Swedish sculptor brings back to life long dead faces

Sculptor uses ancient skulls, a 3D printer and DNA analysis to painstakingly bring faces of a Viking noblewoman, the founder of Stockholm and a Peruvian queen back to life

  • Oscar Nilsson spends around 200 hours on each face he recreates using skulls found at archaeological digs 
  • He creates digital scans of these skulls to map them and uses a 3D printer to rebuild them for him to work on 
  • He then overlays realistic muscles and adds details like skin, hair and eye colour based on scientific findings 

Faces of people who died thousands of years ago have been revealed in stunning pictures, after they were expertly reconstructed by a Swedish sculptor. 

Oscar Nilsson, from Stockholm, spends around 200 hours on each face he recreates, using skulls found at archaeological digs as a base.

He creates digital scans of these skulls to map them in perfect detail and uses a 3D printer to rebuild them, forming a base for him to work from.

He then uses his knowledge of anatomy to overlay muscles and is steered by scientific findings – including DNA analysis – surrounding the specific find site to add details like skin, hair and eye colour, and clothing. 

To date, he has recreated a Viking noblewoman, the founder of Stockholm, an ancient Peruvian queen, people from various eras of Britain’s past and a 40,000-year-old Cro Magnon man found in France.   

Faces of people who died thousands of years ago are revealed in these stunning pictures, after they were expertly reconstructed by a Swedish sculptor. Pictured: Estrid Sigfastsdotter, a rich and powerful Viking noblewoman

HOW DOES SWEDISH SCULPTOR OSCAR NILSSON WORK? 

Swedish sculptor Oscar Nilsson collaborates with scientists and craftsmen around the world to bring historical faces to life.

Mr Nilsson uses CT scans of a skull to digitally map the shape of skulls uncovered by archaeologists.

He then uses a 3D printer to rebuild these skulls, forming a base for him to work from.

He then recreates muscles over this printed structure, using his knowledge of human anatomy as a guide.

Interpretive details such as skin, hair and eye colour, as well as clothing, are steered by scientific findings, including DNA analysis, about the time, place and culture surrounding the find. 

Mr Nilsson has been working for various museums around the world for 20 years and says he finds his work fascinating, as every face is so unique. 

He wanted to become a forensic artist when he studied archaeology at university in the 90s.

‘I simply wanted to see what the people from history look like,’ he added. ‘I love faces and history.’ 

Mr Nilsson creates forensic reconstructions of archaeological findings using the highest scientific techniques and standards, ultimately portraying what the individual most likely looked like in life.

The process starts with making a 3D replica of the original skull. 

Mr Nilsson reconstructs the muscles and features of the individual to get it as realistic as possible and he then casts the faces in skin pigmented silicone, human hair – inserted strand by strand – and prosthetic eyes.

‘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.

‘Most often when people see my work they say “I know him/her” or “she looks exactly like my aunt”. 

‘Our brains try to identify the face and, if the face is this realistic, the brain process becomes highly active.  People also always try to interpret the emotional status from the face.’ 

One of Mr Nilsson’s latest projects was to recreate the faces of some of the earliest people to live in Britain and Europe, to show what they may have looked like and tell their story.

This was part of an exhibition at Brighton Museum, focused on seven people, arranged chronologically, five of whom were early residents of Brighton & Hove.

Among the sculptures featured were people who lived during the last Ice Age, the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon periods. 

One, known as Ditchling Road man was buried in a shallow grave in a crouched position, lying on his left side with a decorated ceramic ‘beaker’ on its side by his feet and a barbed and tanged arrow head under his skull.

He lived between 4,287- 4,125 years ago and was between 25 and 35 when he died.

A quantity of snail shells were found opposite his mouth. It seems to have been a basic burial, indicating the man was probably not high status.

Limited DNA results show he probably had light skin, blue eyes, blonde hair. We also know he suffered from loss of teeth and tooth decay.


