I have always been wondering what famous people from the past looked like and now modern technology and forensic experts give us this fascinating opportunity. Forensic facial reconstruction is done with the help of scans of skeletal remains, science, history and artistic interpretation.
Originally, facial reconstruction was used for the purposes of criminal investigation, but it has advanced far enough that it can be used for more academic pursuits.
The historical figures revealed their faces to us and wow, they actually looked completely different than we’ve been told!
Let’s have a look at how people that lived hundreds and thousands of years ago actually looked like.
Tutankhamun (1341-1323 BC) — Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty
King Tutankhamun ascended the throne at the age of 9, in 1322 b.c. and reigned until his death at 19.
You may be surprised to know that this is NOT an accurate depiction of King Tut.
Previous theories supported that his death was caused by a chariot accident, but according to the Egyptian radiologist, Ashraf Selim, King Tut developed Kohler’s disease of death of the bones, ( a result of genetic impairments inherited from his parents, who were siblings). In the pharaoh’s tomb were found 130 used walking canes.
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Alexander the Great
Τhe king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon (356bc-323bc) not only conquered most of the known world of his time but also changed it forever.
Arsinoe IV (between 68 and 63 BC – 41 BC)- Cleopatra’s half-sister
Forensic art experts at Dundee University made the 3D computer model of Arsinoe, the half-sister of Cleopatra. Cleopatra considered Arsinoe as a threat to her power and murdered her in 41bc outside the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Now researchers say they have discovered what may be Arsinoe’s body, based on the shape of the tomb found in Ephesus in 1990, carbon dating, and other factors. The image shows a woman of an admixture of African and Egyptian ancestry mixed with classical Grecian features.
Cleopatra and Arsinoe descended from Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemy I. The descent passed through six successor Ptolemies until it reached Cleopatra’s and Arsinoe’s father.
Using images from ancient artifacts including a ring dating from Cleopatra’s reign 2,000 years ago, Cambridge University’s Sally Ann Ashton pieced together a possible likeness that shows Cleopatra as a mixed race beauty.
Queen Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC) — Great Royal Wife of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh.
In 2003, mummy number. KV35YL was identified as Nefertiti, the spouse of one of the pharaohs of the 18th century Akhenaten dynasty. Scientists were able to reconstruct this long-dead empress’ real appearance.
Egyptologists believe they have recreated the face of the legendary Queen Nefertiti. A picture of the Egyptian ruler was built up by a team which discovered a mummy in what is thought to be her tomb.
The mummy thought to have been Nefertiti has now been identified as the sister of Pharoah Akhenaten and the mother of Tutankhamun, who was the result of an incestuous union between the two.
Amun-her Khepeshef. The firstborn son of Pharaoh Ramses II
This artistic reconstruction of Amun-her Khepeshef’s head is based on cranial measurements taken from a 3,000-year-old Egyptian skull found among the mummies entombed in the Valley of the Kings, within a huge funerary complex known as KV5.
Amun-her Khepeshef is the firstborn son of Pharaoh Ramses II.
3-D rendering of Ramses II’s head based on cranial measurements taken from his mummy.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) — Renaissance mathematician and astronomer.
The body of the Polish astronomer and mathematician was found in a Polish church and confirmed by matching DNA to strands of his hair left in a book. His portrait was made in the forensic laboratory of the Polish police but the result doesn’t seem to be similar to the portrait that was made in 1580.
Nicolaus Copernicus is known to be the first who challenged the belief that the sun revolved around the earth. However, he was not the first person to claim that the Earth rotates around the Sun. Ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos (310 – 230 BC) is generally credited with being the first person to propose a Sun-centred astronomical hypothesis of the universe. At that time, however, Aristarchus’s heliocentrism gained few supporters and 18 centuries would then pass before Renaissance astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus produced a fully predictive mathematical model of a heliocentric system.
George Washington (1732-1799) — First President of the United States.
In 2006, the education center of Mount Vernon, a team of Smithsonian experts, and the National Museum of Dentistry collaborated to build these lifelike mannequin depictions of the first President at ages 19, 45, and 57. His preserved dentures played a crucial role in determining his head shape.
Robert I (1274-1329), also known as Robert the Bruce-King of Scots and one of the most famous warriors of his era.
The digitally-reconstructed image was produced using casts made from his skull thanks to the two-year research project at universities in Glasgow and Liverpool. The grave of Scotland’s most famous king was found when Dunfermline Abbey was being rebuilt. No contemporary portrait of Robert the Bruce survives and until now images have relied on artists’ impressions of what he might have looked like.
