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Why does ‘Whitehawk Woman’ have dark skin?

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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.