The faces of prehistoric humans revealed

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She wore clothing made of hemp, fur and nettle and jewelry of ivory and bone, and she was a looker. So it makes sense she lived about 17,000 years ago in Bordeaux, France, hitherto famous to Americans – at least this one — mostly for its wine exports.

The remains of the pre-historic woman, dubbed creatively “the woman from the Pataud shelter” were found in a rock shelter, and her physical appearance was recreated by French sculptor, make-up artist and paleontology expert Elisabeth Daynes via computer modeling of certain points on the skull.

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(AFP Photo/Mehdi Fedouach)

“My work is done just like a forensic investigation, from casts taken from prehistoric skulls, reconstructed exactly like police composite sketches,” she told Agence France-Presse.

Daynes is internationally renowned for creating startlingly lifelike figures of our ancestors. She’s famous for creating “Lucy,” a model from bones found belonging to a 3.2 million-year-old, bipedal creature with some uncanny human features. She is also part of an international team of scientists and artists who reconstructed the appearance of ancient Egypt’s most famous monarch, King Tut.

The Pataud shelter collection was also created with help from Jean-Noel Vignal, a former head of the Police Forensic Research Institute in Paris. Daynes used a computer program that Vignal developed that can analyze bone structure to estimate muscle and skin thickness. With these techniques, researchers can get a glimpse of the external evolution of features that characterized early humans. It’s also an important process that allows museum goers to make a deeper connection with our early ancestors. By constructing the outward appearance of the woman from Pataud, and placing her in an exhibit surrounded by the tools and artifacts that characterized her life, viewers are given a chance to see an example of prehistoric life that’s more meaningful than just viewing a pile of bones.

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The exhibit, called “The Origins of Flesh,” features a model version of the woman and also an older man, whose remains were found nearby. The cross section between forensics, paleontology and art is on display in Bordeaux until December 5.

About Author

Bethania Palma Markus is famous for one thing: having a really, really long name. If you can pronounce it, you are a superior pronouncer of words. She's also a long-time journalist and freelance writer for a variety of news outlets. Follow her on Twitter if you like Twitter @BPalmaMarkus

2 Comments

  1. r.hardiman@unimelb.edu.au'

    It is interesting to me that the very first sentence describes the woman as a ‘looker’. Unfortunately it seems we can’t help but impose our modern perspectives of physical attractiveness onto such a reconstruction: particularly when the reconstruction is of a woman. Nothing is mentioned about her muscle size or tone (which can also be estimated from skeletal remains). She is just ‘a looker’. Also, she has sculpted eyebrows- did we really do that in prehistory?

  2. paul@paulkirtley.co.uk'

    Hi Bethania,

    What a fascinating little look through the keyhole into our pre-historic past this is, made all the more striking by Daynes’s life-like reconstruction.

    I was similarly struck by the reconstructed figures of Cro-magnon and Neanderthal men at the Natural History Museum in London this summer.

    It’s great to see a reconstruction of a female from the upper paleolithic here.

    All the best,

    Paul