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Some of the stages of skull photogrammetry and initial anatomical deformation (Moacir Elias Santos & Cicero Moraes /CC BY 4.0)

Digital Scientists Resurrect A 30,000-Year-Old Egyptian Man


Fusing scientific theory with artistry, a team of researchers has generated “stunning” 3D images of the oldest person ever discovered in Egypt. Using photogrammetry, a team of researchers have created two facial approximations of an ancient Egyptian man who represents “the oldest human ever found in Egypt.” Described as “stunning,” the two facial approximations present a lifelike image of a man who lived 30,000 years ago. And it is thought that these images might reveal “new clues about human evolution.”

The Oldest Homo sapiens in Egypt

This story begins in 1980, when archaeologists discovered skeletal remains at Nazlet Khater 2, an archaeological site in Egypt's Nile Valley, near the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx. According to a new study, the remains were from a man of African ancestry, aged between 17 and 29 years old when he died. Standing approximately 160 centimetres (5 feet, 3 inches) tall, this skeleton is officially “the oldest example of Homo sapiens remains found in Egypt.” And as such, it’s hoped the new images of the ancient man’s head and face might shine light on some of the secrets of evolution.

3D Mapping Faces From The Ancient World

A team of Brazilian researchers led by Moacir Elias Santos created the two facial approximations of the 30,000 years old man using photogrammetry. This is the science of extracting 3D information from 2D images, and mapping objects or environments with high accuracy and detail. In this case, the researchers knitted together dozens of digital images of the man’s skeletal remains, which are part of the collection at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Nazlet Khater Skeleton, Upper Paleolithic. National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Cairo. (Richard Mortel/CC BY 2.0)

Nazlet Khater Skeleton, Upper Paleolithic. National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, Cairo. (Richard Mortel/CC BY 2.0)

Santos told “Live Science” that most of the man’s bones were well preserved. However, some of the ribs, hands, and parts of the right shin bone and left tibia, as well as the feet, were missing. But because the man’s skull and facial bones were preserved the scientists had access to the key data required to build their facial approximations.

Charting Ancient Genetic Variables

Creating a major challenge for the team, a portion of the man’s skull was missing, but the team managed to mirror the opposite side of the skull. Then, using computerised tomography (CT) scans of modern people, the researchers derived data points around which they constructed their facial reconstruction.

With digital photogrammetry, the researchers generated two virtual 3D models of the man’s face. The first render was a black-and-white image showing the man in a natural relaxed state, with his eyes closed. The researchers said the second-generation image involved “a more artistic approach,” and this image featured “a young man with tousled dark hair and a trimmed beard.”

Some of the stages of skull photogrammetry and initial anatomical deformation (Moacir Elias Santos & Cicero Moraes /CC BY 4.0)

Some of the stages of skull photogrammetry and initial anatomical deformation (Moacir Elias Santos & Cicero Moraes /CC BY 4.0)

Tracking Homo sapiens Physical Evolution

Study co-researcher, Cícero Moraes, told Live Science that the ancient skull has “a modern structure.” However, during the research it was noted that the man’s jawbone “differed from more modern mandibles.” Morales said that part of it has “archaic elements,” such as the jaw, which is described in the study as “much more robust” than modern male jaws.

Santos said the researchers hope that their high-resolution 3D images of the 30,000 year old man will add to anthropologists and archaeologists' understanding of human evolution. Since 30,000 years ago, human evolution has experienced significant developments and changes including the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled agriculture, the rise and fall of cities, civilizations and empire.

WIth varying diets and lifestyles, throughout this time period, humans around the world continually evolved biologically, and differently from place to place. But now, with these two renditions of the 30,000 year old man, and a growing library of other similar creations, scientists will soon be able to identify and chart genetic changes in physical features caused by adaptations to new environments.

Top image: Digital image which is the facial approximation of Nazlet Khater 2 skull, an Egyptian from 30,000 years ago. Source: Cicero Moraes/ Arc-Team Brazil, Sinop-MT, Brazil

By Ashley Cowie



Charles Bowles's picture

So the 30K yr old Egyptian man was printed out to look like a Asian man I saw pushing a food cart the other day selling eatable fried insects as a delicacy ha ha..  These people just cannot leave ancient Black Egyptians alone, and when they cannot make them white, they try any other race other than the Black race..  white lying pseudo bull$hit..

Charles Bowles

Charles Bowles's picture

DNA does not determine how a person might appear, but it can look for the closest living FAMILY MATCH, and not a racial match, especially since I doubt if the 30K yr old man would have any living family members..

Charles Bowles

How do we know it's a man? Did anyone go back in time and ask what gender this person identified as?

Okay, so I'm being a tad sarcastic, but have a good look at history programmes and the rise of the very much in-demand female historians who look a bit...

It hasn't happened overnight.

It won't be long before the idea of an historical male skeleton is nothing less than a thought-crime. All of that old-fashioned museum cataloguing shall be undone.

History is being rewritten, not retold.

Yep, that's what we should do, sequence your DNA and look for your closest living relative from 30,000 years ago, and gee maybe it would look like you. Sounds legit....

Pete Wagner's picture

You’ve made me a broken record on this.  To know what they really looked like, sequence the DNA and look for closest living match.  

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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