(ORDO NEWS) — The face of a woman who lived in Central Europe nearly 4,000 years ago has been reconstructed from her skull and DNA.
Researchers have reconstructed the face of a petite, dark-haired woman who was one of the richest women in Bronze Age Bohemia.
The woman was buried with five bronze bracelets, two gold earrings, and a three strand necklace of over 400 amber beads. Three bronze sewing needles were buried with her.
She belonged to the Unetice culture, a group of peoples from the Early Bronze Age of Central Europe known for their metal artifacts, including ax heads, daggers, twisted metal bracelets and necklaces called torcs.
It is not yet clear who the woman was, but she was very wealthy, said archaeologist Michal Erne of the Institute of Archeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
“Perhaps this is the richest female burial from the entire Unetice cultural region,” Erne said.
The woman lived between 1880 and 1750 BC, according to radiocarbon dating of the cemetery where her bones were found. The cemetery is located near the village of Mikulovice in northern Bohemia.
This area and the surrounding regions are known as Bohemia, as they constituted the kingdom of that name before the First World War. The 27 graves in the cemetery turned out to be an amazing treasure trove of artifacts, including about 900 amber items.
“Amber is found in 40% of all female graves,” said Erne. According to him, there is more amber in this single cemetery than in all Únětic graves in Germany.
“We have two neighboring regions of the same archaeological culture, but the social system was probably not the same,” he said.
This amber was most likely brought from the Baltics, indicating that the Unetice people were part of a far-reaching trading network in Europe at that time.
Bronze objects made by modern Europeans also testify to the complexity of Bronze Age trade, Erne added: bronze objects are found across the continent, but the raw materials for bronze, tin and copper came from only a few regions.
Of all the skeletal remains found in the cemetery near Mikulovice, the skull of a woman in amber is the best preserved. It was a happy coincidence that the richest grave also contained skeletal remains that could form the basis for a reconstruction, Erne said.
It was also fortunate that the bones were so well preserved that they contained fragments of the woman’s DNA. These genetic sequences allowed the researchers to determine that her eyes and hair were brown and her skin was fair.
Anthropologist Eva Vanichkova from the Moravian Museum in Brno and sculptor Ondřej Bilek collaborated to create a model of a woman’s torso.
The woman’s recreated clothing and accessories were also based on scientific evidence. Lyudmila Barchakova of the Institute of Archeology of the Academy of Sciences made an amber necklace and gold earrings, metalworker Radek Lukowka recreated bronze bracelets and needles, and Kristina Urbanova, an archaeologist who specializes in textiles, created the woman’s clothes.
Ancient DNA has been extracted from other bones in the cemetery, Erne said, so researchers are now trying to figure out how the people buried there were related. The cemetery may also provide new insights into regional differences in Early Bronze Age Central Europe.
According to Erne, in the neighboring regions of Bohemia, all the rich graves found belong to men. It is not clear if women had a different status in the region near present-day Mikulovice, he said.
It is possible that the women did indeed hold more wealth than women in neighboring regions, but it is also possible that they were buried with wealth to showcase the wealth of their male relatives.
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