Scientists reconstruct face of woman who lived 45,000 years ago

Researchers used 3D and CT scans to reconstruct her image.
Sejal Sharma
The 3D digital facial zoom of Zlatý kůň 1
The 3D digital facial zoom of Zlatý kůň 1

Moraes et al 

Archaeologists working on the explosion of a large limestone on Mount Zlatý kůň, a protected area in Czechia, discovered a cave from which numerous skeletons and bones had been archived over the years. The archaeologists identified what they originally thought to be parts of two different skulls, but when they assembled the piece, they found they were of one individual.

Earlier thought to be of a man, the team concluded that the skull was of a woman who lived 45,000 years ago. The woman has been named Zlatý kůň.

Three-dimensional reconstruction of the skull

While several attempts have been made in the past to reconstruct her facial appearance, a new paper has come close to exacting a look-alike version of her facial approximation.

The authors of the paper did not have direct access to the fossils of Zlatý kůň, so they reconstructed the structure using scientific publications. Cicero Moraes, a co-author of the paper, used the same approach in the reconstruction of Tutankhamun’s skull, as earlier reported by Interesting Engineering.

Several pieces of the skull still missing

The skull consists of nine pieces, which are under the care of the Department of Anthropology of the National Museum in Prague, Czechia. Even though a considerable part of the skull remains, some parts of the structure, like the nasal bone, maxilla, left orbit, and the left part of the frontal bone, are missing.

"An interesting piece of information about the skull is that it was gnawed by an animal after her death," Moraes told Live Science. "This animal could have been a wolf or a hyena ([both were] present in the fauna at that time)."

Moraes and his team of researchers used the data collected from 2018 computed tomography (CT) scans of the woman’s skull. In 2018, a multinational team of researchers created a 3D reconstruction of the missing regions, using statistical data extracted from a group composed of 30 skulls – 15 men and 15 women in France.

The researchers initially mirrored the 3D mesh in order to reconstruct as many of the missing regions as possible using the original anatomy of the skull, yet some areas remained empty. Such regions were complemented by statistical data extracted from the CT scans and the aforementioned fossil, resulting in a complete skull, wrote the researchers in the paper.

"Once we had the basic face, we generated more objective and scientific images, without coloring, with eyes closed and without hair," Moraes said. "Later, we created a speculative version with pigmented skin, open eyes, fur and hair. The objective of the second is to provide a more understandable face for the general population."