Back in October, we talked about the reconstruction of a Peruvian mummy that is almost as old as the Great Pyramid of Giza. This time around, researchers have reconstructed yet another pre-Inca figure, albeit one that doesn’t go that far into history. We are talking about the Huarmey Queen, who probably was one of the eminent figures of the Wari (or Huari) culture of Peru, which dominated the south-central Andes and coastal areas of the region from circa 700 – 1000 AD. And as opposed to usual cases of virtual reconstructions, the scientists were able to endow an actual physical form to the 1200-year old queen, thus notching it up on the realistic factor.
From the archaeological perspective, the queen’s remains were found along with 57 other noblewomen in the well-preserved pyramid mausoleum known as the El Castillo de Huarmey (or Huarmey’s Castle), in the Ancash Region north of Lima. Quite intriguingly, their bodies were buried in rows in a particular seated position. And suffice it to say, given the high status of the occupants, the tomb also had its fair share of precious artifacts, including jewelry items made of gold, copper, and silver, along with bronze-made axes and a silver bowl.
As for the incredible reconstruction in question here, the project was headed by Oscar Nilsson, a forensic artist based in Sweden, and he was aided by the Peruvian and Polish archaeological team currently assessing the El Castillo de Huarmey site. The starting step entailed the procurement of the virtual 3D image of the Huarmey Queen’s skull – which was gathered by using CT scanning techniques on the original skull. Then an artificial skull was created from vinyl plastic based on the original ‘version’.
Nilsson proceeded on to create the further layers of the Huarmey Queen’s face by sculpting the muscles from plasticine clay. The details were based on the historicity of the specimen, along with other crucial factors like the ethnicity, age, and gender of the figure. And finally, the muscles were literally topped off with a layer of skin made of silicone. As Nilsson said (to LiveScience) –
Details, wrinkles, and pores are sculpted to get it [to be] realistic. When I’m finished sculpting the face, I make a mold, in which I then cast the face in silicone. In this way, I can get it very realistic. It looks almost like a real person, even to me.
Interestingly enough, Nilsson also focused on recreating the oft-ignored conspicuous features of a visage like eyes and hair, by opting for a prosthetic for the former. As for the hair part, the artist made use of real Peruvian human hair that was supplied by the archaeological team and then painstakingly attached to the silicone scalp surface. He even went to replicate the earrings of the Huarmey Queen, based on their original counterparts found inside the massive tomb.
All of these diligent techniques, which are actually used by law-enforcement agencies for unidentifiable victims, translated to a 220-hour reconstruction project. And the rewarding end result, according to Nilsson, related to –
…an elder woman’s face with a lot dignity about it. She looks wise [and] experienced, as well as a bit tired and maybe sad, or thoughtful. She is thinking of something, maybe a memory way back, as older people do sometimes.