Courtesy of the Bachhaus Museum
J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750)-German composer and musician of the Baroque period
J.S. Bach’s bust has sat on innumerable pianos for centuries, but he only posed for one portrait in his lifetime. So this reconstruction of his face—which was taken from a bronze cast of his skull—offers an interesting glimpse into the man beneath the 18th-century wig.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) — English poet, playwright, and actor
Apparently, no one knows anything about Shakespeare for sure—his hair color, his sexual orientation, how he spelled his name, whether he liked his wife, etc. Some people aren’t even sure whether he wrote his plays or not. So this rendering, taken from a death mask found in Germany, is bound to be controversial. But if it is Shakespeare, it’s pretty intriguing. It shows a man who suffered from cancer and had a sad, soulful face.
Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321)-Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages
Maybe it’s because The Divine Comedy dealt with the ugliness of sin that Dante Alighieri is usually depicted as unattractive, with a pointy chin, buggy eyes, and enormous hooked nose. But a reconstruction done from measurements of the skull taken in 1921—the only time the remains have been out of the crypt—reveals a much more attractive Dante. The face has a rounder chin, pleasant eyes, and smaller nose than previously thought. It’s a face with character.
The face of the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who lived in the 13th and 14th centuries, was reconstructed in 2007.
Maximilien de Robespierre (1758-1794) — French lawyer and politician, and one of the best-known and most influential figures of the French Revolution.
The reconstruction was made with the aid of various sources. Some of them obviously relate to the contemporary portraits and accounts of Robespierre, in spite of their ‘compliant’ visualization of the revolutionary. But one of the primary objects that helped the researchers, pertain to the famous death mask of Robespierre, made by none other than Madame Tussaud. Interestingly enough, Tussaud (possibly) claimed that the death mask was directly made with the help of Robespierre’s decapitated head after he was guillotined on July 28th, 1794.
Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)-English novelist, known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century.
There aren’t nearly as many depictions of the Victorian author as there are of her timeless characters. It took three years for a team at the Jane Austin Center—including an artist, sculptor, award-winning costume designer, and hair artist—to create this almost human wax figure.
Courtesy of AFP
Good King Henri IV(1553 – 14 May 1610)-King of Navarre (as Henry III) from 1572 and King of France from 1589 to 1610.
The mummified head of France’s King Henri IV was lost after the French Revolution until a few years ago when it showed up in a tax collector’s attic. In his day, Henri was beloved by everyone except the Catholic fundamentalists who murdered him in 1610. The hard-living king looks a bit old for his 56 years, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes. What the model cannot show, however, was how much the king stank—apparently he smelled of ”garlic, feet, and armpits.”
You can tell by his eyes he was a good person
Mary, Queen of Scots
A virtual sculpture of the face of Mary, Queen of Scots, made with craniofacial templates based on how she would have looked during her 16th century reign, gazed at visitors to the National Museum of Scotland’s 2014 show about the tumultuous life of the monarch.
No portrait records of Mary exist from the period, but Professor Caroline Wilkinson, from the University of Dundee’s Forensic and Medical Art Research Group says the “striking face” – viewable from several angles – is a reflection of the “enormous challenges” the queen faced while in power.
St. Nick (Santa Claus) (270-343) — Historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra.
The remains of St. Nicholas, i.e. Santa Claus, have been in a church in Bari, Italy since they were stolen from Turkey in 1087. This reproduction, taken from measurements of his skull, reveal that St. Nicholas had a small body—he was only 5’6”—and a huge, masculine head, with a square jaw and strong muscles in the neck. He also had a broken nose, like someone had beaten him up. This is consistent with accounts of St. Nicholas from the time: it turns out that Santa Claus had quite a temper.
Jesus Ff Nazareth
Retired medical artist Richard Neave used forensic anthropology techniques to recreate the face of Jesus from written accounts, probable ethnic features, and real pieces of Semite skulls.
In the south of France, a basilica has guarded human remains for nearly 2,000 years. Said to be those of Jesus’s female apostle Saint Mary Magdalene, the skull stares out from a display case.
The head was last handled in 1974, and recently, scientists received permission to recreate the woman’s face.
The team had to contend with taking hundreds of images as they were not allowed to remove the skull, touch it, or take DNA samples. Applied forensic techniques revealed the possible face of one of the Bible’s most controversial figures.
