A Descendant of Cheddar Man pays a visit to IBDP English B 
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A Descendant of Cheddar Man pays a visit to IBDP English B 

This week, Diploma Programme Language B students were in luck to receive a special visitor: arguably the most famous of Cheddar Man’s descendants, Adrian Targett from Cheddar, UK. He is a former history teacher and happens to be in the Netherlands to visit his cousin—my partner’s mother who is half British and Dutch.

By Olivia Ayes, English teacher and EE coordinator 

DP1 English Language B students were eager to meet him and ask questions. During the 40-minute session they heard stories about how Adrian found out about being a descendant and how the discovery has affected his life. “It’s been an incredible opportunity to get to visit different places and speak to people about this,” he stated.

“Does it change the way you think about yourself?” one student asked. “Not at all. If you think about it, I’m not any different from any of you. We all have relatives from 10,000 years ago. It just so happens that I know one of mine.”

Linguistic fluency and intercultural understanding

This year at ISUtrecht, we started our first cohort of IBDP English B Higher Level students, just in time for the new Language B syllabus. Changes to the syllabus include five new themes (Identities, Experiences, Human Ingenuity, Social Organisation, and Sharing the Planet) instead of the “core” and “options” structure previously used. Assessments are also slightly different—the externally-marked written response (Paper 1) and internally-marked individual speaking component are now worth 25% each, whilst externally-marked comprehension tasks (reading and listening in Paper 2) comprise 50% of the total score.

The aim of the course is to build linguistic fluency and intercultural understanding so that students can expand their cultural competence in a globalised world. Students who successfully complete English B, along with a Group 1 course in another language (Dutch Language and Literature or self-study literature) are able to receive a bilingual diploma.

The role of DNA in our identity

While our class has been exploring the first theme of “Identities” and what it means to be human, we encountered a variety of riveting topics for discussion: personality traits (Myers-Briggs), cultural iceberg theory, individualist vs collectivist societies, LGBT, race, and belief.

During an activity about race & identity, students completed a comprehension carousel about three texts on genetics and identity: one about the role of DNA in our identity, another on implications of genetic studies for white nationalists, and lastly about DNA testing on Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton from the Mesolithic era (circa 9100 BP). Additional information can be found here about Cheddar Man from the British National History Museum.


While we all looked at the latest reconstruction of Cheddar Man—with dark skin, blue eyes, and curly hair—our visitor says, “It’s marvelous what scientists can reconstruct once they sequence the DNA. They can even determine the amount of fat in your cheeks. I do see a resemblance. My hair was blond when I was your age, but certainly curly like that. And of course my eyes are blue.”

“Has there been an impact on your privacy?”, one of the students want to know.  While at the beginning of the media frenzy, Adrian was bombarded by various news outlets such as BBC, New York Times asking for interviews—to the point that he had to disconnect his telephone—he feels that his privacy is still intact. Ardrian: “You can decide what you want to tell people. Cheddar is a small community, so everyone knows each other anyway.”

Dealing with the media

Another student wondered, “How did it affect your classes when you were teaching?” Adrian commented: “It was a bit of a novelty for 2 to 3 days, but then we returned to normal. The discovery did entice students to become more motivated to learn about ancient history. In the first couple of weeks, there would be an occasional television crew outside of the school building.”

He shared a story about how he dealt with the media. During one television interview in 1997 with Karel van de Graaf in the Netherlands, he was taken aback by one question about the royal family in the UK. At the time, the Prince of Wales (Charles) was separating from Princess Diana. The interviewer asked, “You’ve got the longest proven English family tree. As we’ve all heard, the royal family isn’t getting on very well at the moment. Don’t you think, therefore, you should be king?”

“Now, this is essentially a live show, and you’ve got to react to it. So I said, ‘I’d rather carry on as a history teacher in Cheddar, and let the Queen be the queen. It’s what we’ve been trained for’.”

“Smart answer,” one student responded among the uproar of laughs.

‘We’ve all come from somewhere’

The latest DNA findings in February 2018 about Cheddar Man’s dark skin color has generated resistance, especially among nationalists and the far-right on the political spectrum. One congressional candidate in the US, for instance, was banned from Twitter after a racist meme about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, whose face was superimposed with Cheddar Man.

One student asked, “Did the findings in 2018 affect the way people think about race?”

“Yes, I do think it’s significant. Not many people in Cheddar mind it. But the lesson is that we’re all immigrants, whether you’ve been in a place for 10 minutes or 9,000 years. We’ve all come from somewhere.”