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Taxidermist Recreates Face of 2,500-Year-Old, Heavily-Tatted Siberian Ice Princess

Magic? Magic.

For those of you not up on your early ’90s archaeological breakthroughs (guilty), back in 1993 Novosibirsk scientist Natalia Polosmak excavated the remains of  “Princess Ukok,” a mummified woman whose elaborate tattoos are still the best-preserved body art to ever be discovered. The skin above the mummy’s neck had deteriorated by the time she was found; but now, thanks to the efforts of renowned taxidermist Marcel Nyffenegger, the Princess has revealed her face again for the first time in over 2,500 years.

Using a 3D model of the princess’ skull, Nyffenegger spent a month recreating her facial muscles, skin structure, and eyes, adding eyebrows and eyelashes once the model was covered in a plastic and resin mixture. Recreating her hair took two weeks, 100,000 strands, and a lot of patience on Nyffenegger’s part: “That two weeks took me to the brink of insanity. I didn’t spend more than two or three hours a day on that part because it was very boring and neck pain literally forced me to do something else.” Still, Nyffenegger is confident that his hard work paid off in accuracy:

With such a soft tissue reconstruction, purely based on the bone structure, we have achieved an accuracy of 75 per cent of the former appearance of the woman. The remaining 25 per cent was our interpretation since, for example, we were missing parts of the nasal bone and thus an accurate reconstruction was not possible. The skull itself shows where the muscles were located and which form and thickness they had and shows the points at which the skin lied directly on the bone. And as for the facial expressions, it is important that I feel the person that I am creating. The more information the archaeologists give me, such as in which climate the people lived, what they ate, and if they were a warrior or a farmer, then the better I can do.

Although it’s obviously easy to romanticize the small amount scientists know about the princess’ life, the story her remains tell is undeniably compelling. The Ukok Princess may have passed away from injuries after a fall, but her remains indicate she also had breast cancer, leading some to surmise that she self-medicated using cannabis.  Skeletal clues that indicate she was celibate and items found in her burial chamber also imply that she may have had a spiritually significant high status. One thing we know for sure: she had some rad tattoos. The Siberian Times describes the Princess’ surprisingly modern-looking body art:

On her left shoulder was a fantastical mythological animal made up of a deer with a griffon’s beak and a Capricorn’s antlers. The antlers themselves were decorated with the heads of griffons. The mouth of a spotted panther with a long tail could also be seen, and she had a deer’s head on her wrist.

When the remains were moved to a museum in Novosibirsk soon after being exhumed, elders claimed that archaeologists had opened up an entrance to the kingdom of the dead, and that interference with her burial chamber would cause natural disasters. But according to The Siberian Times, Ukok and her new bust may soon go home once and for all: “the revered princess could finally be repatriated to her original resting place in the Ukok plateau, with a beautiful mausoleum built on top.” (via The Siberian Times and Jezebel) Are you following The Mary Sue on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, & Google +?

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