Buried with jewelry, goblets and weaving tools, all made in gold. That’s how the so-called "Huarmey Queen" was found in Peru. The rich lady, who died at the age of 60, was buried 1200 years ago. Her face, however, managed to turn back time and was reconstructed with an astounding realism - it’s as if she had come back to life.
(Skull with preserved hair. Photo: Robert Clark, National Geographic Creative)
“When I first saw the reconstruction, I saw some of my indigenous friends from Huarmey in this face,” stated Miłosz Giersz, a National Geographic grantee who participated in the group of archaeologists that found the aristocrat's tomb.
(3D-printed skull that served as the basis for the reconstruction. Photo: Oscar Nilsson)
The discovery happened in 2012, when remains of 58 noble ladies, including four queens and princesses, were found in a tomb on a hillside once famous for being a large temple complex of Wari culture. The finding was classified as "one of the most important in recent years" by the curator of pre-Columbian art at the Art Museum of Lima, Cecilia Pardo Grau.
(Muscles and skin were modeled with clay. Photo: Oscar Nilsson)
One of the women found there stood out for the luxury of her grave. Named "Huarmey Queen," the noblewoman aroused the curiosity of the specialists, who sought ways to reconstruct, basing on the discovered skeleton, her original appearance.
It was then that Oscar Nilsson, an archaeologist renowned for performing facial reconstructions, was consulted.
(In her ears, he inserted copies of the golden ear spools found in the tomb. Photo: Oscar Nilsson)
Accepting the project, Nilsson decided to avoid taking a traditional approach (done mostly with computers) and started to rebuild Huarmey Queen’s visage manually. It took him 220 hours of work, during which he had only a 3D-printed version of her skull and some estimated data on details like the thickness of muscles and skin to guide him.
(Fat and skin were modeled with clay. Photo: Oscar Nilsson)
The result was extremely realistic - no detail was left out or ignored. To rebuild the noblewoman's haircut, for example, the archaeologist used real hair purchased in a local wig-supply market.
“If you consider the first step to be more scientific, I gradually come into a more artistic process, where I need to add something of a human expression or spark of life,” Nilsson said. “Otherwise, it’d look very much like a mannequin.”
(Real hair from an elderly Peruvian woman was used. Photo: Oscar Nilsson)
Seeing the outcome of his efforts, the archaeologist stated that, undoubtedly, the initiative was really “something else”, even considering all of his previous works during his 20-year career. With no regrets, Nilsson remembers when he was first consulted about it and says that, without any hesitation, he did immediately accept the proposal: “I just couldn’t say no to this project.”
And we are certainly happy he did so.