Things That Matter

This Peruvian Queen Has Been Brought Back To Life In An Ultra-Realistic Sculpture And People Cannot Believe She’s Not Real

Have you ever wondered what your ancestors looked like — if you shared the same cheekbones, hair texture, skin tone or smile? Sure, some of us have seen illustrated reimaginings of our ancient forebearers, but there still remains a longing to know what they might have looked, felt or sounded like in real life. In Sweden, one man is using his artistic talents and archeological knowledge to give us a glimpse of our primordial relatives.

Oscar Nilsson is a sculptor and archaeologist who specializes in reconstructing faces.

Credit: odnilsson.com

Since the 1990s, he’s been using his skills to hand-sculpt the faces of people who lived hundreds to thousands of years ago. Through his company, O.D. Nilssons, the creative works with various museums to help restore faces of people whose remains were discovered during archaeological excavations.

In the past two decades, Nilsson has revived more than a dozen primitive individuals. He has restructured a young woman from the Stone Age, who lived in what is now Brighton, United Kingdom about 5,500 years ago. His reimaginings show that people who originally inhabited the area weren’t white but rather a deep brown that resembles those from North Africa. He recreated the face of an 18-year-old girl who lived in modern-day Greece about 7,000 years before Christ; a malnourished, anemic man who lived during the Bronze Age about 3,700 years ago; and a well-built man with a “Suebian knot” who lived in Britain about 2,400 years ago in the Iron Age.

In addition to the unnamed progenitors, Nilsson has also used unearthed remains to restructure the faces of leaders of the past world. Through his work, he has brought to life Birger Jarl, the ruler of Sweden from 1248 until his death on Oct. 1, 1266, as well as Estrid Sigfastsdotter, a rich woman who lived in XI century AD near Stockholm and died around the age of 80 at a time when the life expectancy was about 35 years old.

One of our favorite Nilsson reconstructions, however, is that of Huarmey Queen, a Wari monarch woman from what is today northwest Peru.

Credit: odnilsson.com

In 2012, a Polish archeological group found a burial of the indigenous Wari culture, which would later become the Incan Empire. The tomb carried the remains of 58 noblewomen of different ages, all buried with “extraordinary luxuries.” Huarmey Queen, for instance, was entombed with jewelry, gold ear flares, a silver goblet, a copper ceremonial axe and expensive textiles, among other splendors. In his sculpture, the woman is seen aged, with peppered hair and wrinkled skin. She has deep brown eyes, sharp cheekbones, lightly golden skin and large gauges in her ears.

Nilsson is able to make his restorations through a process that requires much time, patience, skill as well as anatomical, archaeological and historical understanding. The sculptor uses skulls discovered during archaeological digs as his base. He digitally scans the remains in an effort to perfectly map the craniums, using a 3D printer to rebuild them. With his knowledge of anatomy, he then overlays the restructured skulls with muscles. Using DNA analysis of the corpse as well as the surroundings of the site where the remains were found, he adds details like skin, hair, eye color and clothing.

In his work, he uses skin-pigmented silicone, actual human hair — which he inserts strand by strand — and prosthetic eyes. The entire process for one face restructure takes about 200 hours.

Credit: odnilsson.com

“The human face is a motif that never ceases to fascinate me: the variation of the underlying structure as well as the variety in details seem endless,” he says on his website. “And all the faces I reconstruct are unique. They are all individuals.”

As a university student, the artist studied archaeology, hoping to become a forensic artist. The man, who says he is fascinated by faces and history, told the DailyMail that he “wanted to see what the people from history look like.”  

Through his collaborations with museums, which hire him to recreate faces for various historical exhibitions, he is also able to give people a glimpse of what their own ancestors looked like. For him, his human-like sculptures are both a window into the past as well as a way to engage youth in history.

“I hope people get a feeling of ’I know this guy,’” he said. “It is the most effective way to make history relevant, especially to the younger generations.”

Read: The Aztecs Built It Out Of Human Skulls And Archeologists Are Starting To Uncover Its Mysteries

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