People from the past have left behind a treasure trove of clues about their lives — from enormous monuments to fragments of personal items, as well as the bones of the people themselves. But the people who left these clues are often a mystery. Now, thanks to modern scientific techniques and technology, researchers can accurately reconstruct what those people actually looked like, helping to bring long-dead people from history back to life.
Here, we take a look at some of the best reconstructions.
1. 'Ava,' a Bronze Age woman
Archaeologists used forensic science to gather clues about this mysterious Bronze Age woman buried in Scotland whom they nicknamed "Ava." Through DNA analysis, they determined that she most likely had brown eyes, black hair and a darker skin tone while measurements of her tibia (shinbone) showed that she was tall and stood approximately 5 feet, 7 inches (1.71 meters). Using this data along with scans of Ava's 3,800-year-old skull, artists created a facial approximation of what she may have looked like.
2. King Tut
Over the years, several facial approximations have been made of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun, however the latest version offers new insight into the historical figure's unique facial features. Researchers used CT (computed tomography) scans as well as X-rays of the young king's skull, and through analysis they determined his skull was not only slightly longer than average, but that he also had an exceedingly large brain volume. For example, the average man has a brain volume of approximately 75 cubic inches (1,234 cubic centimeters), but Tut's was 87 cubic inches (1,432 cubic cm).
3. 7th-century 'elite' girl
The mystery surrounding a 16-year-old girl, who was buried in England lying in a wooden bed wearing a gold cross studded with rubies, has eluded archaeologists since her discovery in 2011. But now a new facial reconstruction offers insight into the appearance of the Anglo-Saxon teen and early Christian convert.
4. The 'Hobbit,' an extinct human relative
Archaeologists discovered the remains of an individual classified as Homo floresiensis, a smaller offshoot of Homo erectus, an extinct human ancestor, inside a cave in Indonesia in 2003. Standing only 3 feet, 6 inches (106 cm), they dubbed her the "hobbit." To make the facial approximation, researchers used scans of the individual's skull along with those of modern-day humans and chimps, all of which were virtually deformed.
5. Czech Republic Stone Age woman
Initially incorrectly identified as male, a skull found buried inside a cave in Mladeč in the Czech Republic turned out to belong to a 17-year-old female from the Stone Age, who lived around 31,000 years ago. Researchers believe she lived during part of the upper Paleolithic period known as the Aurignacian, and she is one of the oldest Homo sapiens found in Europe.
6. Bronze Age woman from Spain
Archaeologists from the Autonomous University of Barcelona discovered the remains of a man and woman from the Bronze Age, who were buried together in a ceramic pot at the La Almoloya site. A scientific illustrator created a digital reconstruction of the woman using the woman's partial skull and jewelry — in particular a diadem (silver crown) to figure out her head measurements.
7. Stone Age woman found in Sweden
The skeletal remains of this Neolithic woman in her late 20s were found during the construction of a road in Lagmansören, Sweden. A forensic artist spent over 350 hours creating her likeness, basing the reconstruction on the scanned skull and on what we know about migration into ancient Scandinavia.
8. Bronze Age Bohemia
The bones of this Bronze Age woman, believed to have lived between 1880 B.C. and 1750 B.C., were found in a graveyard near the village of Mikulovice in Bohemia, the Czech Republic. This wealthy woman was part of the Únětice culture, known for their metal artifacts, so it was unsurprising that she was found buried with five bronze bracelets, two gold earrings and a three-strand necklace of more than 400 amber beads.
9. Penang woman from the New Stone Age
Using a combination of 3D imagery of modern-day Malaysians and CT (computed tomography) scans, researchers created a virtual face approximation of this 40-year-old woman who lived during the Neolithic period, or New Stone Age. Discovered during a dig at the Neolithic site Guar Kepah in Penang, northwest Malaysia, radiocarbon dating of shells found by the remains of the "Penang woman" suggests she lived about 5,700 years ago.
10. Medieval Scottish woman
Thanks to modern-day forensic science and technology, researchers were able to glimpse into life in medieval Scotland by creating a reconstruction of this medieval woman, who was one of three skeletons found in a medieval crypt in Scotland. Chris Rynn, the forensic craniofacial anthropologist who made this lifelike facial reconstruction, said that this was "the most symmetrical skull" they had ever worked on.
11. Medieval Scottish priest and bishop
The remains of these two men were found in the same medieval crypt in Scotland as the previous woman. Starting with a 3D scan of each skull, Rynn made these incredible lifelike facial reconstructions of this priest and bishop, right down to the cleft lip and palate of the priest.
