Behold the visage of 'Ava,' a woman from the Bronze Age who graced the lands of Scotland 3,800 years in the past.


Researchers used scans of a Bronze Age woman's skull to create a facial approximation of what she may have looked like 3,800 years ago. (Image credit: Cícero Moraes)

During a road construction project in 1987, Scottish workers made an accidental discovery—an ancient burial site belonging to a Bronze Age woman. The tomb, resembling a stone coffin called a cist, was unearthed in Achavanich, located in northern Scotland. Alongside the woman's skeletal remains, various grave goods were found, including a pottery beaker with a short neck, a fragment of cow bone, and small flint pieces.

This significant burial, known as the Achavanich Beaker Burial, presented limited information about the woman, whom archaeologists affectionately named "Ava." Anthropological analysis revealed that she had likely passed away between the ages of 18 and 25. Additionally, measurements of her shinbone, or tibia, indicated that she stood approximately 5 feet, 7 inches tall (around 1.71 meters), as reported in a study published on June 22.

Based on the objects accompanying her in the grave, it is plausible that Ava belonged to the Bronze Age "Bell Beaker" culture, which was prevalent in Europe during that era and known for its distinct round pottery drinking vessels.

Now, a new depiction grants us a glimpse into the possible appearance of this enigmatic woman. Researchers utilized existing computed tomography (CT) scans of Ava's approximately 3,800-year-old skull to create a three-dimensional facial approximation. However, due to the absence of a mandible (lower jaw) in the cranium, the team relied on data derived from CT scans of living individuals to reconstruct the final image, as outlined in the study.

With the aid of anatomical, statistical, and logical data, the face of Ava was successfully reconstructed even in the absence of her mandible, according to study author Cícero Moraes, a graphics expert from Brazil. In an email to Live Science, Moraes explained that the process involved tracing the facial profile using soft tissue thickness markers to determine the skin boundaries.

Following this, the team carried out an "anatomical deformation" of a virtual donor, gradually adjusting it until the donor's skull transformed into Ava's, thereby causing the skin to conform to the deformation and resulting in a face that matched the approximate individual. In a 2016 analysis, Ava was depicted with fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. However, a subsequent facial approximation conducted in 2018, utilizing her DNA analysis, indicated that she likely had brown eyes, black hair, and slightly darker skin compared to present-day Scots, as mentioned in the new study.

Based on her height and facial features, the researchers speculated that Ava may have been perceived as a commanding presence during the Bronze Age period.