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Beachy Head Lady

The 1,800-year-old face of Beachy Head Lady is revealed for the first time

The face of an African woman who lived more than 1,800 years ago, whose skull was found in 1953 in Beachy Head, England, has been recreated using craniofacial reconstruction techniques. Known as the “ Beachy Head Lady ”, researchers have now determined that she was around 30 when she died in the 3 rd century AD during the middle of the Roman period in Britain.

Researchers were able to use the size of the skull and traces of where the muscle would have met the bone to build up a picture of the face, using the latest 3D reconstruction technology.

“This is a fantastic discovery for the south coast,” said Jo Seaman, heritage officer at Eastbourne Borough Council. “We know this lady was around 30 years old, grew up in the vicinity of what is now East Sussex, ate a good diet of fish and vegetables, her bones were without disease and her teeth were in good condition.” Researchers were also able to determine that she died around 245 AD.

Experts are not entirely sure how she ended up in Britain, as Sub-Saharan Africa was beyond the reaches of the Roman Empire, but the results of a radio-isotope analysis suggests she had been in Britain since a young age.

Researchers believe that she was either the wife or mistress of a local official at a nearby Roman villa, or that she was a merchant trading wares in Europe and chose to settle in the country. She did not appear to be a slave as her skeleton was in good condition with no signs of hard labour. The fact that she was found without any grave goods means that we may never know who she was and why she was in Britain.

“Without the context of seeing the burial site or grave goods, we don’t yet know why she was here, or her social status,” said Seaman.

Her full skeleton is now being displayed for the first time to the public at Eastbourne Borough Council’s museum. The aim of the reconstruction project was to bring to life the stories of the past, rather than to merely observe lifeless remains with no context to their existence. 

“The exhibition is focused on telling the stories of those that date back to Prehistory, giving an insight into what they may have worked as, what cultures they may have adopted,” said Eastbourne Borough Council Cabinet Member for Tourism and Leisure, Cllr Carolyn Heaps.

Featured image: Beachy Head Lady. Photo credit: Graham Huntley

By April Holloway

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