12. Young Neanderthal man
Around 70,000 years ago this young Neanderthal man roamed an area known as Doggerland, off the coast of the Netherlands. Using just a piece of skull found at the bottom of the North Sea, a paleo-anthropological artist was able to conjure up this bust of "Krijn," right down to the tumor above his right eyebrow.
13. Three ancient Egyptians
The faces of three men who lived more than 2,000 years ago in the ancient Egyptian city of Abusir el-Meleq are brought back to life in this reconstruction. DNA data was extracted from their mummies and used in a process called forensic DNA phenotyping, which uses genetic analysis to predict the shape of facial features and other aspects of a person's physical appearance. This information helped scientists reconstruct the three men at age 25.
14. King Tut's father revealed
This is the face of a pharaoh — possibly Akhenaten, King Tut's father, who reigned from 1353 B.C. to 1335 B.C. Adornments such as hair or jewelry have been purposely omitted in order to focus on the individual's facial traits. The reconstruction is based on mummified remains found in the Valley of the Kings.
15. Stone Age man on a spike
The skull of this Mesolithic man, who died 8,000 years ago when he was in his 50s, was found impaled on a stake at the bottom of a small lake in what is now Motala, a municipality in eastern-central Sweden. Although this man was found without his jaw, a forensic artist was able to reconstruct this by taking measurements from the rest of the skull.
16. 18th-century 'vampire'
Buried in Griswold, Connecticut, in the late 18th century, the remains of this 55-year-old man were found with his femur bones crossed over the chest — a sign indicating that locals thought this man was a vampire. Historically, people believed that those who died of tuberculosis, like this man, were vampires, but as you can see, no fangs here.
17. 18-year-old Avgi from Greece
Swedish sculptor Oscar Nilsson spent around 220 hours meticulously recreating each individual muscle of Avgi's face. Not much is known about 18-year-old Avgi's life, just that her bones were found in a cave in central Greece and are around 9,000 years old.
18. Young Egyptian child
Scientists in Austria and Germany wanted to find out how accurate "mummy portraits" — images of people affixed to the front of their mummies — really were, so the researchers CT-scanned a boy's mummy, which was found in a cemetery close to the pyramid of Hawara, southwest of Cairo, Egypt. Using this information, and analyzing previous X-rays, they discovered that the 3D digital image they created looked almost exactly like the painting, with the only difference being that the boy who lived between 50 B.C. to A.D. 100 looked slightly older in his portrait. Mummy portraits were a popular tradition among some Egyptians in Greco-Roman times, from about the first through the third centuries A.D.
19. Ancient 'Shaman' woman
Found among other burials dating from 5,500 B.C. to 4,600 B.C., this hunter-gatherer woman was buried upright in a grave at Skateholm, an archaeological site on the south coast of Sweden. Sitting on a "throne" of deer antlers, the woman, who was 30 to 40 years old, was richly adorned and is thought to have been an important person.
20. Neanderthal woman from Gibraltar
This hyper-realistic portrayal gives us a glimpse 40,000 years into the past. Here we see the face of a young Neanderthal woman, who was an early human inhabitant of Gibraltar. The 20-year-old woman was buried with a tiny baby resting on her chest, a sad clue that she likely died in childbirth during the Neolithic.
21. Whitehawk woman
Named after Whitehawk in England, where she was found, Whitehawk woman lived about 5,500 years ago and appears to have died during childbirth. Standing 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 meters) tall, she was short, even for a Neolithic woman. She was buried with lucky charms believed to ward off evil.
22. Ötzi the Iceman
Ötzi the Iceman was discovered by hikers in the Ötztal Alps along the Austrian-Italian border. He lived sometime between 3350 and 3100 B.C. and died when he was around age 46 — a long life for a man in the Copper Age. The finished facial reconstruction shows a man with a long nose, deep-set eyes, and weathered skin and hair.
23. King Henry VII
Thanks to photogrammetry, graphic artist Matt Loughrey was able to produce an astonishingly photorealistic reconstruction of England's King Henry VII, who died on April 21, 1509. Using the king's death mask — a wax mask from 1509 that preserved the likeness of the king — Loughrey brought this ruler's face back to life.
