A fossilised Neanderthal bone found in the Netherlands has been used to recreate the face of one of Doggerland’s early inhabitants. The fragment of brow bone was discovered in 2001, among material removed by a shell-extraction company from the bed of the North Sea in the Zeeland waters, off the coast of the Netherlands. Research over the last two decades has shed more light on the individual to whom the skull bone belonged, and is now allowing people to see his face once more.
The young Neanderthal man, known as ‘Krijin’, lived between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago in Doggerland, the prehistoric landscape that lies subsumed in the North Sea. It is thought that he had a sturdy build, with a diet that was predominantly made up of meat. Researchers also discovered a small indentation in the fossilised frontal bone, resulting from a tumour under his skin. It is thought that it was probably benign, but he would have had a visible lump over his right eyebrow and the tumour could have caused him pain, dizziness, and visual problems, among other symptoms. On the other hand, if he was lucky, he may not have felt any ill effects. This is the first time that traces of a tumour like this have been found in a Neanderthal, making it especially important that this feature was clearly represented in the reconstruction.
Krijin’s face was rebuilt by Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions, led by Adrie and Alfons Kennis, who are identical twins and have created many other models of ancient humans, including the Neanderthal and early modern human currently on display in the Natural History Museum, London.
When creating a reconstruction, the Kennis brothers begin by taking casts of the bones available and discussing them with scientists in order to obtain as much information as possible about the material. This is followed by the generation of a computer model of the individual’s skull or, when possible, the full body, although Krijin’s reconstruction depicts just his head and shoulders. In Krijin’s case, the team were working from just one small part of the cranium. Luckily, it is a piece that is clearly identifiable as a typical Neanderthal frontal bone, so Kennis & Kennis were able to use other specimens from their extensive collection of Neanderthal casts to fill in the missing parts. On this occasion, they used a Neanderthal skull from La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France, that matched the size of Krijin’s frontal bone as a basis for the rest of the skull. However, the La Chapelle Neanderthal was older than Krijin, so they also used a maxilla from Krapina, Croatia, to give Krijin the jaw and teeth of a young man.
Once complete, the computer model is 3D printed, after which the muscles and skin are carefully recreated using clay. However, as clay decays over time, this version of the model cannot be placed on long-term display in a museum. Instead, it is used as the basis for a mould that allows a new model to be created out of silicone. Afterwards, the mould is used to add the skin tone to the model layer by layer, in order to build up the colour gradually and make it look as natural and life-like as possible, while other details such as hair and facial features are added by hand. The Kennis brothers emphasise the importance of adding character to the model. Adrie Kennis says, ‘You really want them to look like someone you could pass in the street, someone who could be your uncle, or your nephew, not a stereotypical Neanderthal.’
These models have a remarkable ability to bring distant human relatives to life and offer a unique, tangible connection to the past. The Krijin fossil and Kennis & Kennis reconstruction were displayed in a recent exhibition at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Doggerland: Lost World in the North Sea (see CWA 109).
Images: Kennis & Kennis.