A team of archaeologists and forensic artists in the Scottish Highlands have reconstructed the face of a young woman who died around 3,700 years ago, slap bang in the middle of the Bronze Age. Named Ava – an abbreviation of Achavanich, the place where her bones were found – the woman is believed to have belonged to the Beaker culture, which rose to prominence across Europe during this period and is known for its metalwork and characteristic pottery style.
Ava’s remains were first discovered way back in 1987, when scientists uncovered her skull and several other bones in a pit dug into solid rock, accompanied by a beaker and other artifacts. Project leader Maya Hoole believes that this in itself is highly unusual, since most Beaker graves are dug into soil and marked by stacks of rocks called cairns.
Speaking to IFLScience, Hoole explained that “it would have taken a huge amount of time and resources to dig this pit and create the stone-lined cist. If Ava died very suddenly, I wonder if there would have been time to dig the pit. However, if they had known she may be going to die, the pit cist may have already been made.” Why she was considered important enough for such a unique burial, however, “we may never know.”
Ava's skull. Michael Sharpe
The reconstruction of Ava’s face was carried out by Hew Morrison, who had to overcome a number of obstacles such as calculating the dimensions of her jawbone, most of which was missing. Judging from the volume of the enamel on Ava’s teeth, Morrison was then able to recreate the thickness of her lips, before calculating the depth of other facial tissues.
The wear and tear on both the teeth and bones led researchers to estimate that she was between the ages of 18 and 22 when she died, although the cause of her death is unknown. Interestingly, though many Beaker people had slight brachycephaly – meaning a short, round skull – Ava’s skull appears particularly misshapen, leading researchers to speculate that her remains may have been deliberately modified by those who buried her. According to Hoole, “if you look at the shape of her skull compared to others from this period, the top and back are especially flat, and the back of her head is distinctly square shaped.”
Once again, the reason for this apparent skull-squishing is not yet clear, though Hoole says that “there were a lot of unusual practices taking place in the Bronze Age,” both in life and in death.
Based on the length of Ava’s tibia, or shinbone, the researchers estimate her height at around 1.67 meters (5 feet and 5.5 inches), which is pretty similar to the average modern woman.
For more information on Ava, check out the Achavanich Beaker Burial Project Facebook page.
Ava was found buried with this beaker. Maya Hoole