brighton is that any surprise to you?

  7. Ygor-C.

    The text says: “the ‘Cheddar Man’ team advised that she would probably have had dark skin of a southern Mediterranean/Near Eastern/North African colour, brown hair and brown eyes.”

    Not exactly a good explanation for how she looks, then. If the team’s advice was that she should’ve looked like Near Easterners and Mediterraneans, then she should look like many other reconstructions of Neolithic European people (who we know had mostly Anatolian origins), that is, a woman with olive skin, not the very pale white of modern British people, but still the definitely light, though tanned and slightly more brownish, skin complexion of many modern Sicilians, Sardinians, Lebanese and Syrians. But the reconstruction of “Whitehawk woman” depicted her as dark as many South Indians and Ethiopians. Very, very unlike the usual skin complexion of Mediterranean and Near Eastern people. Has the team of artists that reconstructed her face ever seen Mediterranean people native to Lebanon, Algeria or Turkey? They’re definitely not that dark at all. This reminds me of those ludicrous 19th century ideas of racist Northern Europeans who claimed that “Africa begins south of Rome”, lumping everyone together as the “same thing, they’re all dark non-white people”.

  8. Normandie Kent

    It’s pathetic that some Europeans are aNd their Colonial settler descendants who invaded other peoples homelands have such a problem with immigration, when that’s exactly what they did to the indigenous ethnic Americans, the Australian Aborigines, The Polynesians! They are recent immigrants to Europe as well as everywhere else. Now you know how all the Native population feel in the lands you appropriated and invaded! It’s not like the Europeans ancestors where being genocided in Europe that you had to flee for their lives. It’s was pure greed for “Free Land” and resources like gold and oil! And now you have the nerve to bitch about immigration?! Well to bad! Get used to it!

      • Blurb

        No. We are not responsible for our ancestor’s behaviour.
        Sins of the father and all that.

      • Felix Krull

        It’s pathetic that some Europeans are aNd their Colonial settler descendants who invaded other peoples homelands have such a problem with immigration, when that’s exactly what they did to the indigenous ethnic Americans, the Australian Aborigines, The Polynesians!

        What a profoundly stupid sentence. We should be happy with mass immigration because look what happened to the Indians?

      • Sean

        You sound like a total racist, and dont use my people (Australian Aboriginal) to pursue your racism.

    • Mathew

      Wrong. British are native European. Descended from the original hunter gatherers from mesolithic and before. And besides, the people in Britain right now did not flee to the Americas anyway, so what is your point?

      • Rosie

        Uhhhh, you should probably read up on the genetic replacements of both Neolithic farmers and Bell Beaker culture in Britain… we really are not directly descended from Mesolithic HG groups

        • Mathew

          If you look at PCAs you will find that ‘bell beakers’ cluster far closer to samples from the paleolithic such as Goyet and Vestonice – by some strange coincidence. We did not just emerge from nowhere as they wish for you to believe.

    • Tom Willis

      You really need to do some historical research before posting such a response.

    • Fredrik Lange

      Its not a pathetic, because only a tiny percent of all Europeans who have ever lived on Earth have been ingaged in colonialism, genocide, slavery. It was not THE european people who invaded America, Africa etc, but SOME europeans. Besides, most europeans living today have nothing whatsoever to do with these events.

      You also fail to take in concideration that every group in history have been ingaged in colonialsim, slavery etc. Arabs for example enslaved over 17 million Africans for over 1000 years and colonised large parts of North and East Africa, Mongols exterminated 10% of the worlds population during their conquests and made the second largest empire in history. If Europeans should pay for what some of their ancestors did in the past with immigration, why should’nt other groups like arabs or mongols be punished the same way?

