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Left; Whitehawk woman Right; Neanderthal Woman Reconstruction Exhibition, Brighton.

Facial Reconstruction Brings People Face-to-Face With Their Ancient Ancestors

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Detailed data and minute details have both fed into an exhibition taking place In the English city of Brighton, that offers people a chance to see not only physical cultural items, but their ancient ancestors faces. Experts have scrutinized all data available to reconstruct the faces of some of the earliest inhabitants from England and mainland Europe and these are now on display at a new archaeology gallery. The reconstruction of the facial features of people who lived in various periods from the Stone Age to the Dark Ages is bringing history to life.

Exhibition at the new Archaeology Gallery, Brighton. (Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove)

Exhibition at the new Archaeology Gallery, Brighton. ( Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove )

Facial Reconstruction

The ability to reconstruct human faces has developed in recent decades and is now very important not only in archaeology but also in law enforcement. Live Science reports that to recreate the faces of individuals who died many centuries ago, “Oscar Nilsson, a forensic artist based in Sweden, took 3D printed replicas of their skulls.” Nilsson employed scientific data from all the evidence available including the remains and DNA analysis to obtain as much information on the deceased as possible. He then used plasticine to reconstruct the faces, which was painstaking work and took him many weeks. To complete the representations he used artificial skin, which, according to Live Science ‘included details such as wrinkles and pores.’

A Gallery of Ancient Faces

The results of the work of Nilsson are very realistic and truly remarkable. The oldest face that was reconstructed was that of a Neanderthal woman with fair skin and reddish-brown hair. She probably died at least 30,000 years ago and may have been among the last Neanderthals in Europe. Her skull was found in a cave in Gibraltar.

Neanderthal woman at the Reconstruction Exhibition. (Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove)

Neanderthal woman at the Reconstruction Exhibition. ( Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove )

Next, in terms of age, is the face of a Cro-Magnon man, a group of homo-sapiens who succeeded the Neanderthals in Europe. This representation was based on a skull that was found in France, but Cro-Magnons also lived in England from about 30,000 to 10,000 years ago. The work of Nilsson indicates that he had a very dark complexion and was darker than many modern North Africans.

Cro-Magnon man at the Reconstruction Exhibition. (Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove)

Cro-Magnon man at the Reconstruction Exhibition. ( Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove )

Face of a Stone-Age Woman

Perhaps the most popular facial reconstruction is that of the so-called Whitehawk woman, who lived about 5,000 years ago during the Neolithic era. She was found near Brighton with an infant in her arms and probably died in childbirth. The Whitehawk woman was tiny, only four foot nine inches (145 cm) and she seemed to have been in generally good health. She was very dark-skinned like the Cro-Magnon man and was buried with many charms and artifacts.

Neolithic ‘Whitehawk woman’ at the Reconstruction Exhibition. (Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove)

Neolithic ‘Whitehawk woman’ at the Reconstruction Exhibition. ( Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove )

Face of the Iron Age

Next in chronological order is the Iron Age man, who lived over two millennia ago. He was found buried near Brighton, at Slonk Hill, on a bed of seashells and interestingly he was buried with a charm that was also found buried with the Whitehawk woman, some 3000 years previously. This is strong evidence of the continuation of religious and other beliefs in the Brighton area over the centuries. This Slonk Hill man, as he came to be known, was a strong and healthy individual who died relatively young, in his twenties according to the evidence. His hair had been tied up in a bun and this was a style very similar to many Germanic tribes in the Iron Age and may indicate close contacts between this part of England and the continent.

Iron Age man, known as the ‘Slonk Hill man’, at the Reconstruction Exhibition. (Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove)

Iron Age man, known as the ‘Slonk Hill man’, at the Reconstruction Exhibition. ( Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove )

A Murder Victim?

Then there is a reconstruction of the face of the ‘Patcham Lady’, who lived in Romano-Britain circa 250 AD, she was fair-skinned and died about the age of 30. According to Live Science she was found with “a nail impaled into the back of her skull.” Some have speculated that the nail could have been driven into her head post-mortem as part of a ritual to ensure that she did not return to haunt the living. The second theory is that she was brutally murdered, this view is backed up by the fact that there were no grave goods buried with her.

Patcham Lady, Romano-Britain circa 250 AD, at the Reconstruction Exhibition. (Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove)

Patcham Lady, Romano-Britain circa 250 AD, at the Reconstruction Exhibition. ( Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove )

Face of the Dark Ages

Finally, in terms of age, there is the reconstruction of the face of an Anglo-Saxon male from the Dark Ages (500 AD).

Stafford Road man, Dark Ages, at the Reconstruction Exhibition. (Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove)

Stafford Road man, Dark Ages, at the Reconstruction Exhibition. ( Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove )

The facial reconstructions are displayed at the new gallery in the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, part of Brighton & Hove City Council, according to the Royal Pavilion and Museums website. It is devoted to the history of the Brighton and Hove area and it was only made possible by a generous donation from a local resident. The gallery is helping the people of Sussex to really visualize the stories of their ancestors.

Top image: Left; Whitehawk woman Right; Neanderthal Woman Reconstruction Exhibition, Brighton. Source: Royal Pavilion & Museums; Brighton & Hove

By Ed Whelan

References

Geggel, Laura. January 29, 2019. Faces Re-Created of Ancient Europeans, Including Neanderthal Woman and Cro-Magnon Man . Live Science. [Online] Available at: https://www.livescience.com/64620-ancient-britons-facial-reconstruction.html

Comments

It's interesting that the genetic analysis predicted very dark to near black skin and the reconstruction depicts the Cro Magnon as having a Californian or Trumpian tan.

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