Sunday 11 April 2010

The Face of Young Myrtis (T)

Myrtis is almost 2500 years old. But her life was short. She died aged just 11, in the plague that hit ancient Athens during the Peloponnesian War.

Her God-Mother was Afi Baziotopoulou-Valavani, head of the excavations. But this little girls helped us understand which was the microbe that caused so much death in ancient Athens.

Manolis Papagrigorakis carried out a research on her teeth and on the teeth of the other skeletons that were discovered ouside Kerameikos, in the "plague grave". The grave is dated to 430-426 B.C. and held the remains of 150 people.

"My emotion was great when I looked on the face of Myrtis", said mr. Papagrigorakis, who carried out the facial re-creation, speaking tin the New Acropolis Museum. "I did not know anything about her exept that she was a little girl of the age of the Peloponnesian War, that lived through the siege and the plague and probably died of typhoid fever".

With these words the associate Professor announced to the world the completion of a unique achievement: in the shadow of the Parthenon the face of Athens of the time of Pericles appeared, in the form of a young Athenian who died in the Great Plague of 430 B.C. The re-creation of the face was the result of a great effort based on the skull that was discovered intact, amongst the archaeological finds of the Kerameikos dig.

"One of the skulls that attracted my attention, was that of a child. It preserved the lower jaw and, even more rare, the permanent teeth co-existed with milk teeth. The age was defined with a panoramic x-ray, by observing the root-ending of the teeth, and the sex was also defined.

It was a girl of about 11 years old, which the research team named Myrtis.

"Myrtis had all the anatomical skeletal elements of the cranio-facial complex; in other words an intact skull, important for the final result".

The technique of re-creation is based on the use of markers or little nails that show the thickness of the tissue, by considering the origin, the sex, the living conditions and the age. To recreate the muscles and the tissue of the face are sculpted, while the markers are used as a basic guide as to the how thick the sculpting clay should be. The shape and size of eyes and nose can be calculated from the size of the ocular and nasal cavities.

The conditions surrounding her death did not allow the usual care show to the dead, and she was thrown in a mass grave. Although they knew this, the researchers did not want to re-create the expression of pain that she must have lived before dying, the undying thirst that led the ill to crowd around sources and wells; they did not want to show the horror of what she saw and the agony of coming death. Rather they preferred a "light smile that gives the impression of peace and calm".

Aggeliki Kotti

Ta Nea, 10.04.2010 and
Ta Nea, 10.04.2010

Adaptation/Translation: ArchaeologyMatters

1 comment:

  1. Very cool stuff. Glad I found your archaeology blog. Interesting facial recreation article.

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