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How do you re-create a 7,000-year-old woman?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

We’re fascinated with Oscar Nilsson’s captivating facial reconstructions of people who lived in the deep past. An archaeologist and an artist, Oscar understands how to interpret excavated skulls and bring them to life in an approachable yet academically rigorous way.

So when he told us he was reconstructing the face of a regally buried woman who lived in what is now Sweden 7,000 years ago, we welcomed the opportunity to share this creation. The manner of her burial—seated upright on a bed of antlers, with ornaments made from more than 100 animal teeth and a slate pendant around her neck—shows she held a distinct role in her community.

Her dark skin and light eyes are consistent with what ancient DNA tells us about Europeans before the advent of agriculture. This woman was part of a hunter-gatherer population that continued in Scandinavia for 1,000 years after farming spread across mainland Europe. Life was good for hunter-gatherers in the fertile marshes and forests of Mesolithic Sweden, so why bother with farming?

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Today in a minute

Race against time. Looters already had found the “Lost City” deep in Colombia’s jungle. Archaeologists and guides raced there to preserve what they could. Since their dramatic 1976 mission to the home of the pre-Colombian Tairona, authorities have restored 200 structures, including circular houses, paved roads, stairways, terraces, as well as squares, ceremonial areas, canals, and warehouses, History magazine reports.

Avian sacrifice. Ancient Egyptians worshipped Thoth, the god of magic and wisdom, who was depicted with a human body and the distinctive long-beaked head of an ibis. Between roughly 650 and 250 B.C., ancient Egyptians sacrificed millions of mummified ibises to Thoth in hopes of fixing love troubles, improving economic fortunes or curing illness, our History team reports. Most were hunted down and kept for sacrifice.

The czar’s last booze. A salvage company has recovered liquor destined for Russia’s last czar, part of the wreckage from a Swedish steamer that had been sunk by a German U-boat in May 1917. On board: 600 bottles of De Haartman & Co. cognac and 300 bottles of Benedictine liqueur, Smithsonian reports. To answer your question, a laboratory is determining whether the rescued spirits are still drinkable.

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Cave mysteries. Mustang, a former kingdom in north-central Nepal, is home to one of the world’s great archaeological mysteries. Hidden within the Himalaya are an extraordinary number of human-built caves, also known as the sky caves of Nepal. No one knows who dug them. Or why. Seven hundred years ago, Mustang was a bustling place and a center of Buddhist scholarship and art. Pictured here, a Buddhist monk practices a puja within the modern city of Mustang.

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One last glimpse

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Whose history? These Israeli soldiers listen to a tour guide in front of a mural at Jerusalem’s Cardo Maximus, or Roman main street. December’s National Geographic cover is dedicated to the extensive tunneling and archaeological development in the city, holy to three faiths, which some say is sacrificing a present-day history for another in the distant past. We’ll have more on this story in the weeks ahead.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading!