Hilda, A 2000-Year-Old Scottish Female Druid, Rises From The Grave
A Scottish student using a rare Celtic female druid’s skull has recreated her head and face in a 3D wax model. The toothless old woman from Stornoway, known as ‘Hilda', is believed to have lived on the west coast Scottish island of Stornoway and it is thought that she was in excess of 60-years-old when she died.
Hilda lived in the Iron Age and a report on the University of Dundee website explains that the skull has been brought back to life by Karen Fleming, a MSc Forensic Art and Facial Identification student at the University of Dundee.
Druids of the Hebrides
According to an article on STV the 3D wax reconstruction of the toothless female was recreated from the measurements of an ancient skull that had been kept at Edinburgh University's Anatomical Museum. Hilda is described as having been one of six “Druids of the Hebrides that had been given to the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh in 1833”.
Karen said Hilda, “was a fascinating character to recreate. It's clear from the skull she was toothless before she died, which isn't too surprising considering the diet of folks back then”. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the woman was how long she lived, considering the average female died around 30-years-old, while Hilda was at least 60 years of age.
The wax model of 60 year-old ”Druid of the Hebrides” produced by Karen Flemming. ( University of Dundee )
Science Resurrects A Magical Druid
In almost every ancient culture around the world people from the social elite ate better diets and therefore lived longer. An example of this is presented in a Science News article which discusses “the 600-year-old Collagua people of Peru in South American who formed artificially elongated, teardrop-shaped heads”. The elites not only participated in cranial banding but their diets were much better than the farming classes and they live almost twice as long.
The scientists were unable to Carbon 14 date Hilda’s skull and Karen told The Scotsman : “It's impossible to know for sure when she died”. However, the 1833 journal estimated that the woman had died between 55 BC to 400 AD and also that she was Celtic in origin.
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The reconstruction was based on this female druid skull from Stornaway in the Hebrides. ( University of Dundee )
Scottish scientists have a ‘thing’ for 3D recreations of historic figures and it was only in 2016 that the BBC announced a team of historians had “unveiled a digitally-reconstructed image of the face of Robert the Bruce almost 700 years after his death”. Robert the Bruce is perhaps best remembered for his victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and just like Hilda, the 3D image of the famous Scottish king , who was featured in the 2018 Netflix blockbuster ‘Outlaw King’, was cast from what is believed to be the king’s actual skull.
Again, similarly to Hilda’s recreated skull, no contemporary artworks existed to help the scientists fine tune what King Robert the Bruce actually looked like, and this caused University of Glasgow historians to team up with Liverpool’s John Moores University (LJMU) to provide as close a representation as possible.
Scant Evidence of Female Druids
Druids were the ancient priests of Britain and Ireland and they have stoked the imaginations of popular audiences for centuries. Portrayed as white robed wise men carrying golden sickles and staffs, very little hard evidence of these powerful yet elusive figures exist, and less yet when it comes to female druids .
A Digitalmedievalist article looking at ‘ women druids ’ provides a packet of data which summarizes the scanty evidence of them in myths and in classical texts. A reference to bandrui appears in the medieval Irish tales and Conchobar mac Nessa’s mother Nessa was a druid. The legendary mythological hero Finn was raised by a female druid and the banflaith were the ‘women poets’.
Mythology has several words for female druids, such as bandrui. (PawełMM / Public Domain )
In H. D. Rankin’s 1937 book Celts and the Classical World the author discusses Scriptores Histories Augustae from the 4th century AD regarding “Roman emperors who consulted female druids”. There also exists evidence in Roman texts, for example, in Flavius Vopiscus , which discusses encounters between “the Diocletian and female druids”.
Hilda, the Celtic druid, will be displayed at this year's Masters Show at Dundee University, which begins on Friday the 14th of August.
Top image: A digital reconstruction of 'Hilda', the female druid, by MSc Forensic Art student Karen Fleming. Source: University of Dundee .
By Ashley Cowie