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30 January 2019
Faces of ancient Europeans re-created by forensic artist

About 5,600 years ago, a 20-year-old woman was buried with a tiny baby resting on her chest, a sad clue that she likely died in childbirth during the Neolithic. This woman and six other ancient Europeans - including a Cro-Magnon man and a Neanderthal woman - are on display at a museum in Brighton (England), now that a forensic artist has re-created their faces.
     These re-creations took hundreds of hours of work and are based on every available detail scientists could glean from these people's remains, including radiocarbon dating; the collection of dental plaque; and, when possible, the analysis of ancient DNA that detailed each person's eye, skin and hair color, said Richard Le Saux, senior keeper of collections at the Royal Pavilion & Museums in England, where the exhibit opened on Jan. 26. This exhibit aims to shine a light on the past inhabitants of Brighton and mainland Europe by featuring hyper-realistic portrayals of their faces, Le Saux said.
     To re-create these heads, Oscar Nilsson, a forensic artist based in Sweden, took 3D printed replicas of their skulls and got to work. After reviewing data on the individuals' heritage and ages of death, he used plasticine clay to sculpt muscles and then covered that with artificial skin, which included details such as wrinkles and pores. The first two faces are those of a Neanderthal woman from Gibraltar and a Cro-Magnon man from France.
     According to DNA research, "early Cro-Magnons like this one had really dark skin," Nilsson said. The woman who likely died in childbirth, known as the Whitehawk girl (named for the place where she was found), also had dark skin. While her remains didn't have any preserved DNA, other burials from her time period did, and those people's genetic material shows "their skin color to be at least like today's people living in North Africa, or in fact, a bit darker," Nilsson said.
     The exhibit is now on display at The Elaine Evans Archaeology Gallery in Brighton.

Edited from LiveScience (29 January 2019)

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