This 4,000-year-old skull just received a new face

Buried during the Stone Age, this woman once roamed the forests of northern Sweden. Now archaeologists have reconstructed her face.

This woman lived about 4,000 years ago in what is now northeastern Sweden. Oscar Nillson, a pioneer in reconstructive archaeology, brought her appearance to life.
Photograph by Oscar Nillson

For 4,000 years, a woman lay undisturbed in a stone-lined grave amid the forests of northeastern Sweden. She had likely followed animal migrations through the trees and along the Indalsälven river. When she died in her thirties of an unknown cause, she was buried with a boy, perhaps her son, estimated to have been around seven years old.

Fast forward to 2020, when Oscar Nilsson, an archaeologist who meticulously uses clay to reconstruct faces from thousands of years ago, was approached by curators from the Västernorrlands Museum in Sweden. The museum had in its possession the two skeletons, excavated a century ago from a hamlet known as Lagmansören.

The Stone Age pair were the oldest skeletons found in that region of Sweden, where harsh conditions don’t lend themselves to preservation. The museum was building an exhibit tracing 9,500 years of human habitation in Sweden and wanted to show visitors the oldest face from the north—the woman from Lagmansören. But what would her face look like?

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