UOW expert's facial reconstruction of Stone Age woman

Reconstruction: Dr Susan Hayes' facial approximation of a woman who lived more than 13,000 years ago in the north-western Thailand. Picture: Supplied

Reconstruction: Dr Susan Hayes' facial approximation of a woman who lived more than 13,000 years ago in the north-western Thailand. Picture: Supplied

At work: Dr Hayes in her studio recently at the Red Point Artists Association at Port Kembla where she collaborates with other artists. Picture: Robert Peet

At work: Dr Hayes in her studio recently at the Red Point Artists Association at Port Kembla where she collaborates with other artists. Picture: Robert Peet

University of Wollongong facial anthropologist Dr Susan Hayes has recreated the modern-looking face of a prehistoric woman.

While facial reconstructions usually depict our cavemen and women ancestors as ‘’wild and hairy’’, Dr Hayes used her unique facial approximation techniques to uncover a fresh, smiling face for the woman who lived in Thailand over 13,500 years ago.

It took her around 12 months to painstakingly recreate the face, by studying the skull and then building up the layers of flesh, muscle and skin using computer imaging techniques and CT scans.

Dr Hayes and her team also referred to facial measurements from more than 700 modern-day women from over 20 countries to analyse their estimation of the Stone Age woman’s face. 

The result, and accompanying research article, was published in the prestigious archaeology journal Antiquity this month.

‘’It’s very popular to represent our ancestors as these rough, wild and hairy cavemen, but that’s just not correct,’’ Dr Hayes said.

‘’The woman was a modern human, meaning a Homo sapien just like us, so you would expect her to have a modern facial appearance.

‘’That said, humans living that long ago did tend to have bigger jaws and were quite robust due to their diet and lifestyle, and this was evident in this Thai woman.’’

Dr Hayes was recruited to the project by Dr Rasmi Shoocongdej, the leader of the Thai research team who found the woman’s skeletal remains from the Tham Lod rock shelter in 2002.

One of just a few facial anthropologists in Australia, Dr Hayes is well known for putting a face to an 60,000-year-old species of hominin discovered in Flores in 2003, known as the ‘Hobbit’.

Her skills have also been employed by police – for instance she created an image of a woman (later identified as Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson) following the discovery of skeletal remains at Belanglo State Forest in 2010.

‘’I’m always surprised at the huge response (the facial estimations) receive,’’ Dr Hayes said.

‘’With that, I think comes a huge responsibility to not only have respect for the dead but also respect for the entire research environment.

‘’There’s been an incredible amount of research done in Thailand, and this project was funded by the Thai government.’’

Back in Wollongong, the UOW senior honorary research fellow has set up a studio at Port Kembla’s Red Point Artists Association where she runs workshops.

She’s also just published an illustrated guide, 3D Facial Approximation Lab Manual, for those interested in the area.