A face from the past

When he was found, Grauballe Man’s face, though slightly squashed, was still clearly recognizable. It seemed almost alive with visible skin pores, creases in his forehead and stubble on his chin. His current appearance is largely the result of conservator Lange-Korbak’s restoration efforts. But what did he look like when he was alive?

Skulls and faces

To answer this question, Dr. Wilkinson from the University of Manchester made a facial reconstruction, based on a 3D model of Grauballe Man’s skull. Just like we all our own face, our skulls are also unique. The shape, proportions and features of the bones in the skull dictate our features to a large extent. Because of this, skulls can be used to reconstruct people’s faces. This principle is used in criminal cases, when the skulls of murder victims are reconstructed to identify them. Yet it has also been applied in archaeology, to reconstruct the faces of our ancestors.

A face in clay

CT-scans of Grauballe Man’s head allowed a 3D print to be made of his skull. The skull was flattened and was corrected in the laboratory in Manchester, producing a plaster copy. This formed the basis of Dr. Wilkinson’s reconstruction. She determined the anatomical features of the skull. Based on this, she decided to use reference material for white European males to determine the thickness of the various facial muscles. These were then modelled one by one in clay, before the skin, also in clay, was put over them. After this the details of the facial features were carefully modelled.

Face to face with Grauballe Man

Besides the features of the skull, the photos taken just after the discovery of Grauballe Man provided details on the shape of his nose, the length of his forehead and the creases in his skin. We do not know exactly how Grauballe Man wore his hair. A wide range of hairdos is found amongst the bog body population found across North-western Europe and personal preference and style were probably as important back then as they are now. In the end it was decided to give Grauballe Man a swept-back hairstyle. The resulting face provides us with a great and very life-like impression of the Iron Age man who died more than 2000 years ago.