Raise 3D

Facial features have “smoothed out” over millennia, and humans look less masculine today, says reconstructor Oscar Nilsson. [Photography by Oscar Nilsson]

Meteora, located in central Greece, is home to the Cave of Theopetra, a very unique archeological site known for containing the remains of the world’s oldest discovered man-made structure as well as remnants of the peoples who inhabited the area for the past 130,000 years. The cave was the site of two major cultural transitions in the history of humanity, the first when modern humans replaced Neanderthals, and the second when farming began to ease out hunting/gathering as a way of life. In 1993, the skull of a young woman who existed during that latter transition was found in the cave and joined the collection of the Acropolis Museum.

Very little is known about the woman, how she lived or died — in fact everything about her, other than the fact that she was a she and approximately 18 years old, has been shrouded in an impenetrable level of mystery, or at least it was, until now. Recently, famed Swedish archeologist and forensic sculptor Oscar Nilsson decided to take a crack at recreating her face. Working with team leader, orthodontist Manolis Papagrigorakis, and a group of experts consisting of an endocrinologist, an orthopedist, a neurologist, a pathologist, and a radiologist, the complete 3D facial reconstruction will be officially unveiled at an event at the Acropolis Museum to be held January 26.

Using a 3D printed skull, so as to not damage the original, the reconstruction was undertaken by adding layers of muscle and skin over the contours provided by the skull itself. Typical thicknesses in particular areas were used to determine the way in which the flesh rested upon the structure underneath and tell-tale signs, such as the particular placement of a bone behind the ears, were read to indicate details such as whether Avgi had attached or unattached earlobes. The final reconstruction shows a woman with a slight scowl, a prominent jaw, prominent cheekbones, and a heavy brow. The New York Post describes her expression as “resting bitch face,” because even when a woman has been dead for 9,000 years, she’s apparently still expected to smile.

She seems to have had little reason to smile during her lifetime, however, because she appears to have been afflicted with scurvy, a disease resulting for a severe deficiency of vitamin C. Scurvy begins by causing a person to feel weak and tired and, if untreated, ends with bleeding, personality changes, and death. There is evidence that in addition to scurvy, she was also suffering from anemia, as well as hip and joint problems. These health problems are most likely what led to her early death, although there is no concrete evidence indicating the specific reasons for her demise.

[Photography by Oscar Nilsson]

This is not the first facial reconstruction from remains that this team has undertaken. In 2010, they worked to recreate the face of an eleven-year-old girl who had died in the 5th century BCE typhoid plague that ravaged Athens. Myrtis, as the girl was named by the team, was found in a mass grave along with 150 of her fellow citizens who perished with her. Nilsson pointed out the differences between reconstructing the faces of those more recently deceased and those who can appropriately be said to be of the Stone Age, explaining:

“Agvi has very unique, not especially female, skull, and features. Myrtis, still a child, does not differ at all in the features we find around us today. Having reconstructed a lot of Stone Age women and men, I think some facial features seem to have disappeared or smoothed out with time. In general, we look less masculine, both men and women, today.”

Avgi on display at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece [Image: Reuters]

There is something utterly compelling about being able to stare into a face across such an expanse of time. It brings the humanity of those long ago people to the forefront and makes it more concrete. The development of 3D technology has made this type of forensic recreation increasingly common, in cases of the ancient dead, such as the 9,500-year-old Jericho skull, as well as the more recently deceased, as in cases of the remains of migrants found along the US-Mexico border. There is always a certain amount of guesswork involved in this kind of recreation, and it really requires an artist’s eye, not just the application of an algorithm in order to turn a blank skull into an individual portrait. The woman created from Avgi’s skull is just that, however, an individual, and her recreation generates an intriguing connection with the past.

A lot has happened in the last 9,000 years since Avgi died, and she seems a bit suspicious of it all, but who can really blame her?

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

 

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