By Janet Tappin Coelho
This is the face of a 4,500-year-old mummy, unearthed in an archaeological site in Peru, which sheds new light on the important role of women who lived in an ancient South American culture.
The face of the woman known as The Lady with the Four Brooches, whose body was found in an intact tomb in April last year in the coastal ruins of Aspero, in Caral, northcentral Peru, is unveiled today (October 11) at the Ministry of Culture in Lima.
The expression on the ancient face that looks out from the virtual image is that of a benign and ordinary looking woman.
But, according to Dr Ruth Shady, director of the Caral Archaeological Zone (ZAC), the individual, who anthropologists concluded died between the ages of 40 and 50 years old, was anything but ordinary.
Dr Shady explained: “It’s exciting to see the computer-generated 3D image of a person who we believe was a noble woman with important social standing and authority in the ancient Caral civilisation.
“Her discovery refers to the four brooches or ‘cuatro tupus’ carved from animal bones and shaped like monkeys and birds, that were found pinned to the fabric covering her remains.
“We know that these ornamental fasteners were used by women of prestige in traditional societies as symbols of their affluent social status.
“By revealing this ancient female’s face, we can throw some light on an intricate culture that supported gender equality, allowing both men and
women to hold, political, religious and leadership roles.”
However, before the mummy’s appearance could be revealed, Brazilian 3D computer graphic artist, Cicero Moraes, who spent two months
working on the project, had the complicated task of digitally replacing a missing eye and softening a robust and very masculine jaw as he
uncovered a face that had lain hidden for hundreds of thousands of years.
Mr Moraes said: “There was a dark mass obscuring the skull’s left eye socket which was partly caused by decaying body tissues and remnants of the funereal blanket covering the corpse.
“Photogrammetry can only take 3D photographic scans of the outside of the object, so I digitised the skull as it was and found an ingenuous way to fill in the gap.
“I simply mirrored the right eye orbit and copied it to the left side. I was able to soften the jawline by giving it a more feminine pointed chin.”
The mummy’s cranium was also severely deformed. It had been flattened at the top and back of the head in the parietal and occipital regions.
Archaeological findings suggest several ancient Andean societies intentionally distorted the shape of their skulls, starting from birth, as part of an archaic ritual. The reason remains a mystery.
Mr Moraes hid the severely distended cranium under a headdress.
He said: “Working with a disfigured skull is always a challenge as there is very little data to use as reference. I compared the ‘Lady’s’ skull with a modern woman of compatible ancestry and age.
“By overlapping the structures, you could see how the jaw on the ancient skull was more robust and square compared to the recent skull.
“I reconstructed the face by working with the anatomical distortion while referencing the modern skull. I also used data tables which give the
standard density of skin tissue, muscles and fat on various sections of the head.”
A multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, scientists and researchers was formed through an Inter-Institutional Cooperation Agreement between
ZAC and the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University (UIGV) at the start of the facial reconstruction project.
The experts worked with Mr Moraes to help bring the innovative programme to fruition.
When the mummy’s skeletal remains were first excavated, the find was hailed as one of most important discoveries of 2016 by the
American Institute of Archaeological (AIA).
The relic was found in a burial chamber covered with a layer of ash in the Huaca of the Idols, one of the impressive pyramid-shaped buildings,
built with overlapping platforms and a central staircase, which was constructed between the fourth and second millennia BC and is around 14
miles from the large ancient site of the city of Caral.
The body was bundled over in a crouched position, covered with a cotton and mixed textile brown cloth and a mat of reeds, and entombed with a
bowl of offerings containing vegetable fragments and seeds.
Tied around the neck was an elaborate 460 beaded necklace of white mollusc shells and a luxury Spondylus pendant, a precious and rare stone.
Analysis carried out on the corpse by physical anthropologist, Katya Valladares, indicates the noble woman was around five feet tall, she was
right handed with signs that she was used to hard work.
Before the woman died, she suffered three fractures that could have been caused by a fall.
The Caral civilisation, where traces of some of the oldest settlements in the Americas have been uncovered, flourished between 3600 to 1800BC.
Experts suspect the ancient society eventually died out due to climate change.
It predates the Inca period by 4000 years and was a harmonious community built on pleasure and commerce according to Dr Shady.
The early cities did not have defensive walls or battlements and there was no archaeological evidence of warfare or human sacrifice.
From the artefacts found, it appears the ancient Andean communities traded peaceably with other societies and promoted interaction and
intercultural exchange over long distances which stretched as far as Ecuador and the Amazon.
Music was apparently an important cultural and religious activity because in one of the temples archaeologists recovered 32 flutes.
In fact, the Caral region with its immense complex structures was a thriving metropolis which was roughly in existence around the same time as
when the Egyptian pyramids were being built in Giza.
Much less is known about the Peruvian civilisation than their well-documented African counterparts.
However, what is evident is that the Caral women had equal access to important positions in society with livelihoods sustained from fishing and
Dr Shady said: “This computer-generated facial reconstruction is part of an ongoing project to develop in-depth understanding of the complex
social and non-violent settlements that operated in the pre-Columbian civilisations.
“The work gives us an opportunity to reflect on gender-based issues in our present society. It will also stir up debate and increase the awareness
of our country’s historical heritage giving our projects greater visibility in Peru and throughout the rest of the world,” she said.