She was no longer young but still a striking-looking woman in her fifties. The prominent nose, round face with high cheekbones, and brown hair complemented her Mediterranean descent. Similar to unproven tales depicting Mary Magdalene as a prostitute, lead apostle, or Jesus’s wife, it cannot be said with certainty that the skull is really that of the saint.
Paul the Apostle ( 5–67 AD)
In 2009, for the first time in history, a scientific study was carried out of the contents of his sarcophagus, which was found under the alter inside the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, an ancient Roman church.
St. Anthony (1195-1231) — Portuguese Catholic priest and friar of the Franciscan Order.
Four ancient Israeli skulls reconstructed by experts
Lord of Sipán (possibly circa early 4th century AD)
Often heralded as one of the significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, the Lord of Sipán was the first of the famous Moche mummies found (in 1987) at the site of Huaca Rajada, northern Peru.
According to EFE, the forensic facial reconstruction from 96 fragments of the 2,000-year-old skull, recreated the appearance of the first great ruler of ancient Peru.
Senora de Cao
Long before the Incas, the Moche culture flourished in Peru. One of their most iconic mummies is the 1,600-year-old Senora de Cao. Her body was unearthed in 2005 from a tomb on the north coast and was filled with rich goods suggestive of high rank.
The result was striking. Instead of a ravished mummy, visitors can now view a high-cheeked woman in her twenties who looks remarkably alive.
The Mycenaean ‘Griffin Warrior’ (circa 1500 BC)
Heralded by the Greek Ministry of Culture as the “the most important tomb to have been discovered in 65 years in continental Greece”, the 3500-year old Mycenaean ‘Griffin Warrior’ grave found in Pylos (in October 2015) was filled with over 1,400 precious objects. Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand of Johannesburg had made this incredible ancient scope even more ‘romantic’ with their reconstruction of the face of the presumably renowned warrior male, done with the aid of a depiction on an ancient seal discovered inside the tomb.
The Face of Alexander the Great (Photoshop Reconstruction)
Classical portrait of Philip II of Macedonia (left – Glyptotek Collection of classical and modern art –Copenhagen, left- portrait reconstruction by the University of Manchester)
Philipp II of Macedon (Alexander’s Father)
This reconstruction of a Carthaginian was created for the museum of Carthage, a few miles north of Tunis. It was based on the skeleton of a young man found in a sepulcher of the 6th century B.C. For the exhibition, he was baptized Ariche, meaning
the desired man. He was was 1.7 meters (five feet six inches) tall, and of pretty robust physique. image source
Ava (circa 1800 BC)
Researchers reconstructed the face of the woman whose remains were discovered at the Achavanich (or Achadh a’ Mhanaich in Gaelic) 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.
Copyright Edinburgh City Council
A Medieval Maiden from Edinburgh
A series of forensic reconstructions brought the medieval men, women, and children found at a burial ground in Edinburgh eerily to life. This medieval female was found with several other women and children in a communal grave. It is unclear if her death and those buried with her were related to the plague or some other infectious disease.
Forensic artists interpreted examinations on the remains of almost 400 men, women, and children from the South Leith Parish Church graveyard, which was excavated during preparation work for Edinburgh Trams in 2009. None of the graves were created after 1640, with the earliest dated to the 14th century and three-quarters of the burials being complete rather than fragmented.
The Black Market Victim
In the 18th century, a young woman died in Scotland. Her name and life story are unknown, but a stomach-churning narrative is etched in her skull. The woman’s remains were recovered from a plot reserved for the deceased not claimed, usually because the families were too poor to pay for a funeral.
The woman, who was in her late twenties or early thirties, had a cleft skull marking her as one of Edinburgh’s first autopsies. Her front teeth had also been wrenched out. Researchers believe that low-paid workers sold them to the then-thriving market for dentures made with real teeth.
Beachy Head Lady
Copyright Graham Huntley
Beachy Head Lady was assumed to be a third century European Roman until experts took a closer look. They found her to be a sub Saharan African living in the Eastbourne area. “Whether that means that she’s first generation we don’t know,” said Heritage Officer Jo Seaman. “She could possibly have been born in Africa and brought over here at a very young age, but it’s just as likely that she was born here.”
Archaeologists are still unsure about her social status. Her teeth and bones were both in good condition, but that doesn’t mean she was either of higher status or a favoured slave – it could be either.
Ancient Greek girl
This is “Myrtis”: a reconstruction of a skeleton found in Athens in the 1990’s. She died at the age of 11 of the infamous plague that struck Athens during the Peloponnesian War in 430 BC.
