The site of Achavanich (or Achadh a’ Mhanaich in Gaelic) in the northern tip of Scotland boasts its fair share of mysteries with the famed horse-shoe shaped arrangement composed of an array of stones. But now researchers have given the ‘human’ touch to this Bronze Age scope of enigma, by successfully reconstructing the face of woman whose remains were discovered at the site back in 1987. Given the moniker of ‘Ava‘, the young woman was 18-22 years old at the time of their death, while her skeletal remains are dated from around 3,700 years ago. And interestingly, from the archaeological perspective, she was found buried in a pit that was bored in a solid rock.
In regard to the incredible reconstruction project, the work is the brainchild of forensic artist Hew Morrison, a graduate of the University of Dundee. Aided by the comprehensive research project on Ava managed by archaeologist Maya Hoole, Morrison was able to get a lot of details on the history and anthropology of the Bronze Age human specimen. For example, it is known that Ava probably belonged to the Beaker culture that thrived between 2800-1800 BC in various parts of prehistoric western Europe, ranging from late Neolithic to early Bronze Age period.
From the morphological perspective, the Beaker people tended to exhibit short and round skulls. However in the case of Ava, the ‘abnormality’ of her skull shape is more pronounced than others, thus suggesting how some sections of the population possibly practiced binding skulls. Other features of her face were gauged from various data parameters, ranging from a chart of modern average tissue depth to an anthropological formula for calculating the depth of the missing lower jaw. In the words of Morrison himself, one of the morphological puzzles was solved as thus –
The size of the lips can be determined by measuring the enamel of the teeth and the width of the mouth from the position of the teeth.
As for the realistic reconstruction, the artist juxtaposed the layers of muscles and tissues (with their hypothesized widths and sections) over the face. The expert then proceeded on to recreate the facial features by mixing and matching high resolution images from a huge database. The last touches were then applied by adjusting the individual features corresponding to the skull, and finally morphing them together by using computer software.
It should however be noted that given the constraints of Bronze Age archaeology and its various related factors, the reconstruction is more of a hypothesis rather than a precise exercise of forensic science. By Morrison’s own admission, the artist mentioned how his project shouldn’t be considered hundred-percent accurate (in spite of the historical details) –
Normally, when working on a live, unidentified person’s case not so much detail would be given to skin tone, eye or hair color and hair style as none of these elements can be determined from the anatomy of the skull. So, creating a facial reconstruction based on archaeological remains is somewhat different in that a greater amount of artistic license can be allowed.