The journey of our own species across the planet is a 350,000-year-long epic that is still full of mystery. Each year, we learn something remarkable about this migration out of Africa, and across the world, that blows us away – whether it’s the fact that our distant ancestors arrived in America a lot earlier than we thought, or that our species evolved far more rapidly than anyone realized.
It’s often difficult to visualize such grandiose adventures and the pioneers that made them. So count yourself lucky that science and art are increasingly joining forces to produce incredible 3D reconstructions of the faces of those that came before us.
The latest masterpiece comes courtesy of a collaboration between Visual Science – an international scientific visualization studio – and the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, who have gloriously recreated the faces of some of the first human children to exist in Europe.
A recent study published in Science, conducted by researchers from more than a dozen institutions across the planet, analyzed the complete genomes of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) who once lived in Sunghir, a 34,000-year-old archaeological site in Russia.
This area, which used to be a seasonal hunting camp, contains some of the earliest remains of modern humans in all of Europe, who are thought to have arrived on the continent 45,000 years ago. They temporarily resided in Central Russia during the heyday of the last glacial maximum.
The study itself is remarkable, in that by comparing the genomes to hunter-gatherers alive today, they discovered that in some respects little has changed in tens of millennia; namely, these people lived in small groups with “limited kindship and levels of inbreeding” similar to “that of living hunter-gatherers.”
At the same time this new research was being conducted, Visual Science decided to try and recreate the visages of the two of the youngest members of the group – one 10 and another 13 years old – that lived 30,000 years ago. By photographing their skulls and scanning them with precision lasers, they then plugged the schematics into a 3D modeling software program.
Their reconstruction was so detailed that they even added layers of muscles and cartilage – as accurately as they could – to ensure that the final product was as genuine as possible. They were originally thought to be a boy and a girl, and siblings, but the aforementioned Science study controversially suggests they weren't related at all, and were both male.
We’ll never know what these younglings – the ancestors of several groups of people living today in Northern and Eastern Europe – truly looked like, but this is arguably the closest we’re going to get.