Early Neolithic Man
This reconstructed head of an early Neolithic man is based on the skeleton of an adult male excavated in 1863 from a long barrow at Winterbourne Stoke, Wiltshire. On display at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre with his upright skeleton beside him, he was born about 5,500 years ago – roughly 500 years before the circular ditch and banks, the first monument at Stonehenge, were built.
Radiocarbon dating shows that the man died between 3630 and 3360BC. His teeth showed that he was born away from chalk areas, perhaps somewhere in south west Britain or west Wales, and moved to the chalk geology later in life.
This tough looking character is in fact a Medieval Knight – a sword-swinging War of Independence warrior whose brutally executed skeleton was discovered buried in a forgotten chapel at Stirling Castle in the late 1990s-in a mass grave of 10 skeletons thought to have been slaughtered in a siege during the Anglo-Scottish wars of the late 13th and early 14th centuries.
Mary Rose Archer
“You can look into the eyes of the crew,” promised staff as the remarkable New Mary Rose Museum opened at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Meeting this archer’s gaze as he stood next to his skeleton certainly offered a window into the past. Apparently the archer’s profession had ruined his shoulder joints so he “wouldn’t have been much use on the guns”.
Courtesy University of Dundee.
Lincoln Castle’s Anglo Saxon man
Facial reconstruction experts at the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification recreated this face of a Saxon man,aged between 36 and 45 years, whose skeleton was discovered on the site of an old church at Lincoln Castle during a dig in 2013.
High-precision radiocarbon dating indicated he died between 1035 to 1070, just before the Norman Conquest, and may well have been an Anglo-Scandinavian who grew up in the local area.
Photo credit: NBC News
The Oldest American
The Ice Age teenager, nicknamed Naia, fell to her death in Mexico 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. She remained in the deep underwater pit until 2007 when divers visited the site on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Genetically, there is no doubt about Naia’s link with later Native Americans. They share a common ancestor from Siberia. But neither resembled the other in the slightest. Her features were unexpected, and Naia’s skull shape was not typically Siberian.
Instead, the structure was more specific to South Pacific or African groups. There is no ready answer to explain why. Some scholars suggest that natural selection changed how Native Americans look over time. But others caution that Naia could merely be a natural variation of the population.
The Brave Witch
Accused of being the Devil’s lover and a witch, an elderly woman stood no chance in 1704. The Scottish villager was tortured until she “confessed.” Sentenced to death, Lilias Adie was determined to protect other women from the same fate.
During the 20th century, her skull was photographed, and in 2017, forensic scientists wondered if reconstruction was possible using the images as the main source. Lilias’s skull was missing but no longer her appearance.
A mix of forensic techniques, the photographs, and the latest virtual sculpture software revealed one of the many victims persecuted for witchcraft. Far from looking like she was about to nuke the village, Lilias had a grandmotherly face that nobody would fear today.
9,000-Year-Old ‘Angry’ girl who lived in the Mesolithic era
The young girl, given the moniker of Avgi (‘Dawn’), lived during circa 7000 BC – thus being among the first inhabitants of what is now considered mainland Greece. Corresponding to the end of the Mesolithic Period, Avgi probably resided at the Cave of Theopetra in Thessaly, Central Greece. The ancient address was discerned by the proximate burial place, where the remains revealed how the girl met her unfortunate demise at an early age of 18 to 25.
Lady of Dai (circa 2,000 Year Old )
Meritamun -An Egyptian woman who lived about 2000 years ago.
A team led by the University of Melbourne in Australia has reconstructed the face of Meritamun (‘beloved of the god Amun’), an Ancient Egyptian noblewoman who lived at least 2,000 years ago. Her head had been stored in the school’s basement for decades.
The scanned skeleton identified a lady who died very young (18–25). Scientists produced a 3-D printed copy of Meritamun’s skull and brought to life a beautiful Egyptian girl with information gleaned from the scans.
Though both serious conditions, researchers believe that Meritamun probably died because of her sweet tooth. She had two dental abscesses that could have resulted from eating honey or sugar. The CT scans showed that the abscesses were serious enough to be considered as a reason for her untimely death
This is the first real-life reconstruction of the features of a victim of the volcanic disaster who lived in the ill-fated seaside town of Herculaneum. Experts say the appearance is that of a typical southern European who may have been wealthy and educated because his age was an unusual milestone for the time.