DNA links cave man to British teacher
History teacher has roots in Stone Age
Los Angeles Times
London -- After he was killed by a blow to the face about 9,000 years ago, the 23-year-old hunter was laid to rest in a limestone cave in what is now southwest England.
Now, say scientists astonishingly bridging 90 centuries and 300 generations, they have found a direct descendant of the Stone Age man.
He lives half a mile from the burial site and teaches history. "I've been in the cave a few times, but I never realized it was home," 42-year-old Adrian Targett told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, still good-naturedly coming to terms with astonishment -- and an unexpected instant of fame.
What started as part of a local television special about archaeology is ending as the second nudge at the frontiers of science by British researchers in as many weeks.
"I'm overwhelmed. I couldn't believe it," Targett said of learning that DNA tests had identified him as a direct descendant (on his mother's side) to Britain's oldest complete skeleton, found in the cave near Cheddar village. The atmosphere in the cave in the cheese-famous Somerset region of Britain helped preserve the skeleton, which was discovered by workers digging a drain in 1903.
"I'm a history teacher. But I teach modern history, so Cheddar Man's a bit out of my period. I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about him," said Targett, who is now learning in a hurry after finding himself on front pages in Britain newspapers Saturday.
His ancestor, now on display at the Natural History Museum in London, drew the attention of TV producers preparing a documentary on archaeology in Somerset.
Would it be possible to extract Cheddar Man's DNA, they wondered?
Scientists from the museum and from Oxford University found that despite the skeleton's great age, it was possible to extract mitochondrial DNA from a tooth cavity in the skeleton.
Mitochondrial DNA, which is found in parts of the cells used for generating energy, is inherited unchanged down the maternal line. It is easier to recover from ancient bones than nuclear DNA, which carries genes from both mothers and fathers, scientists say.
After laborious months of research, the scientist charted the old hunter's genetic makeup. Then came the for-the-fun-of-it detective work.
Scientists and a camera crew appeared one day at Kings of Wessex school in Cheddar.
"They wanted to take DNA samples from some of the students whose families had lived longest in the area," Targett said. "I gave a (cheek swab) sample too, just to encourage the children and to make up the numbers."
In all, about 20 samples were taken, Targett recalls. His family has lived in the area at least since the mid-19th century, Targett said, but he moved to Cheddar only coincidentally after he began teaching there 20 years ago.
When the results were in at Oxford, the DNA had conclusively shown Targett to be a direct descendant of Cheddar's cave man.
Daily Review, dtd March 1997