Reconstruction of a 3700-year-old family from British Columbia

Researchers have reconstructed the faces of a family of an ancient chief that were buried together 3700 years ago in a shell midden with thousands of stone beads at the shore of the Salish Sea, British Columbia, Canada.

Reconstruction of the family (by Philippe Froesch)

Archaeologists consider the discovery of the site as some of the most elaborate burials in North America before European contact. The ancient chief was laid to rest in a ceremonial bead garment weighing more than 70 pounds. Nearby lay several members of his wealthy family. Biological anthropologists and graphic artists have reconstructed the looks of these individuals with aid of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and in consultation with elders of the shíshálh nation – indigenous people of the region.

Reconstruction of the chieftain (by Philippe Froesch)

The grave sites first came to light after shíshálh researchers noticed shells and artefacts eroding from a bank in their lands northwest of Vancouver. A subsequent visit revealed several stone beads, so they asked archaeologists to investigate. In a saucer-shaped grave flecked with red ochre, the archaeologists discovered skeletal remains of a man about 50 years old, who lay curled on his side and facing an ocean inlet. Parallel rows of nearly 350000 small stone beads completely covered his body. Made from small pieces of shale or mudstone, each bead had to be ground into a disc roughly half the size of an aspirin, then drilled with a hole. According to the researchers the beads represent a fantastic concentration of wealth, that needed hours of labour to be prepared.

Reconstruction of the young female (by Philippe Froesch)

Just a few yards from the chief archaeologists unearthed the remains of a woman who died between 19 and 23 years of age. She had a shell necklace tied around her neck, her torso was covered with 5700 stone beads, and 3200 tiny shell beads have been found around her skull, possibly woven into the young woman’s hair as ornamentation. In two other graves near the young woman two young men interred with another 2200 stone and shell beads have been discovered. They had identical impacted teeth and identical patterns of skull sutures, which lead to a conclusion that they must have been related. The other grave belonged to an infant whose skeleton bore extensive traces of red ochre, a pigment frequently used in Northwest Coast rituals today.

(after Philippe Froesch & National Geographic)

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