Swedish sculptor Oscar Nilsson reconstructed the face of an 18-year-old young woman, dubbed Avgi, whose 9,000-year-old bones were found in a cave in central Greece. [Read more about the facial reconstruction]
A plastic 3D-printed skull was made based on scans of the original bones found in Greece. Nilsson used this replica as the base for his sculpture.
Layers of clay
Plastic pegs guided Nilsson as he added clay muscle to the face.
He faithfully recreated each individual muscle between the bone and the skin. Because of this meticulous process, each sculpture takes about 220 hours from start to finish.
For his reconstructions, Nilsson bases the thickness of the muscle and fat on scientists’ determination of the age, sex, weight, and ethnicity of the person he’s trying to recreate.
Avgi opens her eyes
Half of the skull is finally covered with clay “skin.”
A much more lifelike silicone “skin” is finally added over the face, complete with pores and wrinkles. Not much is known about Avgi’s life, but Nilsson hopes viewers could feel a connection with her by seeing her face.
Some say that two heads are better than one, but a grave in the Scotland Highlands dating to the 15th century held several heads too many.
Archaeologists counted six skulls in the grave when it was uncovered in 1997 at St. Colman’s Church in the fishing village of Portmahomack. Buried inside were two complete male skeletons and four additional skulls; this highly unusual “six-headed” burial likely held powerful members of a local clan, experts told Live Science.
Now, researchers are offering a glimpse at what one of those men may have looked like in life. Forensic experts recently reconstructed the craggy, freckled face of an occupant of that crowded grave, creating a highly detailed and glowering visage that included a generous, ginger neck beard.
The two complete skeletons in the grave likely belonged to successive clan chiefs, possibly killed during clashes with a neighboring clan, archaeologist Cecily Spall told Live Science in an email. Spall is a scientist with Field Archaeology Specialists (FAS) Heritage, a private company investigating historically significant sites. FAS and the University of Bradford in England have spent several years excavating St. Colman’s Church and the surrounding area, as part of the Tarbat Discovery Programme, according to the project website.
The grave was centrally located inside the ruins of the church near the entrance; this position hinted at the importance of the people who rested within the burial, FAS Heritage representatives said in a statement. St. Colman’s Church burned down sometime in the late 1400s, around the same time as a battle between the Ross and MacKay clans. The men in the grave may have lost their lives — and in some cases, their heads — during the conflict between those clans, the statement said.
Between 1994 and 2007, archaeologists at the site excavated 88 skeletons belonging to men, women and children. One group of bodies dated to between the 13th and 14th centuries, and another group was laid to rest during the 15th and 16th centuries, according to a report published in 2016 by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Initially, the grave held just one complete skeleton, which lay on its back, that of a man who had suffered terrible sword wounds to his face. In fact, one of his injuries was so dire that it had nearly separated the man’s jaw from his head, Spall said. Four skulls without their lower jaws were arranged in the grave around the man’s head, though researchers don’t know if these belonged to family, friends or foes of the man.
Then, “perhaps a generation later,” the coffin was opened and the body of another man was added, researchers wrote in the report.
“The skull of the first man was moved to the foot of the coffin to make way for the second man’s head, which was then also surrounded by the extra skulls,” Spall said.
Researchers said that both of the men in the grave were likely between the ages of 46 and 59 years old when they died; burial rituals and the arrangement of these skeletons along with other bodies nearby suggest that the grave belonged to “a prominent family,” according to the report.
Scientists with Face Lab at the Liverpool School of Art and Design digitally modeled the face of the grave’s second clan leader. They sculpted his features by first calculating the average depth of facial soft tissue from datasets of modern European faces, Ching Yiu Jessica Liu, a Face Lab project manager, told Live Science in an email.
The researchers then used high-resolution facial textures to craft individual features “based on the morphology of the skull,” Liu said.
Further investigation of the six-skull burial will use techniques such as radiocarbon dating, DNA analysis and stable isotope analysis to uncover more clues about the burial, “including the date of both interments, the date(s) of the extra skulls, possible familial connections or shared ancestry, and physical appearance,” Spall said.
Archaeologists have uncovered what may be the graves of 50 enslaved workers who labored at an elite Roman villa just under 2,000 years ago in what is now southern England.
These burials date to the Roman period in the United Kingdom, from about A.D. 43 to A.D. 410. Many of the deceased were buried with grave goods, such as pottery and brooches, in what is now Somerset, a county in southwest England.
“It’s relatively rare to excavate this number of Roman burials in our region, but in particular, in this case, we are very confident that all the burials are people who worked on a Roman villa estate,” said Steve Membery, a senior historic environment officer at South West Heritage Trust in the United Kingdom, which oversaw the archaeological excavation.
These laborers likely weren’t paid for their work, he noted.
“They are most likely household servants, agricultural workers, and many may have technically been slaves,” Membery told Live Science in an email. “So, this is a rare opportunity to study a sample of a community.”
That community appears to be a culture native in the area, and seems to have merged Iron Age and Roman era burial practices. Some of the buried individuals likely held a high status within their community, Membery added. For instance, an older woman buried with her head on a pillow in a stone-built, coffin-like box (known as a cist) was likely an important person, he said.
Archaeologists also found small nails at the foot of the burials, indicating that many of the people were laid to rest in leather hobnail boots, according to The Guardian.
“The burials also show early adoption of Roman burial practices, such as offerings, alongside traditionally Iron Age characteristics,” Membery said in a statement. It’s likely that these were British individuals who began following the customs of the Roman invaders, but DNA tests will be needed to support that idea, Membery noted.