  9. Cheddar mans is plastic

    Throughout history time after time the same information is uncovered. The same argument over again & again. The oldest bones & dna show black genes no matter where you go in the world, the biggest attempt to try hide it is in Africa . You have Egyptian scholars there pushing the latter part of Egyptian history when Europeans mixed with the black dynasty’s. Forget the writings you can even go by the pictures & images alone. It’s recorded very clearly in the bible … I mean the first translated bible king James of England the chap guy fawkes tried to assassinate the one who had black children queen Sophia of england. His mum was Mary queen of Scots. Lot of black royalty & tudors back then. Not at my school or yours lol but for those who dig past WHS books it’s there. Wonder if any school children in the Uk know about the cheddar man upgrade or update my 3 didn’t maybe September in year 7?hey..?? Or probably not back to 10-66 let’s go to Hastings again & again. I know what a few of you are thinking who built these faulty DNA machines. ??

    • Christine

      There were a few black people in Britain during the Tudor period, not “a lot”, and they certainly were not “a lot” of Tudor royalty. Also, most Egyptians are not black. Black people come from sub-Saharan Africa, not Nothern Africa.

  10. Michael Moore

    I was told the woman should have had a southern Mediterranean complexion.

  11. Bob Pike

    There is a trend or narrative, lately, to “blackwash” European, specifically British history and culture, for some obscure reason. Africa has its own history and culture and is uniquely theirs, so has the peoples of every other continent. Why do institutions, like the BBC, have to try and turn history on its head, just to pander to the likes of BLM, the Labour party, and others? I can remember the series, “Merlin”, where Queen Guinevere was played by the black actress, Angel Coulby, no disrespect to the lady, but this is just wrong, as is using another black actress, Jodie Turner-Smith, to play Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn!

    • Martin Drašner

      I think it´s retaliation to the British, the first nation that actively tried to abolish slavery in the world where their men-of-war were able to get.

  12. Peter N

    More revisionist history, for political gain.

    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.

    Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2161867-ancient-dark-skinned-briton-cheddar-man-find-may-not-be-true/#ixzz6hvU3ZUy2

  13. John Foreman

    This reconstruction shows a person of perhapse 1/4 black ansestry or a woman from north Africa as one might see nowadays. At the time of this person, how long and how many generation would have past for a this person’s forebears have taken to move to Brighton? What is the estimation of the background of the population back then?

  14. rennie paxton

    The only possible reason for the Museum to use a black woman in their reconstruction would be to attract more black people into their exhibition. I don’t think any thinking black person would believe for a minute Africans were in Wales at any point in their history .Personally, I feel that is quite patronising to even suggest Africans are an indigenous race of Northern Europe. Perhaps I’m wrong…..but I’d love to see more evidence of this phenomenon

  15. Ruairí

    “she would probably have had dark skin of a southern Mediterranean/Near Eastern/North African colour” by your own admission then the bust is misleading as the tone is more consistent with sub-Saharan Africans than Syrians or Libyans.

  16. Kunte Kinte

    What a useless museum this is changing facts to suit an agenda. These people would have been white not Black.

  17. Mark Tellerman

    This is not the way a native of the Southern Mediterranean or any of North Africa has ever looked. Look at some pictures of Greeks or Italians if you’re unsure.

  18. Marcus Garvey

    More multiculturalist lies attempting to erase white people from history.

  19. Tally

    Mediterranean/Near Eastern/North African??? Have you actually travelled at all? That skin tone is Subsaharan African.
    Clearly blackwashing.

  20. Dave Wotton

    Cheddar man being black was debunked not long after the hoax was reported, is Brighton museum private? certainly not a place of learning.

  21. Jeff

    This museum should be ashamed of its self! Their reconstruction doesn’t even match their description, I wonder why! Absolute disgrace, and does nothing more than to divide people, as this is clearly nonsense pushed for a more sinister reason.

  22. Tony Shaw

    It makes no sense to display an image of someone with dark skin in the post ice age population when there is no genetic evidence to support it, as most people in the British Isles of that period were descended from western hunter-gather populations. Was she pale-skinned like a modern Brit, probably not but what little genetic evidence we have from post ice population points to a southern European complexion, so she should really be displayed with a dark southern European/North African olive complexion and not a sub-Saharan one. When museums use intentionally misleading reconstructions with no evidence then they are not acting on the basis of presenting the best scientific evidence, but political bias which is not what they are for! The excuse for this sort of misleading reconstruction is the ‘Cheddar Mans’ genetic evidence which after further investigation indicates that although there was the genetic potential for them to have been brown-skinned there has not been enough genetic markers recovered to say with a high degree of certainty what colour he was. However, as his haplotype was U5a that of a western hunter-gather it is far more likely that he had a darker olive complexion of a modern southern Europe.

