For the first time in over 1,600 years, the world has seen the face of the Lady of Cao, a heavily-tattooed female leader from ancient Peru.
Scientists from Peru’s Ministry of Culture reconstructed the face of the Señora using cutting-edge laser technology, 3D printing, and ethnographic research. The fruits of their work were revealed at a ceremony on Tuesday.
This mysterious matriarch was only unearthed in 2005 when archaeologists found a mummy wrapped in cloth in a ruined pyramid at the El Brujo Archaeological Complex. Analysis and modern autopsies of the body revealed it was once a healthy female in her mid-twenties who most likely died of childbirth complications. Her limbs were decorated in tattoos of snakes, spiders, geometric shapes, and other unknown motifs.
The surrounding archaeological evidence – such as weapons, gold, silver, and copper objects, and her ornately decorated coffins – testified that she was also a wealthy member of the Moche culture, a civilization that flourished in the Chicama Valley from about 100 to 700 CE, centuries before the Inca.
Without a doubt, the Lady of Cao was one important woman. Although it's possible she was the wife of a ruler, the archaeologists on the project believe she was either a religious or political leader herself. If so, it would demolish the popular belief that only men held positions of power in Moche society.
The techniques and methods used to reconstruct the face are pioneering. National Geographic, who was involved in the project, explained how the researchers used industrial handheld laser scanners to obtain the data of the body, as opposed to the more “traditional” methods of medical CT scan imaging.
This information was then plugged with specialized forensic computer software to reveal the bone structure of the skull. Layer by layer, the forensic experts then build up the woman’s soft tissue. Photographs of women who currently live in El Brujo were then used to “fill in the rest of the gaps,” such as her skin tone, eye color, and hairstyle. The head was then fashioned out of 3D-printed fiberglass.
The Peruvian government is hoping this new discovery will tempt tourists to come to the area and enjoy their country’s rich history. In turn, they say this will also help contribute to the development and well-being of the communities that live in the nearby area.