News from The Kings of Wessex Academy

"We are all one race" students tell The Guardian

14th February, 2018 by Jude Owens

The Kings and Queens News Team were part of last week’s media excitement when for once, the press pack were in the interview hot spot after a journalist from The Guardian newspaper visited the Academy.

Journalist Steven Morris was in Cheddar last Thursday (8 February 2018) sleuthing about the Cheddar Man story that broke with the discovery that the DNA of a Briton discovered nearly 10,000 years ago had dark brown skin and blue eyes. By happy coincidence it was the weekly meeting day of the News Team who were keen to be part of the action; along with Kings’ retired Head of History Adrian Targett – known to locals as the other Cheddar Man – who happened to be in school that afternoon and he too joined the impromptu news conference.

In the 1990’s, tests were undertaken as part of a television series on archaeology in Somerset, “Once Upon a Time in the West” from DNA found in the pulp cavity of the remains of a skeleton in Gough's Cave. The remains were discovered in 1903 buried alone in a chamber near the mouth of the deep cave, the largest of 100 caverns in Cheddar Gorge and Britain's prime site for Paleolithic human remains, about 1,000 years before hunter-gathering evolved into farming. One of Cheddar Man's molar teeth was tested at Oxford University's Institute of Molecular Medicine, and then compared with DNA of 20 people locally in Cheddar whose families were known to live in the area for generations. The television producers came into school and to make up the numbers, Adrian stepped in and was flabbergasted to learn that there was an unequivocal match. The then Head of History and Cheddar Man had a common maternal ancestor confirmed by the mitochondrial DNA inherited from the female.

Back to the present day, researchers from London's Natural History Museum have extracted DNA from Cheddar Man and University College London researchers have undertaken genome pioneering scientific analysis to create the front- page-grabbing facial reconstruction to reveal that 10,000 year old Cheddar Man had dark brown skin and blue eyes, and not pale skin as first fancied.

At the time when this first story broke, Adrian was in great demand for interviews and even The Sun newspaper sought to entice him into a leopard skin loincloth next to a scantily clad model for a “four figure sum… or higher.” But Adrian politely declined in his characteristically gentlemanly manner, as he knew that was how he would be forever remembered by his students at Kings.

With the outbreak of this next facial reconstruction, Adrian’s face has literally been in the media spotlight again with the national media searching for him last Tuesday at a press conference in London where he was thought to be (but he was not!) and interviews on news stations, including BBC Points West. You do not have to be a historian to see the facial similarity between Adrian and Cheddar Man’s nose and even Adrian suggested they share the same hairline and his slightly darker skin tone and he laughed how he has not moved very far in nearly 10,000 years from the Cheddar Caves to his home in the village.

Sharing some of their ideas with the journalist the students reported that the discovery was “exciting.” Aiden Malik said it showed “we are all one race… and all from the same people, and all human and we should all respect each other.” Eddie Robbins said how the discovery shows how differences of race beyond appearance were never true and so the difference between races is a myth. Isaac McAndrew reflected on the impact of the discovery in the wake of the rise of hate racism and hate-filled speeches by the far right white groups and yet it is the Africans who are the “pure” race. One cannot help imagining Nelson Mandela whooping for joy in his grave. It was fascinating amongst the six Kings and Queens News Team journalists listing their heritage from Northern Ireland/Ireland, France, Greek Cypriot, Sweden, Indian, Pakistan, Guyanese, Sri Lanka and of course, Somerset. How do they know all this? We live in a global world. “We are all immigrants” noted Adrian.

Niah Vall and Poppy Paterson-Russell were surprised by the rare combination of blue eyes with dark skin, given the lighter eye colour is the recessive gene and which hinted at a different ancestry. Science A Level student Rory Caughey Rixon marvelled about the power of science and genetics in that we can all be remembered and celebrated the power of “I am who I am”. “What about through Instagram photos?” asked Steven Morris with a modern spin. The students agreed. It was all part of their footprint.

Adrian hoped one day, racism would be a thing of the past and it might make us more accepting of everyone around us regardless of skin colour.

Steven Morris thanked the News Team and Adrian for their insights and noted the story would be appearing in The Guardian main news section on Saturday (10 February 2018). And it was and in the online edition too.

Executive Headteacher Gavin Ball who was with the students said: “Listening to our students with their eyes and minds wide open on this compelling discovery, I was very impressed with their mature and intelligent joined-up thinking. I suspect they will remember for a long time this News Team meeting! Well done team for making this scientific discovery close to the heart of Cheddar so meaningful and memorable.”

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