Maori ancestor face mapped | Pacific Beat

Maori ancestor face mapped

Maori ancestor face mapped

Updated 15 February 2012, 13:31 AEDT

It's not easy to visualise what our ancestors might have looked like, but now digital technology has allowed a group of researchers to reconstruct the face of a Maori woman using her 600 year old skull.

The woman the local iwi Rangitane have come to call "Aunty" lived in New Zealand's Marlborough region. Her skull was recovered several decades ago, but it's taken until now to repatriate the remains and reconstruct her face.

Presenter: Kate McPherson

Dr Susan Hayes, facial anthropologist, University of Western Australia; Dr Hallie Buckley, biological anthropologist, University of Otago

MCPHERSON: The skull belongs to a woman who died on the Wairau Bar in New Zealand in the 1400s.

It was recovered during an archaeological dig in 1939, but has recently been repatriated from the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch to the iwi Rangitane tribe and reburied.

Before the repatriation, Dr Susan Hayes, a facial anthropologist at the University of Western Australian,used Computed Tomography or CT scans of the skull to reveal the face of the woman.

HAYES: She has a very beautiful skull. She's very, very symmetrical and so therefore from that you know that she is going to have a particularly symmetrical face at the end, the bones relaying to the flesh.

MCPHERSON; Dr Hayes says CT scans and other software have opened up new possibilities for reconstructing faces.

HAYES: All of the remains are scanned. I got this very, very complex data set to work with and then there was a very, very quick learning curve, because change of technology, we've got imaging software to read the CT scans, but it actually turned out much to our surprise and relief. The CT scan data was actually fantastic, just so much detail.

MCPHERSON: The woman's face has large round eyes and full lips, and Dr Hayes says there was no evidence of damage to the skull.

HAYES: The sockets where her eye sits in are sort of really quite open and therefore you get the illusion of large eyes. She's got a very soft structure to the soft tissue. Her jaw, for example, has a very smooth edge into it which the research suggests that the means her flesh softly shapes the jaw.

MCPHERSON: Dr Hayes says she was able to build the face up muscle by muscle.

HAYES: What was different here was, again because it was digital, because I was using digital files, I was able to actually draw on and double check that they were actually logical, that as much variation within the soft tissues, as within the external appearance and so this actually required sculpting, digital sculpting every muscle.

MCPHERSON: Dr Hallie Buckley is a Biological Anthropologist from the University of Otago in New Zealand and co-ordinated the project which involved the repatriation of the woman's skull to the Wairau bar site.

Dr Buckley says the woman died in her late 20s or early 30s.

BUCKLEY: So we can tell that from looking at the amount of closure of the cranial sutures and traditional wear on her teeth. Also from evidence of growth disruption in her teeth, she had suffered from some periods of possibly malnutrition or exposure to infectious disease, while she was growing, so there is actual evidence of disruption of the growth of the dental tissue.

MCPHERSON: Meanwhile, facial anthropologist Dr Susan Hayes says she hopes to create an animation of the facial reconstruction process by compiling the numerous slides used to build up the muscles and facial features.

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