Researchers Reveal the Pretty Face of a Woman Who Lived 13600 Years Ago
Near the end of the last great ice age, the remains of a descendant of the first people to move into Southeast Asia were found in the Tham Lod rock shelter of Thailand’s northwestern highlands.
Now an archaeologist working with the team that found the skeletal the remains of the woman has attempted to reconstruct in a drawing what her face may have looked like. She died about 13,600 years ago, while people first moved into the cave as long ago 40,000 years ago.
Archaeologists’ attempts at depicting from skeletons what people looked like in life are always problematic because all they have to go on are bones of the face and skull.
The woman died young by today’s standards, between ages 25 and 35. She was also tiny, standing around 1.48 to 1.56 meters (4.85 to 5.12 feet).
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The rock shelter was a place where people worked and later where some were buried. (Photo courtesy of Rasmi Shoocongdej)
The author of the article detailing the work, Susan Hayes of the University of Wollongong in Australia, and her team published their findings in the journal Antiquity. That article is accessible only when paying a fee, though she allowed Ancient Origins to read it.
Dr. Hayes said: "In 2002 the Tham Lod excavation team, led by Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej from Silpakorn University in Bangkok, discovered the remains of a woman. Analyses showed the woman lived some 13,650 years ago, with the team's deeper excavation finds indicating the Rockshelter had been occupied by humans for nearly 40,000 years."
The researchers used data detailing measurements of skulls, muscles, skin and other facial tissue from more than 720 contemporary people around the world, the Antiquity article states. This was in an attempt to get a more average look. But, says Dr. Hayes, there is no average when it comes to how people look, even when averaging data from prehistoric ethnicities worldwide.
This image shows the facial approximation method of reconstructing the image of a person’s face just from the skull. (Antiquity/Susan B. Hayes et. al.)
Dr. Hayes and the team used the method of “facial approximation” from measurements of people around the world. Another method that is more popular is called “forensic facial reconstruction.”
Dr. Hayes told Ancient Origins: “I'm a researcher and specialise in estimating faces from skulls using verified methods for each of the features. This is in contrast to forensic facial reconstruction which has been mostly proven to be statistically invalid since about 2002. But it's still very popular.”
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She told Ibitimes.co.uk that the image she and the team came up with is probably a general impression but not a portrait image of what the Tham Lod woman looked like.
A 2015 article by Gisele Santos on Ancient Origins about the rockshelter states:
The Tham Lod Rockshelter (a shallow cave) in Mae Hong Son Province, in Northwest Thailand is a prehistoric area that had been the center for burial and tool–making in the late Pleistocene to the late Holocene phase. The magnificent cave, a photographer’s and archaeologist’s dream, continues to shed light on the earliest humans that inhabited Thailand.
Bone fragments discovered (Photo courtesy of Rasmi Shoocongdej)
Researchers have estimated early humans lived in the hill region of northern Thailand from about 125000 BC to 9700 BC onwards, Ms. Santos wrote. One team of archaeologists estimated dated the presence of humans in Tham Lod from about 40000 BC to 10000 BC.
You can see from the drawing at the top of the page that if the Tham Lod woman looked anything like what the Hayes team came up with, she was pretty.
Top image: The archaeologists used a different method that incorporates facial data from around the world instead of data with a heavily European influence. (Antiquity/Susan Hayes et.al.)
By Mark Miller