Thanks to the wonders of modern science and 3D forensic technology, archaeologists now are able to put a face to the name Lady Cao, a Peruvian mummy discovered in 2005 who died nearly 1,700 years ago.
The Lady of Cao, who died at about age 25 after giving birth, was a woman with an oval countenance, a brown complexion and long black hair in two braids, according to the reproduction and the research work done by FARO Technologies, 3D Systems, Grupo Abstract and ARQ 3D.
Scientists approached the procedure like investigators in a cold case operation, using state of the art, hand-held lasers scanners to record the grooves of Lady Cao’s body.
Afterward, scientists stripped away her facial skin to the bone, reconstructing her face with putty and more than a few educated guesses on her features.
“It’s the exact same process you’d go through hands-on in the traditional method, adding clay to a model, but it’s rolled into the digital environment now,” says Joe Mullins, a forensic artist for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the U.S. who was a consultant for this project.
Her high cheek bones were one of the only workable features, as her nose, eyes, lips, and eyelids were misshaped. Researchers turned to ancient paintings, other Moche skeletons, photos of northern Peruvians from a century ago, and descendants of Moche people living in the area today.
With her face uncovered, a part of the mystery around mummy has been unveiled. Lady Cao discovered in El Brujo, northern Peru, was buried at the top of a temple where bloody human sacrifices transpired. Her body mirrors the temple walls, covered in tattoos of snakes, trees, spiders and stars as well as a host of other creatures that populate the northern Peruvian coast.
Experts are still unsure what role she played in the community, however they are sure she was someone of importance considering the wealth which was buried with her. Her body was wrapped in 20 layers of cloth and covered in a with a wealth of valuable artifacts and jewelry of gold, silver, and gilded copper. Researchers speculate she may have been the ruler or the wife of an important state head.
John Verano, an anthropologist from Tulane University who assisted in both her unwrapping and her facial reconstruction described their recent accomplishment as monumental. “I think it’s going to be particularly important for children,” says Verano. “Looking into her eyes, they’ll be able to see their own relatives from town, and their own ancestry. It’s something that a mummified face just can’t give you.”
Lady Cao’s body and reconstructed image are currently on display in the museum at El Brujo in Peru.