In 1997, archaeologists unearthed a skeleton buried in the fetal position at Toca dos Coqueiros, an archaeological site in Serra da Capivara National Park in Brazil. Based on the size and shape of the skull, they identified the remains as female and named the skeleton Zuzu. But that classification remained steeped in controversy (opens in new tab)with many researchers claiming that the deceased was actually male.
Now, a new facial close-up of the 9,600-year-old skull may help settle that debate.
Last year, researchers took dozens of photos from different angles of the skull, which is on display at the Museum of Nature in Paraná, Brazil. Using photogrammetry, they digitally assembled the 57 photographs to create a virtual 3D model of the skull “to reveal the face of this figure so mysterious and so important to the history of Brazil,” the researchers wrote in their to study (opens in new tab)Published on January 25th.
“Trying to rescue the appearance that an individual had in life thousands of years ago is a way of bringing him to the present day, bringing him closer to the public”, first author Moacir Elias Santos (opens in new tab)one archaeologist with the Ciro Flamarion Cardoso Museum of Archeology in Brazil, he told Live Science via email. “The greatest interest was being able to glimpse Zuzu’s face, whose skeleton It is one of the most important finds in the Serra da Capivara National Park region.”
To inform their work, they used computed tomography (CT scans) from living virtual donors and applied this information (opens in new tab) to “adjust the structure of the skull” including tissue thickness markers, study co-author Cicero Moraes (opens in new tab)a Brazilian graphics specialist, told Live Science via email.
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“(We) adjusted the structure of the skull to transform the donor’s skull into a volume almost equal to Zuzu’s skull,” said Moraes. “When we do that, the soft tissue follows that deformation/adaptation and results in a face that is expected, (and) compatible with Zuzu in life.”
The researchers created two results, both depicting a young man with a wide nose and lips. One approach included hair and eyebrows based on information provided by virtual donors, and the other featured Zuzu with her eyes closed and no hair. Because the digital face was “slightly emaciated,” the researchers retracted the lower jaw to match a gap that came from some missing teeth, according to the study.
“Although the skull has affinity with an Asian population, among individuals of such ancestry there are a large number of structural differences, which are circumvented by closing the eyelids,” the researchers wrote in the study. “The image was also rendered in grayscale (black and white) as there is no accurate information about the skin color. Therefore, such an image would be as close to what the real face could be.”
“The most interesting thing about looking at Zuzu’s skull is getting an idea of what he would have looked like in life,” said Santos. “It’s a reunion with one of our country’s oldest ancestors.”