VR brings our 30,000-year old Homo sapiens ancestors back in 3D for the first time

VR animation by Visual Science

Technology continues to bring the history of our planet and our species into dazzlingly sharp relief. What before was a murky and often hard to conceptualise swamp is fast becoming a beautiful and detailed panorama.

Now, Visual Science is using VR to bring us face to face to with our distant ancestors. Partnering with the RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, the company has reconstructed the faces of the Sungir people, Homo sapiens who lived 30,000 years ago.

Believed to be the ancestors of modern day’s Northern and Eastern Europeans, decades of research on the Sungir has advanced the scientific understanding of human development, migration and the cultures of Palaeolithic Europe.

The VR animation was created using the best-preserved remains of nine people found in the Russian region of Sungir. The animation was based on scientific research and earlier sculptural reconstructions that were made using Mikhail Gerasimov’s methodology.

“In the mid-20th century, Soviet archaeologist and anthropologist Mikhail Gerasimov created the first scientifically accurate method for anthropological facial reconstruction based on a person's skull,” explains Sergey Vasilyev, Head of the Department of Physical Anthropology at RAS Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology.

“Previously, scientists noted that there is a dependency between the shape of the skull and the elements of appearance. The anatomical and radiographic research methods used by Gerasimov allowed scientists to not only determine standards for the thickness of soft tissues along the face profile line, but also to reveal patterns in the distribution of the soft tissues’ thickness, depending on skull surface morphology development. The structure of particular facial elements was determined by individual morphological features of the skull.”

Visualising the past

The visualisation was created using two skulls, those of two siblings aged approximately 10 and 13, which were laser-scanned and photographed in high definition. State-of-the-art 3D modelling software was then used to apply existing data and modern facial reconstruction techniques.

“Cutting-edge science combined with computer graphics is a powerful tool for promoting science among children and inspiring young people to learn about history and the natural world,” said Ivan Konstantinov, CEO of Visual Science.

“The Sungir site is a global treasure. Special clothing and decorative elements suggest an amazingly high level of cultural development among Homo sapiens living 30,000 years ago. By visualizing these details with scientific rigor, we’re able to share Sungir with the widest possible audience.”

The visualization is going to made available for free use by museums and schools around the world through a free Android app which is compatible with most 4K headsets and Google cardboard.

"As a scientist, I find this project extremely interesting. This is a meeting of multiple scientific disciplines – history, archaeology, cutting- edge computer technology. The result is a work of the highest order, which will find an audience both among the Festival attendees, who will be able to immerse themselves in the world of the Paleolithic, as well as among pedigreed scientists, who will find confirmation of hypotheses that had been put forward earlier," said Viktor Sadovnichiy, rector of Moscow State University and the co-chairman of the All-Russian Science Festival “Nauka 0+”.

 

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