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Ancient History

Digital Facial Reconstruction Makes It Possible to See the Face of a Man Who Lived 700 Years Ago



700 years ago

Did you ever dream of meeting your ancestors, like traveling back in time and actually meeting them in person? While something like this could happen only in our imagination as time travel still belongs to the realm of sci-fi, real science has found another way to look into the faces of people who lived centuries ago.

Thanks to digital facial reconstruction technology, UK researchers were able to reconstruct the face of a man who lived in England in the 13th century.

After the Plague

It became possible thanks to an analysis of his remains, such as bones and teeth, which were discovered during the work on the After the Plague project launched by the University of Cambridge.

The project aims to find more information about this dark period of human history and learn more about the ordinary people who lived back then. While we know enough about the royal families and the elite layers of the medieval society, simple people’s lives are shrouded in mystery.

The After the Plague project is also about humanizing people in the past, getting beyond the scientific facts to see them as individuals with life stories and experiences. That’s why putting all the data together into biographies and giving them faces is so important,” said Professor John Robb, from the University’s Division of Archaeology, in a statement.

The excavation site where the remains were found used to be a charity hospital during the medieval times, which made the researchers assume that the man, who has received the name “Context 958”, was seriously ill and probably poor. This institution provided food and shelter for the people who were not able to survive on their own, such as the impoverished, the sick and the elderly.

What Else Do We Know about the Mysterious Man from the 13th century?

700 years ago face of a man

The face of Context 958. Image credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee

The analysis of the Context 958’s remains showed that the man’s age was above 40 years old when he died. While the team didn’t manage to establish the cause of his death, they found a blunt-force trauma on the back of his head, which had probably healed long before the man passed away.

It’s impossible to say what kind of job he did, but the researchers are positive about the fact that Context 958 belonged to the working class and was subject to hard physical labor.

The scientists also found indications of famine or possible illness the man had gone through as it was discovered that his tooth enamel had stopped growing on two occasions during his younger years.

At the same time, it was also established that Context 958’s diet was quite rich in meat and fish, which was not typical for people from the poor layers of the medieval society. This made the researchers suppose that the man could have worked in a trade, a job that could give him the access to this kind of foods. Then, something happened in his life, most likely a serious illness (which was common back then), and he had to stop working.

He had fallen on hard times, perhaps through illness, limiting his ability to continue working or through not having a family network to take care of him in his poverty,” the researchers added.

There is also a curious detail that remains unexplained – it’s the way the man was buried.

He has a few unusual features, notably being buried face down which is a small irregularity for medieval burial. But, we are interested in him and in people like him more for ways in which they are not unusual, as they represent a sector of the medieval population which is quite hard to learn about: ordinary poor people,” said Professor Robb.

Image Credit: Chris Rynn, University of Dundee

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