About 3,800 years ago, give or take a few decades, a young woman was laid to rest in Scotland. She was buried with a bell-shaped beaker, a Cattle scapula, and several flints. Since her discovery in 1987 by construction workers, the woman in the stone tomb has been a point of study and fascination. The latest in a string of facial reconstructions estimating what she might have looked like gives insight into the early Bronze Age and a time of migratory change upon the island that is now Britain. Cícero Moraes's recently published reconstruction is haunting and based on a detailed study of the ancient skull.
Moraes, who is Brazilian and specializes in graphic projects such as this, began with CT scans of Ava's skull which were available to the researching public. Ava is the name given to the ancient young woman, short for Achavanich Beaker Burial. The skull is missing the mandible, and the lower jaw, but this detail could be extrapolated using CT scans of modern humans. Moraes told Live Science, “I then set out to trace the profile of the face, which we do through a combination of soft tissue thickness markers, which inform the limits of the skin.” These limits were in reference to modern anatomy through the use of a “virtual donor” whose face “is adjusted until the donor's skull converts to the skull of Ava causing the skin to follow the deformation, resulting in a face compatible with the approximated individual.”
While previous reconstructions of Ava depicted her with light reddish blonde hair and blue eyes, more recent DNA analysis has informed a different look in later reconstructions. Later depictions show her dark straight hair and dark eyes, as well as a more Mediterranean skin tone. A 2018 reconstruction came out alongside new information that Ava's immediate ancestors likely immigrated to what is now Britain from central or Western Europe. Ava herself is thought to be a member of the Bell Beaker Culture, named for the unique vessels discovered in burials. A migration of Beaker peoples onto the island was shifting its genetic composition around 4,000 years ago at the time of Ava's life and death.
Many questions remain about Ava. Why was she buried in a carved stone tomb when many similar early Bronze Age graves were simply in the dirt? Why the cow scapula in her grave? Who was she? Other than her age, estimated at 18 to 25, little is known of her life and death. Certainly, Moraes' reconstruction brings her face to life once more and encourages further investigation into her culture.
Ava, an early Bronze Age woman buried in Scotland, likely had straight black hair, dark eyes, and stood about five foot seven inches.