Archaeologists found the burials while surveying the area ahead of the construction of a new school. The graves were dug into the bedrock, many with tops and bottoms lined with flat stones to create a coffin. Some of the graves had tented stone roofs, which are less common for this area, Membery said.
Archaeologists also found traces of Iron Age round-shaped houses as well as a Roman building, in the area. The villa itself has yet to be found, but an outhouse and a barn that may be part of it have been discovered, The Guardian reported.
During the excavation, researchers from Wessex Archaeology found a number of treasures, including pots that were placed next to the heads of most of the deceased. These pots were likely offerings, Membery said.
In addition, the team found coins with the likeness of the Roman emperor Vespasian (who reigned from A.D. 69 to 79), carved bone that once was likely part of a knife handle and an unusual lead weight that was probably part of a survey tool called a groma, which is similar to a sextant.
“This site is a significant discovery — the most comprehensive modern excavation of a Roman cemetery in Somerset,” Membery said.
Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week
By Jeanna Bryner – Live Science Editor-in-Chief 3 days ago
Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover incredible photos and the stories behind them.
Gorgeous displays of lightning lit up Taal volcano in the Philippines, as it shot ash and lava sky-high. Here, a column of ash surrounds the crater of Taal on Jan. 12, with lightning in the background, as seen from Tagaytay city. Scientists are still trying to nail down the exact causes of volcanic lightning, but they have some ideas. One is that static electricity, created as particles rub together within dense ash clouds near the ground produce the electric flashes. Another idea is that jockeying ice crystals high above Earth’s surface, in an atmospheric layer called the stratosphere launch the powerful jolts, Live Science previously reported.
(Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)
NASA’s Earth Observatory released an image this week of a snow-covered Deception Island, named for its appearance by explorer Nathaniel Palmer in 1820. Here’s why: When looked at from one angle, the island looked like any island, but from another one could see a narrow passage leading to a harbor, which was the flooded caldera of a volcano in the South Ocean — a place where explorers like Palmer could sail into, according to the Earth Observatory. The Landsat-8 satellite’s Operational Land Imager captured this image of the horseshoe-shaped island on Sept. 21, 2017.
A huge volcano in the Philippines, the Taal volcano, launched ash plumes 9 miles (14 kilometers) high this week, and satellites were there to capture stunning images.
“On Jan. 12, 2020, the Himawari-8 satellite captured an image of the Philippines during the aftermath of Taal Volcano’s first volcanic eruption in over forty years,” according to a statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “Eruptive activity, which has been occurring since 5:30 p.m. local time on Jan. 12, has generated steam-laden plumes up to nine miles tall, causing travel disruptions and extreme weather events in and around the vicinity of its location in Volcano Island, south of the archipelago’s capital city of Manila.”
White, crystalline mounds emerged recently above the surface of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Scientists think the mounds may be similar to mineral structures on Mars that are thought to possibly preserve traces of microbes from long ago.
The Earthbound mounds, which measure up to 3 feet (1 meter) high and dozens of feet across, are made out of mirabilite, a crystalline sodium sulfate. They say the mounds will remain as long as the temperatures stay below freezing; once it gets warmer, the mirabilite will dissolve.
Remarkable, high-resolution new video has revealed a wild sight: a silk structure in the Amazon that resembles a monumental henge, though teensy, and hence its nickname “Silkhenge.” Rather than human hands, spiders — whose identity has yet to be uncovered — crafted these web towers. New video, captured by tropical entomologist and science communicator Phil Torres during a recent trip to Peru, shows tiny spiderlings breaking out of the structures; that suggests they serve as protective “fences” around spider egg sacs.
A bubble-like structure called the magnetosphere protects our planet, blocking harmful solar radiation. But that defense isn’t always enough. Often, the sun acts up, launching high-speed streams of radiation from its surface, and, with it, intense magnetic field lines. When this so-called solar wind hits our protective bubble, the two magnetic fields get tangled up, generating heat and accelerating the charged particles in that solar wind. The result? Powerful magnetic storms that appear to us as auroras.
In addition to painting the polar skies in a rainbow of hues, these storms can wreak havoc on our electrical grid, communication systems and satellites. And just this week, scientists announced they had discovered these solar storms are happening much closer to our planet than previously thought.
This photos shows the collapsed wall of the ruins of an iconic landmark lighthouse in Guanica, Puerto Rico, on Jan. 6, 2020, after the area was destroyed by earthquakes. Starting on Dec. 28, intense earthquakes began shaking southern Puerto Rico, killing at least one person and causing several injuries. The temblors also collapsed several buildings, including this lighthouse and a multistory school in the town of Guánica that luckily was empty at the time. A magnitude-5.8 earthquake occurred on Jan. 6, followed by a magnitude 6.4 mainshock on Jan. 7. These quakes were followed by numerous large aftershocks.
The eruption of the Taal volcano produced stunning, if scary, images and video this week. Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite captured the volcanic plume (seen in this animation) as it spread over the course of Jan. 12 and 13. Taal is quite an active volcano, opening up throughout the mid-1960s until 1977. We were reminded of its activity also in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011, when the volcano periodically trembled with earthquakes.
The likely Leonardo da Vinci painting “Salvator Mundi,” shown here after being unveiled in Hong Kong on Oct. 13, 2017, seems pretty straightforward: a painting of Jesus Christ in Renaissance-era clothing, one hand holding a clear orb. That orb, however, is a controversial spectacle, as it seems to defy the laws of optics. However, researchers of a new study suggest the orb could be a realistic illustration of a hollow glass ball, after all. Using a computer-rendering technique, they showed that if the orb were made of thin blown glass, it would be physically possible in the real world.