Researchers Reveal the Pretty Face of a Woman Who Lived 13600 Years Ago
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Near the end of the last great ice age, the remains of a descendant of the first people to move into Southeast Asia were found in the Tham Lod rock shelter of Thailand’s northwestern highlands.

Now, archaeologists have reconstructed what her face may have looked like in a drawing. It’s important to note, however, that researchers’ attempts at depicting what people looked like in life from their skeletons is always problematic because all they have to go on are bones of the face and skull.

The woman died about 13,600 years ago, while people first moved into the cave about 40,000 years ago. She died young by today’s standards, between the ages 25 and 35. Her remains also show that she was short, standing around 1.48 to 1.56 meters (4.85 to 5.12 feet).

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The facial reconstruction of the woman from Tham Lod rockshelter.

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The author of the article detailing the work, Susan Hayes of the University of Wollongong in Australia, and her team published their findings in the journal Antiquity. The abstract explains the approach they took in creating the drawing:

“Creating a facial appearance for individuals from the distant past is often highly problematic, even when verified methods are used. This is especially so in the case of non-European individuals, as the reference populations used to estimate the face tend to be heavily biased towards the average facial variation of recent people of European descent. To evaluate the problem, a facial approximation of a young woman from the Late Pleistocene rockshelter of Tham Lod in north-western Thailand was compared against the average facial variation of datasets from recent populations. The analysis indicated that the Tham Lod facial approximation was neither overtly recent in facial morphology, nor overtly European. The case is of particular interest as the Tham Lod individual probably belonged to a population ancestral to extant Australo-Melanesian peoples.”

The researchers used data detailing measurements of skulls, muscles, skin and other facial tissue from people around the world, says an article in IBTimes UK . This was an attempt to get a more “average” look. But, Dr. Hayes admits there is no average when it comes to how people look, even when averaging data from prehistoric ethnicities worldwide.

This image shows the facial approximation method of reconstructing the image of a person’s face just from the skull.

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Although Dr. Hayes and the team used the method of “facial approximation” from measurements of people around the world, another method that is more popular is called “forensic facial reconstruction.”

Dr. Hayes told IBTimes UK that the image she and her team came up with is probably a general impression, but not a portrait image of what the Tham Lod woman looked like.

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A 2015 article by Gisele Santos on Ancient Origins about the Tham Lod rockshelter describes the significance of the site:

“The Tham Lod Rockshelter (a shallow cave) in Mae Hong Son Province, in Northwest Thailand is a prehistoric area that had been the center for burial and tool–making in the late Pleistocene to the late Holocene phase. The magnificent cave, a photographer’s and archaeologist’s dream, continues to shed light on the earliest humans that inhabited Thailand.”

Researchers have estimated early humans lived in the hill region of northern Thailand from about 125000 BC to 9700 BC onwards, Ms. Santos wrote. One team of archaeologists estimated the presence of humans in Tham Lod from about 40000 BC to 10000 BC.