The Langmansoren Woman lived 4,000 years ago in Northeastern Sweden. Find out how an archeological artist has reconstructed her face and forged a human connection with her remains.
Our family cottage has always been a place to enjoy the outdoors, including archery. Because of that, I remember being fascinated by a 5,000-year-old mummy that German hikers Helmut and Erika Simon discovered high in the Alps back in 1991.
Known at first as the Ice Man, then Frozen Fritz and finally as Otzi (after the Otzal Alps where the Simons found him) the freezing temperatures and other conditions in a gully high in the mountains mummifed his body. What intrigued me about him was that he was carrying a bow and a quiver.
The quiver contained twenty arrows in various states of repair, including many that he hadn’t finished yet. Every archer can relate to his having to put heads on his arrows and maintain them after damaging them with regular use.
CARRYING AN EXTREMELY HIGH QUALITY AXE
He was also carrying an extremely high quality axe. Anyone who’s spent time camping or backpacking knows how vital it is to have a good axe with you.
Another of his possessions was a birch bark container holding a live coal. If you’ve ever built a fire from scratch, you realize why he’d work around that task.
We now know what Otzi looked like because of the work of Dutch forensic artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis for Italy’s South Tyroll Museum of Archeology. Here’s what they came up with when they completed their facial reconstruction based on studying his remains.
REMAINS OF A WOMAN WHO DIED OVER 4,000 YEARS AGO
Last week, we learned about another facial reconstruction of a person from the stone age whom scientists had discovered in the 1920s. These were the remains of a woman who died over 4,000 years ago in Northeastern Sweden.
Known as the Lagmansoren Woman, she was in her thirties when she died 4,000 years ago. We don’t know how she died, but people who cared about her laid her in a grave.
Her companions buried her with a 7-year-old boy, presumably her son. The Vasternorrlands Museum commissioned archeological artist Oscar Nilsson to do a similar reconstruction to the one the Kennis brothers did for Otzi.
NILSSON IS A PIONEER OF RECONSTRUCTIVE ARCHEOLOGY
They chose Nilsson because of his reputation as a pioneer of reconstructive archeology. He’s now done more than a hundred projects just like this one.
This is part of an exhibit displaying 9,500 years of human activity in Sweden. The Langmansoren Woman and the boy are the oldest skeletons ever found in Northeastern Sweden.
It’s unusual for human remains to survive in that region. The severe Arctic winter conditions there usually cause human remains to deteriorate beyond recognition.
HER HEIGHT WAS JUST UNDER FIVE FEET
The skeleton revealed that her height was just under five feet, which would have been considered short, even back then. It also provided insights into her facial features like the shape of her mouth and nose.
She had low set eyes and a manly jaw. To Nilsson’s artistic eye, she had some features portraitists consider masculine and others they deem more feminine.
Although archeological artists can often glean information from preserved DNA, that wasn’t feasible in her case. Instead, Nilsson relied on historic migration patterns to determine that she was part of a group with light skin and dark hair.
SCIENTIFIC DATA THAT HAS BEEN RIGOROUSLY TESTED
This isn’t artistic license. He based that conclusion on scientific data that has been rigorously tested.
Nilsson spent 350 hours reconstructing the Langmansoren Woman’s features. He started by layering a dozen clay muscles onto a replica of the Langmasoren Woman’s skull.
After that, he inserted a series of small pegs to indicate how deep her facial tissue would have been. He then applied a layer of plasticene clay representing her skin and gave her a facial expression.
“I NEED TO BRING THE FACE ALIVE”
“I need to bring the face alive, so you actually get the impression there’s someone looking at you within those eyes,” explained Nilsson. “Even though she’s small, you wouldn’t want to mess with her.”
Then it was his colleague Helena Gjaerum’s turn. She designed and created the sculpture’s clothing using Stone Age tools and techniques.
The Langmansoren Woman is wearing tanned animal skins. She also sports a replica of the bird claw necklace with which the family buried her original remains.
PART OF THE ONGOING PROCESS OF TELLING THE NEW STORY
Recreations like these bring our human ancestors to life. They’re part of the ongoing process of telling the New Story about where we came from and how we all belong to the Earth.
Nilsson’s work entails combining scientific knowledge with a sculptor’s creativity. Ultimately, his humanity and artistry are what enables his subjects to share their ancient experiences in the modern world.
As he explains, ““DNA and 3D printing are cool. But it’s always about this emotional bond I—and many people—experience when we look upon a reconstructed face. It’s that connection that comes first.”
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.
Art and Science by O.D. Nilsson
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