Scientists reconstruct approximately 9,600-year-old Zuzu's face

"Although the skull has an affinity with an Asian population, among individuals of such ancestry, there are a large number of structural differences, which are circumvented by closing the eyelids."
Nergis Firtina
Zuzu's 3D Facial Zoom.
Zuzu's 3D Facial Zoom.

Moacir Elias Santos et al.  

Found buried in the fetal position at Toca dos Coqueiros in 1997 in Serra da Capivara National Park, Zuzu lived in modern-day Brazil nearly 9,600 years ago. Zuzu's face has been wondered about by archeologists for years. Moreover, there were some controversies about Zuzu's sex. We could finally see Zuzu's face thanks to a new facial approximation.

The skull, which is on exhibit at the Museum of Nature in Paraná, Brazil, was the subject of dozens of photographs taken by researchers last year from various perspectives. To "reveal the face of that figure so mysterious and so essential to Brazilian history," the researchers said in their study.

"Trying to recover the appearance that an individual had in life thousands of years ago is a way to bring them to the present day, bringing them closer to the public," first author Moacir Elias Santos, an archaeologist with the Ciro Flamarion Cardoso Archaeology Museum in Brazil, told Live Science.

"The main interest was to be able to glimpse the face of Zuzu, whose skeleton is one of the most important finds in the Serra da Capivara National Park region," he added.

"[We] adjust the structure of the skull to transform the donor's skull into a volume almost equal to Zuzu's skull," said Cicero Moraes, a Brazilian graphics expert. "When we do this, the soft tissue follows this deformation/adaptation and results in a face that is expected, [and] compatible with Zuzu in life."

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Scientists reconstruct approximately 9,600-year-old Zuzu's face
Stages of structural complementation and adjustment of the skull.

They created two results

The researchers put forward two results showing a young man with wide lips and a nose. Based on data provided by the virtual donors, one of the approximations represented Zuzu with closed eyelids and hair, while the other depicted Zuzu without hair.

The researchers retracted the lower jaw to fill a gap caused by several missing teeth since the digital face was "somewhat malnourished," according to the study.

"Although the skull has an affinity with an Asian population, among individuals of such ancestry, there are a large number of structural differences, which are circumvented by closing the eyelids," the researchers wrote in the study.

"The image was also rendered in grayscale (black and white) as there is no accurate information about the skin color. Therefore, such an image would be the closest to what the real face could be." 

"The most interesting thing when looking at Zuzu's skull is having an idea of what he would have looked like in life," Santos said. "It is a reunion with one of the oldest ancestors of our country."

The study was published on January 25.

Study abstract:

The Serra da Capivara National Park, created in 1979, is a Brazilian conservation unit and cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. Its area is distributed within the municipal limits of São Raimundo Nonato, Coronel José Dias, João Costa, and Brejo do Piauí, all of them in the southeastern region of the state of Piauí, where the semi-arid climate and caatinga vegetation mark the landscape. The complex is one of the richest sets of archaeological and paleontological heritage in South America, with more than 1300 reported sites. Prospecting work in the region began in the 1970s with archaeologist Niède Guidon under the auspices of the Franco-Brazilian Mission and the American Man Foundation (FUMDHAM). Over all these decades, such surveys have provided a vast collection of items covering the periods from the Pleistocene to the beginning of the Holocene.

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