Facial Reconstruction Makes 3,700-Year-Old Bones Come Alive Again

Fagjun | Published 2017-07-02 08:42

The chief (second from the left), the young woman (third from the left), and the twins.
[Image by Philippe Froesch, Visual Forensic]

High-tech facial reconstruction has recreated the facial features of an ancient and wealthy First Nations chief and his family.

Archaeologists were digging in a shell midden at a site in British Columbia in 2010 when they came across a startling discovery. They, along with the local shíshálh Nation, had accidentally uncovered the remains of a man that died about 3,700 years ago. However, this discovery itself wasn't what made the find an amazing one. The man in the shell midden had been a chief in his lifetime, and he had been fabulously wealthy as well.

The man, who died at the age of about 50, was buried in a beaded garment that weighed nearly 32 kilos. The garment had about 350,000 stone beads, enough to fill bathtubs of today, in parallel rows down the entire length of the garment.

Beads as an Indicator of Wealth

The young woman
[Image by Philippe Froesch, Visual Forensic]

A team of biological anthropologists and CGI experts were able to do facial reconstruction on four remains, including the chief's, in the area. Keith Julius, a shíshálh Nation councilor, says that many in the Nation have said that the reconstructions look like someone they know. The reconstructions somehow humanized the ancient remains and made the local shíshálh people feel like they were looking at members of their own families.

The three other people whose faces we see now were members of the chief's family. One of the remains belonged to a woman who must have between 19 and 23 when she died. The other two remains belonged to young men who might have been twins. According to the researchers, the men had identical impacted teeth and skull suture patterns.

When the archaeologists found the young woman, they also discovered nearly 3,200 tiny shell beads around her head. It was possible that mourners wove the beads into the young woman's hair before burying her. The woman also wore a shell necklace as well as a garment with 5,700 stone beads. The young men buried near her, meanwhile, wore garments that had 2,200 stone and shell beads.

What, therefore, is the significance of these beads? For one thing, the beaded garments likely took a long time to finish. At the time, the value of a certain thing depended on how much time people spent on making it. For example, the chief's garment possibly took about 35,000 hours to make—and that's an optimistic estimate. Creating the beads and the garments themselves were probably labor- and time-intensive, indicating that this family was quite wealthy.

Archaeologists have also found many other rich burials in the same area from the same time frame.

Facial Reconstruction and More Studies

James Dixon, an elder of the shíshálh Nation, at the exhibit featuring the reconstructions
[Photo by Ashley Fraser / Postmedia]

One pertinent question about the discovery of these remains is how the family managed to accumulate such wealth. At the time, people living in that area fished, hunted, and foraged. Archaeologist Terence Clark, the project's director, thinks that the chief's family may have possessed knowledge that others found to be valuable. They may have been knowledgeable about the rituals or spirituality of their tribe. It's possible that the family received many gifts, which likely contributed to their wealth.

The researchers may learn more as they examine and study the other remains in the site. They may find out more about the source of the family's wealth, or find out more about how shíshálh people lived at the time. Facial reconstruction on other remains may give us a more intimate view into how these people lived thousands of years ago.

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