Archaeology

The Reconstructed Face of This Ancient Queen Probably Looks Like Someone You Know

What did Peruvian royalty from 1,200 years ago look like? A lot like someone you may have seen around town. A renowned archaeologist reconstructed the face of an ancient queen, and the hyperrealistic result looks so modern that you might actually recognize her.

Yas, Queen

In 2012, National Geographic grantee MiƂosz Giersz and Peruvian archaeologist Roberto Pimentel Nita stumbled on a jackpot. They discovered the untouched tomb of 58 Peruvian noblewomen at what was once a temple for the Wari, a pre-Inca civilization. "This is one of the most important discoveries in recent years," Cecilia Pardo Grau, curator of pre-Columbian art at the Art Museum of Lima, told National Geographic. Among the miraculously unlooted tombs was the burial site of one especially decorated woman. She was given the nickname "the Huarmey Queen," and for good reason.

The queen was certainly a somebody. She was buried in her own private chamber, surrounded by jewelry and other luxuries like gold ear flares, gold weaving tools, a copper ceremonial axe, and a silver goblet. She was even missing some teeth, which makes sense assuming she regularly drank chicha, a sugary alcoholic beverage only available to the Wari elite. In 2017, the team brought the Huarmey Queen back to virtual life with an incredible facial reconstruction. Time to toast with some chicha!

Face Time

Giersz consulted with archaeologist Oscar Nilsson, known for his facial reconstructions, to give our queen that new life. Instead of using computers create a CGI head, Nilsson went analog. Starting with a 3D-printed model of the woman's skull, he rebuilt her face entirely by hand. He looked at datasets containing the thickness of the muscle and flesh over the bone along with photos of people indigenous to the region. A cool 220 hours later, and viola! The queen has arrived. For added authenticity, Nilsson even topped off his undeniably realistic model with a wig made from the real hair of elderly Andean women.

"If you consider the first step to be more scientific, I gradually come into a more artistic process, where I need to add something of a human expression or spark of life," Nilsson told National Geographic. "Otherwise, it'd look very much like a mannequin." Judging by the striking liveliness of his reconstruction, mission accomplished. "When I first saw the reconstruction, I saw some of my indigenous friends from Huarmey in this face," said Giersz. "Her genes are still in the place."

Face of Ancient Queen Revealed for the First Time

Written by Joanie Faletto January 24, 2018