You Can Now Look Into The Face Of An Indigenous Canary Islander


Karina Osswald/University of Dundee

Before the words "Canary Islands" were associated with beach holidays and Javier Bardem, the archipelago belonged to the Guanche people.

The indigenous group inhabited the Canary Islands from the 1st to the 15th centuries CE. At which point, the Europeans arrived and decided to take the tropical islands for themselves in the name of the King and Queen of Spain, wiping out the Guanche culture in the process.


Few traces of this culture and lifestyle can be found on the islands today (see: the whistling language) but most of what we know – whether it's to do with their appearance or their rituals – comes from the records of the Castillian invaders, who were probably not the most reliable of sources. 

Now, one indigenous islander has been brought back to life 600 or so years after her death through a digital facial reconstruction project – a resurrection of sorts. This is our best estimation of what an indigenous Canary Islander would have looked like so far. 

Karina Osswald, a post-grad student at the University of Dundee, Scotland, produced the reconstruction during her master's degree in the field of forensic art and facial identification. To do this, she took 3D scans of the islander's skull, kept at the University of Edinburgh's Anatomical Museum, and "built" the face from the bones up, adding tissue, facial features, and, finally, hair.

The result is astonishing. 


"What I’ve created is a best guess estimate as to how one of these islanders would have looked," said Osswald.

"However, recent literature suggests that the appearances differed between each island of the Canary archipelago. This could mean, with further research, we may one day get a clearer idea of the individual differences between each Guanche island group."

The ancestry of the Guanche is a bit of a thorny issue but most anthropologists who study the culture believe they descend primarily from the Berber people of western North Africa (primarily Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco). What's more, ancient mummies found in the Canaries suggest they may have adopted some of the burial practices of their North African origin. According to recent evidence, however, at least part of their DNA may be derived from a population of European Stone Age farmers.

What we do know is that modern residents of the Canary Islands have inherited between 16 and 31 percent of their genetics from their Guanche ancestors. So while the Guanche people faced "extinction" following the Spanish invasion, some survivors were assimilated into the European culture through marriage, particularly if they happened to be on the maternal line. 


The face is currently on display at Dundee's Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design Masters Show 2018.