A forensic artist has recreated the face of one of Scotland’s oldest druids, a toothless female in her 60s now named Hilda. Karen Fleming reconstructed Hilda’s face in wax using an ancient skull housed at the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum described as one of six “Druids of Hebrids” in 1833.
“Hilda was a fascinating character to recreate. It’s clear from the skull she was toothless before she died, which isn’t too surprising considering the diet of folk back then, but it was impressive how long she lived,” said Fleming, MSC Forensic Art & Facial Identification, in a statement emailed to IFLScience.
Scientific aging of Hilda’s real skull suggests the woman died between 55 BCE and 400 CE when she was well into her 60s – a rare occurrence for women during the Iron Age.
“A female’s life expectancy at this time was roughly 31 years, but it is now thought that living longer during the Iron Age is indicative of a privileged background,” said Fleming, noting that it is “impossible to know for sure when she died’ as researchers were unable to date the carbon skull.
Hilda is believed to have been of Celtic origin and likely spent her life in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Scientists believe she belonged to a group known as the Druids, an ancient people who subscribed to a shamanic religion relying on contact with the spirit world and holistic medicines to treat – or sometimes cause – illnesses, according to Historic UK. This well-structured society followed nature’s seasonal patterns and divided its followers into subsections of colored robes: the wisest “Arch-druid” wore gold while others wore white, sacrificers wore red, artists blue, and new recruits dressed in brown or black.
It’s unclear how Hilda died, but old age is likely a factor given life expectancy at the time. And though she lived thousands of years ago, Fleming says her re-creation displays many physical attributes seen in people of the area today
“I think she looks like many older women I’ve met in my life and I’m proud of that,” said Fleming.
Hilda will be on display at Scotland’s annual Masters Show from August 16 to 25.