A new computer animation, created using actual specimens and scientifically-accurate reconstruction methods, shows how some of the earliest Homo sapiens of Europe looked like.
When Homo sapiens left Africa and migrated to other continents, they ran into other human species that had come to these lands previously. In certain cases, such as happened with the Neanderthals in Europe, the two groups got very friendly and now, well, now Europeans have 2% Neanderthal genes in their DNA.
So how did the original, un-interbred H. sapiens looked like? Well, thanks to Russian visualization studio Visual Science and the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Science, we now have a pretty good idea.
The studio started from the skulls of boy and girl, the first estimated to be about 13 years old, while the girl (believed to be his sister) was likely 2-3 years younger, at the time of death. Their remains, which mark one of the earliest records of modern humans in Europe, were discovered in 1955 near present-day Sungir, Russia, a site which 28,000 to 32,000 years ago served as a settlement for H. sapiens — likely a seasonal hunting camp.
First, Visual Science laser-scanned and took high-definition pictures of the skulls, which were fed into a 3D-modeling program. This software was built following skull-based facial reconstruction techniques developed by Mikhail Gerasimov, a proeminent Soviet archaeologist and anthropologist. It’s still in use in Russia, Europe, and the United States, and in recent years the Gerasimov method has become even simpler and more accurate, thanks to ultrasound scanning and computer tomography.
Sergey Vasilyev, head of the physical anthropology department at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology gave the International Business Times some more details on the methods used:
“The anatomical and radiographic research methods used by Gerasimov allowed scientists to not only determine standards for the thickness of soft tissues along the face profile line, but also to reveal patterns in the distribution of the soft tissues’ thickness, depending on skull surface morphology development,” he told IBT.
“The structure of particular facial elements was determined by individual morphological features of the skull. Gerasimov’s successors developed techniques to restore the nose and ears. The degree of reconstruction authenticity was determined by a number of facial reconstruction projects that used the skulls of modern people, whose lifetime portraits were available. The methodology was tested mainly on forensic material.”
VR animation by Visual Science.
Despite likely being the ancestors of northern and eastern Europeans today, the two children don’t look quite like modern humans. This lack of similarity comes down to evolution — “modern” facial features are believed to have evolved after the stone age, as food processing and cooking allowed our jaws to become smaller and our overall facial anatomy followed suit.
Alongside the bodies, archaeologists also unearthed a large trove of cultural artifacts and ancient household items such as clothing, jewelry, and beads. With them, the studio could also clothe the two children in full (and quite spectacular) garb.