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Facial Reconstruction of Bronze Age Woman from 3,700-Year-Old Skull Brings Her Story Back to Life

Facial Reconstruction of Bronze Age Woman from 3,700-Year-Old Skull Brings Her Story Back to Life


Although she has been dead for over 3,700 years, a woman known as ‘Ava’ became the muse for a modern artist. By combining her ancient remains with modern software and imaging techniques, the appearance of the mysterious Bronze Age woman has been brought to light.

Specifically, the work Ava inspired is a facial reconstruction and the artist who recreated her appearance is a forensic artist specializing in this area. According to Daily Mail, Hew Morrison created the reconstruction by using a variety of techniques. First, he used an anthropological/pathological assessment of Ava’s skull to better determine her age and ancestry.

Next, Morrison said that he “implemented a formula that was pioneered by the American Anthropologist Wilton M Krogman in his 1962 book 'The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine,’” to create the shape of Ava's lower jaw, which was missing.

Hew Morrison studying the skull of ‘Ava’.

Hew Morrison studying the skull of ‘Ava’. (Maya Hoole)

The depth of Ava’s skin was chosen with the help of a chart showing modern average tissue depth. Morrison then rebuilt the layers of muscle and tissue over the face and referred to a large database of high resolution images of facial features to choose which ones best-suited the skull and the proposed facial muscles. Finally, BBC News says that he “morphed” all of these aspects to create his image of Ava.

 “Two dimensional reconstruction is far less intrusive and reduces the risks of damage to a skull, which is important when one is dealing with archaeological/fragile skeletal remains,” Morrison explained to Daily Mail.

Even though Morrison was very thorough in his work, it must be noted that this representation is still based on some assumptions. As Hew Morrison said: “Normally, when working on a live, unidentified person’s case, not so much detail would be given to skin tone, eye or hair colour and hair style, as none of these elements can be determined from the anatomy of the skull. So, creating a facial reconstruction based on archaeological remains is somewhat different in that a greater amount of artistic license can be allowed.”

Morrison concluded on his work by saying: “I have really appreciated the chance to recreate the face of an ancient Briton. Being able to look at the faces of people from the past can give us a great opportunity to identify with our own ancient ancestors.”

Ava got her name from Maya Hoole, an archaeologist who took an interest in the mysterious but seemingly forgotten remains of an 18-22-year-old woman which were discovered in 1987 at Achavanich in Caithness in the north of Scotland.

Hoole provides more information about the discovery and her research on her website, the Achavanich Beaker Burial Project, and updates here.

The archaeologist details on her website how Ava’s was undoubtedly a special burial. The remains of the young woman were probably interred in a crouched position in the unmarked rock-cut pit. This is considered rather odd, as most burials from the location and period were underneath a cairn or in a pit dug into soil.

One of the most interesting and hotly debated aspects about Ava’s remains is her skull. Short and round skull shapes were supposedly common amongst the Beaker people, but Hoole’s website says that the Achavanich specimen is exaggerated and of an abnormal, uneven shape.

The skull of the Bronze Age woman found in the Achavanich Beaker burial.

The skull of the Bronze Age woman found in the Achavanich Beaker burial. (M. Hoole)

A unique short-necked beaker, a bovine scapula, two flint flakes, and a tiny thumb-nail scraper were found with the human remains. The beaker adds further mystery to the woman’s life and her burial. Hoole described the importance of the artifact by saying: "I've looked far and wide for comparable examples, but there's nothing else out there quite like it, again making this burial significant. I have closely examined the beaker decoration and discovered that at least three different tools were used to create the design, likely meaning that the artist had a specially-made tool kit and was prepared and likely experienced."

The decorated beaker found at the Achavanich Beaker burial.

The decorated beaker found at the Achavanich Beaker burial. (M. Hoole)

Speaking on the current facial reconstruction, Hoole has said: “When I started this project I had no idea what path it would take, but I have been approached by so many enthusiastic and talented individuals - like Hew - who are making the research a reality. I'm very grateful to everyone who has invested in the project and I hope we can continue to reveal more about her life.”

Top Image: Forensic artist Hew Morrison's completed reconstruction which he created using specialist software. Credit: Hew Morrison. Inset: The 3,700-year-old skull of Ava. Credit: Michael Sharpe.

By Alicia McDermott

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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