Canary Islander´s face recreated 600 years after culture made extinct

Beautiful face of a tribe wiped out by Spanish conquistadors: Scientist reconstructs the face of 600-year-old indigenous Canary Island woman

  • The face of the young Guanche woman was recreated using 3D scans of the skull
  • It was conducted as part of an MSc Forensic Art and Facial Identification degree
  • The civilisation went extinct around 600 years ago due to Spanish colonisation
  • The skull pre-dates the extinction and was first found during the 19th-Century

The face of an indigenous Canary Islander who lived more than 600 years ago has been recreated using forensic techniques and 3D scanning. 

Guanche people inhabited the archipelago between the first and 15th centuries, until the arrival of the Spanish empire.

Settlers invaded the islands and the aboriginal people slowly went extinct and little trace of their civilisation was left behind.   

The woman died more than 600 years ago, before the Canary archipelago was invaded by Spanish sailors. The civilisation went extinct soon afterwards and little traces remain of the Gaunche people 

Karina Osswald, of the University of Dundee, has now recreated the face of a Guanche woman using her skull.

She said: ‘The true identity of the Guanche people has long remained a mystery – with the literary accounts of invading Spaniards being some of the only real information left about these intriguing indigenous people.

‘During this project, I ended up learning so much about the Guanche and I hope her image will inspire others to find out more about this ancient population.’


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The exact age of the skull remains unknown but it predates the extinction of Guanche people 600 years ago.

It was found in an unknown burial site on the Canaries around the 19th century and then donated to the University of Edinburgh Anatomical Museum.

Ms Osswald created the craniofacial reconstruction for her MSc Forensic Art and Facial Identification degree by taking 3D scans of the skull during a visit to the Anatomical Museum.

WHAT WAS GAUNCHE SOCIETY AND WHY DID IT GO EXTINCT?  

Guanches were the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands.

In 2017, the first genome-wide data from the Guanches confirmed they were of North African origin.

It is believed that they migrated to the archipelago around 1,000 BC. 

The Guanches were the only native people known to have lived in the Macaronesian region before the arrival of Europeans, as there is no evidence that the other Macaronesian archipelagos (Azores, Cape Verde, Madeira) were inhabited before Europeans arrived. 

After the Spanish conquest of the Canaries they were ethnically and culturally absorbed by Spanish settlers, although elements of their culture survive to this day, intermixed within Canarian customs and traditions such as Silbo (the whistled language of La Gomera Island). 

The exact age of the skull remains unknown but it predates the extinction of Guanche people 600 years ago. It was found in an unknown burial site on the Canaries around the 19th century and then donated to the University of Edinburgh Anatomical Museum

The student said: ‘What I’ve created is a best-guess estimate as to how one of these islanders would have looked.

‘However, recent literature suggests that the appearances differed between each island of the Canary archipelago.

‘This could mean, with further research, we may one day get a clearer idea of the individual differences between each Guanche island group.’

Her work is currently on display as part of this year’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design Masters Show.

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