Taxidermist Reconstructs the Long-Lost Face of a Siberian 'Ice Maiden'


Big month for creative schemes to piece together the past: First, archaeologists announced they’d figured out a way to read ancient scrolls ruined at Pompeii, thanks to X-ray technology. And now a taxidermist has reconstructed the face of Siberian princess from the fifth century B.C.

That’s according to the Siberian Times. The “ice maiden,” also known as Princess Ukok, likely suffered from breast cancer and smoked cannabis, scientists recently announced. She might’ve been considered a shaman or priestess and was probably high-ranking, given the fanfare with which she was buried. Found frozen in the permafrost on the steppes near China in 1993, she was a major Russian archeological discovery (and this Wikipedia article sums up the available English-language sources on the matter). She’s most famous for her surviving tattoos, which are striking:

On her left shoulder was a fantastical mythological animal made up of a deer with a griffon’s beak and a Capricorn’s antlers. The antlers themselves were decorated with the heads of griffons.
The mouth of a spotted panther with a long tail could also be seen, and she had a deer’s head on her wrist.

Well, Swiss taxidermist Marcel Nyffenegger (who really enjoys reconstructing Neanderthal faces, because everyone needs a passion in this life) was hired by a German museum to recreate the woman’s long-lost face for an exhibit. Her hair alone nearly sent him around the bend:

Working with a 3-D model of the mummy’s skull, he spent a month painstakingly piecing together her facial muscles and tissue layers as well as reconstructing her skin structure, eyes and expression.
The resulting plasticine model was then covered with silicone and a rubber-resin mixture before finer details such as eyebrows and eyelashes were added. More than 100,000 individual strands of hair were used to give the princess her flocking locks, a process that in itself took two whole weeks.
‘That two weeks took me to the brink of insanity’, the expert confessed. ‘I didn’t spend more than two or three hours a day on that part because it was very boring and neck pain literally forced me to do something else’.

The results, via Nyffenegger/the Siberian Times:

Not sure how reliable a taxidermist’s interpretations are considered—chime in, archeologists!—but Nyffenegger himself figures he’s about 75 percent right, with 25 percent being educated guesswork.

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