Archeologist Creates Hyperrealistic Sculptures of Real Humans Who Lived Thousands of Years Ago

Using excavated bones as a reference, sculptor and archaeologist Oscar Nilsson recreates the faces of actual people who lived a long time ago.

The amazing reconstruction sculptures depict people throughout history, giving us a fascinating insight into how different people looked at their time.

“By using this forensic technique, it makes it possible to see what an individual looked like, even though there are thousands of years between us,” Nilsson explains. “It’s a way to make history more intimate, emotional, and personal, and a way to feel closer to the individuals.”

By combining scientific research with artistic skill, Nilsson bases each sculpture on actual bone remains he discovered during archaeological excavations. Each of his hyperrealistic sculptures reveals an amazing amount of detail, including bone structure, facial hair, and even wrinkles.

“The technique is based on both measurements of the tissue depth of the face, and the rebuilding of the facial muscles.”

A Mesolithic teenage girl who lived and died around 9,000 years ago and was buried in a cave in central Greece.

For instance, Nilsson has recreated the bust of a young Greek girl who lived 9,000 years ago, during the Mesolithic era (around 7,000 BCE). She features a protruding jaw and a scowling expression, giving some insight into what life was like during the tough time she lived. Scientists think her pronounced jaw is caused by chewing on animal skin to make it into soft leather – a common practice among people of that era. “Having reconstructed a lot of Stone Age women and men, I think some facial features seem to have disappeared or ‘smoothed out’ with time,” Nilsson says.

Here are some more great examples of Nilsson’s work, followed by a visual explanation of the artistic process.

The Whitehawk Woman, a young woman who lived during the Stone Age about 5,500 years ago. She was found near Brighton with an infant in her arms, and may have died during childbirth. She was also very small, measuring just 4ft 9in in height.
Swedish viking, 11th century.
Neanderthal woman who lived and died around 45,000 years ago, based on findings from Gibraltar.
A depiction of a Cro-Magnon man, based on findings from France that date back to around 40,000 years.
Huarmey Queen from the Wari culture, an ancient people that ruled the region centuries before the famous Incas. It took Nilsson 220 hours to sculpt this model.
British man from the Iron Age.
Estrid Sigfastsdotter, a rich and powerful Viking woman from 11th century Sweden. Her long family history was recorded on several runestones found in the Uppland region.
Birger Jarl, founder and first ruler of Stockholm from 1248 until his death in 1266.
Stafford Road man, who lived in Britain during Saxon times, around 500 AD.
The Ditchling Road Man found in Sussex dates back to between 2,287BC and 2,215BC. He was aged 25 to 35 when he died, and was 1.71 metres tall. It’s unclear how he died, but it’s clear that he had previously suffered serious malnutrition, and was probably very pail and sickly.
Buried with a nail embedded into the back of her skull, the Patcham woman lived around 210AD during the Roman rule of Britain. She was impaled either just before or just after death, to stop her corpse rising from the grave – a superstitious fear at the time.
A man who lived in Västerås, Sweden, during the 16th century.

Having looked at the above stunning examples of recreating people who lived a long time ago, you wonder how such a feat is possible at all. Well it takes time. A lot of time…

Nilsson spends hundreds of hours on his creations.

First, Nilsson creates digital scans of skulls uncovered by archaeologists or himself and precisely maps every minute detail of the skull so that they can be reproduced later.

Next, he uses a hi-tech 3D printer to rebuild the skull, which then acts as the base for the sculpture. Using his extensive knowledge of anatomy, Nilsson then lays on muscles and skin to reproduce what a deceased person would’ve looked like.

Here’s how the process looks like, step by step.

Nilsson begins the reconstruction of the face of a man from the Swiss town of Solothurn.
The man lived in Solothurn during the 8th century.
Nilsson adds details slowly and methodically to make sure the model is accurate.
His models are based on real historical evidence – typically in the form of actual skulls.
Creating each work is a genuine forensic effort.
The sculpture itself is created before hair and colours are applied.
And here’s the end product: finished sculpture of the Solothurn man.

With help from a team of specialized craftsmen and scientists, Nilsson makes his sculptures of historical people available to museums worldwide. So if you like going museums, you might bump into one of them one day.

Sources: 1, 2, 3


  1. My brother & sisters & I look like the Solothurn Man before the final touches and I can really see it in the eyes, nose & cheek bone structure. Pfalzgraff from Germany and family moved to or from Switzerland our Dad. We have more looks from our mothers side Randle – Doolittle


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