To date, Mr Nilsson has recreated a Viking Age woman, the founder of Stockholm, an ancient Peruvian queen, people from various eras of Britain’s past and a 40,000-year-old Cro Magnon man found in France. Left: A Neanderthal woman whose remains were found in Gibraltar. Right: Whitehawk Girl, a woman who lived near Brighton around 5650–5520 years ago


One of Mr Nillson’s latest projects was to recreate the faces of some of the earliest people to live in Britain and Europe, to show what they may have looked like and tell their story. Left: Patcham woman, who dates from the years 210 – 356 AD. Right: Adelasius Ebalchus, a man who lived in Switzerland around 700 AD, during the rule of the Roman Empire


The exhibition at Brighton Museum focused on seven people, arranged chronologically, five of whom were early residents of Brighton & Hove. Left: Stafford Road man, who lived in during Saxon times in Britain, around 500 AD. Right: Dawn, a teenager who lived during the Mesolithic period, around 7,000 BC

Another, known as Patcham woman, dates from the years 210 – 356 AD. She was likely to have been 25 – 35 years of age.

Mystery surrounds the death of Patcham woman whose body revealed a gruesome discovery. This petite and slender woman was found lying on her side with a nail impaled in the back of her skull.

She was likely to have light skin, blue eyes and blonde hair and according to historical research had lived a hard physical life. 

Her spine shows signs of stress, including bending and lifting, as well as joint disease in her right knee and lower spine.  

Another, Whitehawk Girl, lived between 5650–5520 years ago and lived to age 19-25. She was small and slender with dark North African or Southern Mediterranean skin and Her eyes were brown and her hair would have been a light shade of brown. 


Among the sculptures featured were people who lived during the last Ice Age, the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon periods. Left: A Cro-Magnon man, who was found in France and whose species of early human lived in Europe from about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. Right: Ditchling Road man, who lived in Britain between 4,287 years ago 


‘I hope people get a feeling of “I know this guy”,’ Mr Nilsson said. ‘It is the most effective way to make history relevant, especially to the younger generations.’. Left: A man who lived in  Västerås, Sweden, in the 16th century. Right: The hair of Stafford Road man, who lived in during Saxon times in Britain, around 500 AD

In another project, Mr Nillson recreated the appearance of Birger Jarl, the founder and first ruler of Stockholm, whose skull was discovered buried in a church. 

In another, he recreated the weathered face of a Peruvian queen buried with a vast trove of jewels and treasure 1,200 years ago.

His team spent 220 hours hand-crafting the features of the wealthy Noblewoman, who was at least 60 years old when she died, using a 3D-printed cast of her skull and data on her bone and muscle structure.

Archaeologists uncovered the tomb of the so-called Huarmey Queen alongside 57 female aristocrats from the Wari culture, an ancient people that ruled the region centuries before the famous Incas.

Scientists say the woman was buried in particular splendour, with her body kept in a private chamber surrounded by jewellery and other luxuries, including gold ear flares, a copper ceremonial axe, and a silver goblet.

WHEN DID HUMAN ANCESTORS FIRST EMERGE?

The timeline of human evolution can be traced back millions of years. Experts estimate that the family tree goes as such:

55 million years ago – First primitive primates evolve

15 million years ago – Hominidae (great apes) evolve from the ancestors of the gibbon

7 million years ago – First gorillas evolve. Later, chimp and human lineages diverge

A recreation of a Neanderthal man is pictured 

5.5 million years ago – Ardipithecus, early ‘proto-human’ shares traits with chimps and gorillas

4 million years ago – Ape like early humans, the Australopithecines appeared. They had brains no larger than a chimpanzee’s but other more human like features 

3.9-2.9 million years ago – Australoipithecus afarensis lived in Africa.  

2.7 million years ago – Paranthropus, lived in woods and had massive jaws for chewing  

2.6 million years ago – Hand axes become the first major technological innovation 

2.3 million years ago – Homo habilis first thought to have appeared in Africa

1.85 million years ago – First ‘modern’ hand emerges 

1.8 million years ago – Homo ergaster begins to appear in fossil record 

800,000 years ago – Early humans control fire and create hearths. Brain size increases rapidly

400,000 years ago – Neanderthals first begin to appear and spread across Europe and Asia

300,000 to 200,000 years ago – Homo sapiens – modern humans – appear in Africa

50,000 to 40,000 years ago – Modern humans reach Europe 

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