You Can Now Look At The Faces Of Some Of Britain's Earliest Inhabitants


Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Thanks to an exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery in the UK (open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm), you can now take a look at some of Britain's oldest residents.

The museum opened the doors to their shiny new Elaine Evans Archaeology Gallery last weekend, where they are displaying facial reconstructions of those who lived in southern England (and places slightly further afield) thousands of years ago. The collection includes a young Neolithic woman, a Cro-Magnon man sporting a hipster-like beard, and a Neanderthal. Together, these individuals span 40,000 years of European history.


The man responsible for resurrecting these characters is archaeologist and sculptor Oscar Nilsson, whose previous work has included a 9,000-year-old teen and a 1,200-year-old Peruvian queen.

To create their likeness, he starts with a 3D replica of the skull and builds on it, determining the thickness of the skin and other tissue from the origin, sex, and age of the person in question. Next, he "colors it in", basing his color choices on genome studies that reveal the eye, skin, and hair color of different human populations.

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

This Neanderthal woman (above) was found in Gibraltar but we know there would have been Neanderthals like her living in Britain at the same time. Neanderthals died out around 40,000 years ago, making her at least 40,000 years old – but possibly older.

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

This Cro-Magnon man (above) was actually found in France. However, archaeologists say it is likely there were similar populations of Cro-Magnons living in the UK at the same time. Cro-Magnons were anatomically modern humans who lived in Europe 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. They were heavily built and tall in stature with a short, wide face and a large brain. Early Cro-Magnons, like the man pictured, would have co-existed with Neanderthals and DNA evidence suggests they would have had dark skin.

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Whitehawk woman (above) is named after the place of her burial – the Whitehawk suburb of Brighton. She lived around 5,500 years ago during the Neolithic period and is just 4 foot 9 inches (1.45 meters) tall, small even for the time. Studies on the skeleton reveal she was born on the Welsh border but moved to Sussex, where she was buried. There are no signs of illness or injury. However, fetal bones found around her pelvis indicate she probably died in childbirth.

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Ditchling Road man (above) was found near Ditchling Road, Brighton. He would have lived some 4,400 years ago when the first wave of Beaker folk arrived in Britain from Central Europe. The Beaker folk (named after their distinctive style of pottery) were light-skinned, light-haired farmers, who changed the DNA of Britain forever. This particular man would have died aged 25 to 35. The skeleton reveals he suffered bouts of malnutrition that likely stunted his growth.

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Slonk Hill man (above) was found semi-crouched in a grave laid with barnacles and mussel shells in an area close to Brighton. He would have lived during Britain's Iron Age, sometime between 2,200 and 2,400 years ago, and would have died in his 20s. Speaking to National Geographic, Nilsson described him as "probably kind of good-looking" but admitted it was hard to make him smile without him looking creepy.

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Romano Patcham woman (above) was found in an area of Brighton called Patcham. Analysis of her skeleton suggests she lived circa 250 CE during the Roman occupation. Archaeologists believe she met a gruesome end when she was in her late 20s or early 30s. The collection of nails found around her knees and the nail impaled into the back of her head imply she was murdered.

Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Stafford Road man (above) was found in Brighton and would have lived around 550 CE, during the Anglo-Saxon period. From his remains, archaeologists have determined he was over 45 years old, stood at 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 meters), and was robust in stature. The multiple abscesses found in his mouth suggest he likely died of toothache complications, while the weapons found in his grave imply he was a warrior.  

Richard Le Saux, the museum’s senior keeper of collections, told NatGeo that as the Brexit deadline approaches, these reconstructions will encourage discussions around the country's ties to continental Europe. 

"One of the stories that we're going with is how often we've been linked to Europe, and how much of our history is informed by series of mass migrations in each period," he said.

[H/T: Live ScienceNatGeo]


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