    • stepr

      The answer to every post in this thread is that if you all looked at the other renders of this individual, you would know she appears lighter in most of them. The picture above is a product of poor photography lighting. She looks a lot lighter in other photos.

      A good idea of how people may have looked is the newer reconstruction of ‘Ava’. An olive skinned, dark haired individual.

      I myself have olive skin and dark hair but I don’t have Mediterranean ancestry (Irish, Scottish and Welsh only actually by DNA)… so it’s not really sensible to try to categorise peoples skin tones into neat little stereotypes.

  23. Joe Young

    Fascinating to read these debates. Many good points made.
    Mine is simply that a dna test on my daughter highlighted several SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) warning of light skin prone to freckling/ watch out for skin cancer, blue eyes, blonde hair and so on. She’s actually brown-eyed, brown haired with a Mediterranean type skin .
    Therefore the dna evidence used for skin colour in ancient specimens can only ever be a best guess.

  24. Fatima

    So if europeans were initially dark because they travelled from Africa (10,000+ years ago) and it took thousands of years for the skin to lighten sure to less sunlight and needing more vitamin D from sun absorption as well as vitamin D from lifestyle change to farming which they ate less fish hence less D… How come the Alaskan Natives are dark skin or medium colored tan yet live in the Arctic with minimal sun. And the interior tribes, Athabascan, live far from the ocean??? That doesn’t support the hypothesis on why European skin went pale… Any insight is appreciated.

  25. Colinloves

    She wasnt from Africa. She was BRITISH !! And she was black, black, BLACK !
    🙂

    The problem here is, racists, have to relate skin colour to race.

    • Badger

      You need to read more about genetics of melanin. You could make Cheddar Man a few shades paler, and he would look like a Greek or Italian. No broad African nose, no prognathus jaw. European.

  26. Dog

    Deny it. Kick and scream. Protest. Agonize. Pout. Truth has ambushes ignorance and arrogance. If Cheddar Man and Whitehawk Woman appeared among you today you would deport them to Africa.

    • Mat

      Google Sardinian people – this is how Whitehawk woman would have looked – no amount of ‘woke’ nonsense changes that fact; Sardinians are likely darker skinned than the neolithic populations, given they live in a considerably hotter climate than what would have been neolithic Britain. As for Cheddar man well perhaps darken a very light skinned European by 10-15 melanin units – and you are around about there. That is the actual effect of these two light skin genes he lacked- or in other words an East Asian complexion perhaps – a better more honest representation of a western hunter-gatherer was the Loschbour reconstruction.

  27. Lindy

    It isn’t racist to expect reconstructions to be as close as possible. My Haplogroup is EEF, my distant Ancestors came from Syria. I saw some Syrian refugees recently and I was actually struck by the fact they had lighter skin than many Southern Europeans.

    Diet and the fact they spent so much time outdoors would affect skin colour I am sure, allowances have to be made.

    The thing is that by the time both Cheddar Man and Whitehawk woman got to Britain they were long term Europeans. Cheddar man’s maternal Haplogroup had been in Europe about 45,000 years. My Haplogroup subclade is around 16,000 years old and evolved in Europe so whilst huge EEF expansion was in the Neolithic, these people had been based in Europe for a long time before EEF came to Britain.

    If someone gave me a reasonable explanation as to why Whitehawk woman, having been in Europe for thousands of years was so dark, I would buy it.

    Sardianians have the highest percentage of EEF DNA, that reconstruction looks nothing like a Sardinian.

    As for Cheddar Man his Ancestry was European for 30,000 years before he died and they came through an Ice Age. North Africans and Egyptians do not have Black skin. These reconstructions may be educated guesses but they seem to border on the extremes of the possibilities and that’s why they cause controversy.

  28. Badger

    You need to read more about genetics of melanin. You could make Cheddar Man a few shades paler, and he would look like a Greek or Italian. No broad African nose, no prognathus jaw. European.

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