Greek scientists and archaeologists have given an ancient Athenian girl from the 5th century BC a face by using her skeleton, found in an ancient grave. ‘Myrtis’ has been brought back to life through facial reconstruction from her intact skull and teeth.
The 11-year-old Athenian girl died of typhoid fever in 430 BC during a plague, and her bones were found in a mass grave near the ancient Athenian cemetery of Keramikos when the Athens subway was being dug up in 1995. The mass grave was full of 150 men, women and children.
Professor and orthodontist from the University of Athens Manolis Papagrigorakis, with a team of one Swedish and 19 Greek scientists, said Myrtis was chosen because of the good condition of her skull and teeth that gave them a lot to work with.
“We had all of the skull, the jaw, and the teeth, and something very rare – the milk teeth on the skull. These all helped us to be accurate with the final product, and we are very close – 95 percent close to reality with the final product,” said Papagrigorakis during a presentation at the National Archaeological Museum.
The scientists used a 3-D technological program called the “Manchester method” – from the University of Manchester – often used on Egyptian mummies, for the reconstruction process.
Papagrigorakis took DNA from the teeth of the other skulls in the grave to prove that they had died of typhoid fever. DNA was not taken from Myrtis herself because the team did not want to damage her intact teeth.
“The first part of the research was an analysis of the ancient DNA in order find out what the Athenians of the period had died of in Athens. This study took place in 2006 and it was found to be typhoid fever,” Papagrigorakis explained.
Typhoid fever killed many during the period, including Pericles, the great ancient Athenian statesman who had the vision of building the Acropolis. The Classical period of Greece is its most famous, when art, architecture and philosophy flourished.
Greek archaeologist Efi Baziotopoulou, who excavated the Keramikos site, contributed historical information for the colour of Myrtis hair, eyes, and dress, and gave her her name, said Papagrigorakis.
Myrtis has been placed near funerary steles from the cemetery of the same period in the museum.
The exhibition at the museum has been called “Face to Face with the Past”, and Papagrigorakis says they will also attempt the same reconstruction on another man and woman.
Because of her death from typhoid fever, Myrtis has even been made a representative of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a project to raise awareness over various issues in the world including child health.