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Facial Reconstruction of a Prehistoric Man Whose Head Was Mounted on a Stake

Crime is much more meaningful when you can relate personally to the victim (or the killer, if you are that sort). We may find it hard to personally relate to people who died 8,000 years ago, but at least now we can put a face on one man whose head was erected on a stake after he was killed in a violent manner.

Researchers from Stockholm University and the Cultural Heritage Foundation found the original skull, along with several others, in 2011 at the Kanaljorden site near the Motala Ström river. The remains of 10 people—nine adults and one infant—were found stacked atop a thick layer of large stones. All adult skulls exhibited signs of blunt force trauma prior to death, which may explain how they died. Some skulls, including the reconstructed skull, had evidence of past injuries that healed. No mandibles were found at the site.

Strangely, three adult male skulls displayed signs of sharp force trauma after death, in manner consistent with the skulls having been mounted to stakes. And indeed, one of the specimens still had a wooden stake sticking out of the cranium. This was an odd post-death ritual for hunter-gatherers and not something seen commonly until the Middle Ages.

Swedish forensic artist Oscar Nilsson reconstructed the man's face from the blues in his DNA, evidence from the archaeological site, and what we know of the area's history. Read how he did it at Gizmodo.

(Image credit: Oscar Nilsson/S. Gummesson et al., 2018)

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