Researchers created a life-size 3D model of a Norwegian woman who lived 800 years ago

Her skeletal remains and place of exhumation helped in reconstructing a life-sized 3D model.
Deena Theresa
When Tora died, she was toothless and hunchbacked.
When Tora died, she was toothless and hunchbacked.

Åge Hojem/NTNU University Museum 

On October 7, 2022, Ellen Grav, an archeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) University Museum, unveiled Tora, a woman who lived 800 years ago in Norway, on Facebook. Tora is a 3D woman sculpted into a life-sized reconstruction based on her skeleton, which was excavated in the 70s.

Her name was selected in a public poll conducted by NRK, a Norwegian broadcast company. Tora is now on display as part of an exhibition at NTNU's museum.

Researchers created a life-size 3D model of a Norwegian woman who lived 800 years ago
Tora wore a leather shoe.

Tora was born in Trondheim in the 1200s

Tora's birth can be traced to the city of Trondheim, in the middle of Norway, in the 1200s. According to Garv, the city was at its peak, considering medieval times. The Nidaros cathedral was being built, merchants and craftsmen were busy, and a population of around 4,000 people lived in Trondheim. After Tora died, her bones were buried at the cemetery on the main street, Kaupmannastretet.

"We can assume that she was from a merchant family, which means she would have been among those slightly better off at that time," Grav says in the video posted on Facebook, according to sciencenorway.no

There is no written evidence about Tora, so archeologists put together a story about the medieval woman purely based on her skeletal remains and where her body was exhumed. 

"Since Tora lived to be roughly 65, which is considered rather old for the period, we do believe that she must have lived a somewhat good life for her time, "Grav told Live Science in an email.

Grav and her team found a spinal deformity in Tora's skeleton, which led them to believe that Tora had a hunched back. To the archaeologists, the bend in Tova's back and her missing teeth hinted at "signs of hard work and lifelong wear on the skeleton," Grav told Live Science. The medieval woman also had no lower teeth and possibly lived without them for a long period time before her death.

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Researchers created a life-size 3D model of a Norwegian woman who lived 800 years ago
A textile professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Oslo in Norway, researched archeological finds from the area that dated to when Tora lived, to fashion the right dress.

Local dressmakers made Tora's outfit

Tora is seen wearing an orange dress, which is modeled on a real dress found in Uvdal Stave Church, dating to the same period. "We've given her a pair of fine handmade leather shoes with a slightly summery feel," said Grav.

"Nille Glæsel, an experienced dressmaker of Viking and medieval dresses [based in Norway], made Tora's dress for us using medieval techniques," Grav said. "She spun the yarn, weaved the fabric in, and colored it with Rubia tinctorum [also known as rose madder]. Then she hand-sewed the dress after Vedeler's [Marianne Vedeler, a textile professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Oslo] reconstruction."

All credit for making Tora look lifelike goes to Thomas Foldberg, a Denmark-based film industry makeup artist. Foldberg solely relied on Tora's skeleton, and not X-rays or CT scans, to create a 3D model. According to Grav, Foldberg even "hand-painted liver stains and other spots."

Tora's kind eyes and friendly expression are sure to make you notice her. "it was very important for us to give the audience a feeling of a warm meeting, to better connect [them] with the medieval human. People always tend to think the medieval ages were dark and heavy, but there was also joy and happiness, people loved each other, and some even lived a long life. Tora's life was hard, but she must have had good days as well. I hope that people learn that they looked like us, had feelings like us and that they were people like us as well," Grav told Live Science.