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Scientists say DNA links teacher to 9,000-year-old skeleton

March 8, 1997

LONDON (AP) _ It’s the ultimate family tree.

A bemused British teacher has discovered he can trace his ancestry back 9,000 years _ to ``Cheddar Man,″ the skeleton of a Stone Age hunter-gatherer who lived in southwestern England.

``I am overwhelmed, a bit surprised,″ said Adrian Targett, when a TV film crew presented him with the results of an Oxford University study Friday that showed his DNA closely matched the skeleton’s.

``I was just about to say I hope it’s not me.″

Researchers say it is the longest human lineage ever traced, and shows that Britons descended from European hunter-gatherers rather than Middle Eastern farmers _ an argument that has divided archaeologists for years.

Targett, 42, lives in the town of Cheddar, just a half-mile from the cave where Cheddar Man violently died, from what archaeologists believe was probably a blow to the face.

TV station HTV commissioned the study for a documentary series on archaeology.

Scientists from Oxford University’s Institute of Molecular Medicine studied mitochondrial DNA extracted from one of Cheddar Man’s molar teeth.

They compared the DNA _ which is inherited unchanged on the maternal line _ with samples of mitochondrial DNA from the cheek cells of 15 pupils at the Kings of Wessex school, where Targett works, and five adults from old Cheddar families.

Dr. Bryan Sykes, leader of the research team, said that scientists found an almost perfect match between DNA from the skeleton and Targett.

``They would have shared a common ancestor about 10,000 years ago so they are related _ just not very closely,″ Sykes said.

Archaeologists believe Cheddar Man lived by trapping wild bears, wolves, boars and red deer.

The network of underground caves at Cheddar, 130 miles west of London, is believed to have been home to a community of Stone Age people.

Dr. Larry Barham, a Texas-born archaeologist at Bristol University, said the findings ``add to the evidence that Britons came from a race of hunter-gatherers who later turned to farming because they found it was to their advantage.″

Opponents of this theory argue that Britons are descendants of Middle Eastern farmers.

Prof. Chris Stringer, a researcher at London’s Natural History Museum, said one problem with the research ``is that we don’t know that Cheddar Man had any children.″

``This is mitochondrial DNA that is only inherited through the maternal link, so this would come from Cheddar Man’s mother or his sister.″

Sykes told The Times of London that it may be possible in a few years to establish the color of Cheddar Man’s eyes and hair and whether he had any genetic diseases.

Targett told the Times he was unsure how the news will affect his life as a high school history teacher.

``I’m just wondering how I can work Cheddar Man into lessons about the rise of the Nazis,″ he quipped. His wife, Catherine, joked: ``Maybe it explains why he likes his steaks rare.″

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