24. Hilda the Druid
One of Scotland's oldest known Druids, "Hilda" lived during the Iron Age and is thought to have died sometime between 55 B.C. and 400 A.D. Her toothless skull and remains were found off the northern coast of Scotland at Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis. This reconstruction is a wax re-creation of her face, showcasing gnarled wrinkles and a seemingly intense determination.
25. Bodies in the bog
Buried alongside eight other adults and five infants — now referred to as the "bodies in the bog" — this unfortunate medieval wanderer ended up in a mass grave in a former Roman-era latrine in Cramond, Scotland. Researchers used isotope analysis on the bones and teeth of the skeletons to discover that several of the individuals had traveled from far-flung corners of Scotland. Research also showed that several of the people had died violent deaths.
26. Blair Atholl Man
Named the Blair Atholl Man because his remains were discovered near Blair Atholl in the Scottish Highlands, this medieval man lived around 1,600 years ago, between A.D. 400 and 600. However, recent research found he was not actually local to the area. Chemical analysis revealed that he had elevated sulfur isotope ratios, which led researchers to believe he spent the majority of his later life elsewhere, near a coastal location, so was likely a newcomer to the location where he died.
27. King Richard III
Unlike William Shakespeare's portrayal of King Richard III as a sneering villain, this reconstruction of the monarch shows a much kinder face, although of course it's not possible to tell someone's character just by their looks. King Richard III's bones were unearthed beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England. Archaeological evidence suggests that after his death in 1485, his body was beaten before a hasty burial.
28. Ancient Wari queen
The skull of a Wari queen who lived about 1,200 years ago was discovered among numerous lavish artifacts in a pyramid mausoleum known as El Castillo de Huarmey, located in north Lima, Peru. The Wari queen was buried in a private chamber, while the rest of the tomb held the remains of 58 noblewomen. They were part of the Wari culture, which thrived in the region from A.D. 700 to 1,000. The reconstruction was crafted from modeling clay and was based on the queen's skull.
29. Denisovan woman
Denisovans are a mysterious group of now-extinct humans who lived as far back as 200,000 years ago. Thanks to DNA from a severed pinky bone found in a cave in Siberia, researchers were able to reconstruct the first plausible portrait of a Denisovan girl from 40,000 years ago. By making a map that showed how chemical changes to gene expression could influence physical traits, researchers deduced that Denisovans had wider heads and longer dental arches than Neanderthals or modern humans.
30. Cro-Magnon man
During the upper Paleolithic period, about 40,000 to 10,000 years ago, Europe was inhabited by Homo sapiens known as the Cro-Magnons. This reconstruction is based on a Cro-Magnon man who was found in France, but archaeological findings suggest these people likely lived in southern England too.
31. Slonk Hill Man
Found buried in a crouched position and laid upon a thick bed of barnacles and mussel shells, this Iron Age man was discovered not far from Brighton, U.K. Known as the Slonk Hill Man, he lived around 2,400 to 2,200 years ago.
32. Patcham Woman
A skeletal analysis shows that the Patcham Woman, who was found in southern England, was between ages 25 and 35 and was most likely murdered. She was alive during the Romano-British era in about A.D. 250.
33. Stafford Road Man
Robust and muscular, the Stafford Road Man lived during the Saxon times, about A.D. 500, and likely died from toothache complications. His grave, located in Brighton, England, contained several weapons, including a knife in his right hand, which indicates that he was likely a warrior.
34. Egyptian female mummy
The mummy of an ancient Egyptian woman who may have been pregnant when she died has baffled archaeologists in search of clues about her identity. The Warsaw Mummy Project used non-invasive techniques such as CT and X-ray scans to determine what the mummy of the "Mysterious Lady" looked like beneath her bandages. They then had two forensic specialists, Hew Morrison and Chantal Milani, work independently to create facial reconstructions using different techniques, and compared the results.
35. Nazlet Khater 2 man
Archaeologists unearthed a man's skeletal remains at Nazlet Khater 2, an archaeological site in Egypt's Nile Valley. Anthropological analysis revealed that he was between 17 and 29 years old when he died 30,000 years ago and was of African ancestry. The skeleton is the oldest example of Homo sapiens remains found in Egypt. Researchers used photogrammetry to create a facial approximation.
Live Science newsletter
Stay up to date on the latest science news by signing up for our Essentials newsletter.
Christina is a freelancer writer and editor from the UK. She has a degree in English Language and Literature with geography from the University of Keele, and a Masters in Publishing from Anglia Ruskin University. She covers everything from Lego sets and science kits through to laptops for students. If it helps you learn, she'll help you find it for cheaper.