England: face of 75,000-year-old Neanderthal woman reconstructed in 3D model

Scientists from the University of Cambridge recreated the face of a Neanderthal woman using a 3D printer. The woman, who was in her forties at the time of her death, must have been 1.52 meters tall.

Archaeologists from the universities of Cambridge and Liverpool (England) managed to reconstruct in 3D the face of a Neanderthal woman more than 75,000 years old, the BBC reported this Thursday, May 2.

This technological feat was achieved as part of the document The Secret of the Neanderthals produced by British Radio Studios and coming soon to Netflix.

“3D puzzle”

The skull of this Neanderthal woman was discovered in 2018 in Shanidar Cave in Iraqi Kurdistan. Crushed by a layer of stones 2cm thick, “it was as flat as a pizza”, Professor Graeme Barker, who is leading the new excavations at Shanidar, told the BBC.

“It’s hugely exciting and a huge privilege to be able to work with the remains of an individual,” Dr Emma Pomeroy, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC.

According to British radio, it took more than a year to restore the Neanderthal skull. “Each skull fragment is gently cleaned while glue and a consolidation agent are added to stabilize the bones,” said Dr. Emma Pomeroy in a press release from the University of Cambridge.

A task that is not easy because the bone “can be very soft, with a consistency similar to a biscuit soaked in tea”, described the paleoanthropologist.

After reconstruction, the skull was scanned and printed as a 3D model. To bring this face to life, Adrie and Alfons Kennis, two renowned paleoartists, told the University of Cambridge, carefully added layers of artificial muscle and skin.

“It’s like a 3D puzzle,” summed up Dr. Emma Pomeroy in a press release.

“Shanidar Z”

To determine the skeleton’s age and sex, the team of scientists relied on sequencing proteins in its tooth enamel. The Neanderthal nicknamed “Shanidar Z” is in her 40s and is approximately 1.52 meters tall.

Shanidar Z is the fifth Neanderthal whose remains have been found in the Shanidar Cave in Iraq. Four other bodies had already been discovered in the same cave by archaeologist Ralph Solecki in the 1960s, suggesting to researchers that the site might be a prehistoric burial site. According to the BBC, all the bodies were carefully placed in a ravine next to a tall rock pillar and shared a similar orientation in how they were arranged.

“Our findings show that Shanidar Neanderthals may have thought about death and its consequences in a way not dissimilar to that of their closest evolutionary cousins, namely ourselves,” Professor Graeme Barker of the McDonald Institute said in a University of Cambridge statement.

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