5,000-year-old ‘Penang Woman’ now has a face

Pic from Journal of Applied Sciences.

GEORGE TOWN: Several researchers from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) have finally been able to put a face to the prehistoric 5,000-year-old “Penang Woman”.

Using the Forensic Facial Approximation method, the researchers managed to put a face on the prehistoric human skeleton, dubbed the "Penang Woman”.

The skeleton was first found during the construction of a gallery for the Guar Kepah neolithic site in Kepala Batas in 2017.

ALSO READ: Digging up clues to the past

The team's correspondent author Shaiful Idzwan Shahidan said with the help of Cicero Moraes, a 3D graphics expert from Brazil, they used the 3D virtual reconstruction method to create the Penang Woman's facial features based on scientific data obtained from a CT scan performed on the skeleton.

“We took between three and four months to come out with the facial features, which was completed on July 5.

“In fact, we were instrumental in reconstructing the facial features for the more than 10,000-year-old Perak Man using the same method last year,” he said.

A paper, titled "Forensic Facial Approximation of 5000-Year-Old Female Skull from Shell Midden in Guar Kepah, Malaysia", was published in the Journal of Applied Sciences on Aug 5.

ALSO READ: Carbon dating finds ‘Penang Woman’ to be 5,710 years old

Shaiful said when they found the skeleton back in 2017, one of their objectives was to conduct a more in-depth study about the life of the Penang Woman.

"We were curious to know how the Penang Woman really looked back then.

“From the facial features, we can tell that Penang Woman is possibly a mixture between the Australomelanesoid and Mongoloids.

"It is likely that the Guar Kepah population then was a mixture of the Australomelanesian and Mongoloid races," he said.

The “Penang Woman” was discovered when the area was dug up to lay the foundations for the Guar Kepah Archaeological Gallery at a spot near the Penang-Kedah border, about 28km from Butterworth.

Meanwhile, Shaiful said a more detailed study could be conducted if Malaysia brought back the 41 skeletons from three shell middens in Guar Kepah, which were excavated by British archaeologists between 1851 and 1934 and currently at the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, Holland.

Guar Kepah is the first archaeological site recorded in Malaysia, and it is estimated to be between 5,000 to 6,000 years old.

“When the Penang Woman skeleton was found in April 2017, researchers came across a skull, a femur bone and a rib cage beneath the floor of a house which had been demolished to make way for the gallery.

“The skeletal remains were the only remaining Neolithic skeleton found in Guar Kepah, which is still in the country.

“Shell middens refer to mounds of kitchen debris consisting mostly of shells and other food remnants and indicate ancient human settlement and sometimes used as burial sites.

“The remains were discovered in shell midden B with her arms folded and surrounded by pottery, stone tools and several types of shells, a sign of her important position in her society.

"The radiocarbon dating showed that the remains of the ‘Penang Woman’ were approximately 5,710 years old, with a margin of error of plus or minus 30 years," he said.

In total, 41 skeletons from three shell middens, identified as A, B and C in Guar Kepah, were excavated by British archaeologists between 1851 and 1934 and those skeletons are now at the National Natuurhistorisch Museum in Leiden, Holland.

The “Penang Woman” will be the 42nd skeleton found and the 41 remaining are in Leiden, Holland currently.

The original Penang Woman is being carefully conserved in USM as it had to be in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, which meant the skeleton currently showcased at the gallery is a replica of the original.

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