Around 8,300 years ago, a teenager with an unusual skull and short stature may have been running along the rocky coast of what is now Norway, stopping to regain his balance while holding a fishing rod. Now, a new full-body reconstruction of the Stone Age teenager – nicknamed Vistegutten, Norwegian for “the boy from Viste” – is on display at the Hå Gamle Prestegard museum in southern Norway.
Rebuilding the boy was a months-long project, but researchers have known about Vistegutten since 1907, when archaeologists found his remains in a Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, cave at Randaberg, along the west coast of Norway.
A few things stand out about the 15-year-old: at four feet four inches tall, he was short for his age, even by Mesolithic standards; a condition known as scaphocephaly meant that his skull had fused together too early, forcing his head to grow backwards instead of sideways; and he may have died alone, as his remains were found as if he had been leaning against a cave wall.
“Either he was placed like this after his death, or he actually died in this position,” he said. oscar nilsson (opens in new tab), a Sweden-based forensic artist who created the boy’s image, told Live Science via email. “It might give the impression of a lonely boy, waiting in vain for his friends and family to show up… but we don’t know anything about how he died.”
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Scaphocephaly occurs when the sagittal suture at the top of the skull fuses too soon, giving the skull a dimpled appearance. But “it is not associated with any developmental problem or intellectual disability”, Sean Dexter Denham (opens in new tab)an osteologist at the Museum of Archeology at the University of Stavanger in Norway, who helped analyze the skeleton, Live Science said in an email. And while the boy’s unusual skull and short stature may have given him a unique appearance, his remains suggest he was well fed and healthy.
“The sheer volume of animal remains found at the site also attests to an abundant food supply,” Denham said. The cave, which is about 9 m deep and 5 m wide, is full of kitchen scraps; ornaments, such as decorated bone pendants; and fishing tools, including hooks, harpoons and barbed bone points, suggesting that “ancient people lived, worked, cooked and slept at the Viste site,” Nilsson said.
“The hook that the reconstruction of the boy from Viste holds in his hands is a replica of one of these discoveries,” noted Nilsson.
To do the reconstruction, two computed tomography (CT) scans were removed from the skull, allowing Nilsson to create a 3D-printed plastic replica. As he was unsure about the thickness of the boy’s facial tissue, Nilsson relied on measurements of modern 15-year-old boys from northern Europe. “Of course, we don’t know how transferable these measurements are to someone who lived 8,000 years ago,” Nilsson said. “But it’s the best we can imagine.”
He noted that the forehead was “quite childish looking, rounded and a little bulging from the face. That probably comes from the scaphocephaly,” Nilsson said, adding that the teen also had a thin nasal ridge, but a nose that was “fairly broad in parts. lower.”
An analysis of the boy DNA showed that her skin tone, hair, and eye color “would probably be close to other ‘Norwegian’ discoveries of the period”, including mostly brown eyes, dark hair, and shades in between skin tone, added Nilsson.
He intended to give the teen a subtle smile, “but as I got deeper into the project, I couldn’t shake the lonely boy feeling,” Nilsson said. “I imagine him heading to the sea (which was extremely close to the cave at the time) to catch some fish. It’s very windy in this part of Norway, so I worked really hard to make it look like the wind blows through his hair and clothes.”
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stone age wardrobe
The boy’s clothes are made by Helena Gjaerum, an independent archaeologist based in Sweden who uses prehistoric techniques to tan leather. “Oscar wanted a summer outfit and wanted the boy to be barefoot, standing on the beach,” Gjaerum told Live Science via email. “Therefore, a tunic was decided upon from the beginning.”
She made his tunic of tanned, depilated elk skin, and put two tanned salmon hides around his waist. A pouch slung from her belt was sewn from deerskin. All the remains of these animals were found at the archaeological site. To add to the authenticity, “the suit is sewn together with sinew threads and leather straps,” explained Gjaerum. “It’s smeared with ash and grease to make it look believable.”
The boy’s necklace was made from salmon vertebrae and a broken shell. His remains are “one of the oldest skeletons ever found in Norway”, Kristine Orestad Sørgaard (opens in new tab), an archaeologist at the University of Stavanger Museum of Archeology who helped Nilsson understand the archaeological context, told Live Science via email. “It’s a great reminder that the people of the past were a lot like us, despite living in a world very different from ours.”