She's 11, Going on 2,500: What an Average Ancient Greek Looked Like

Museumgoers get their first glimpse of an average resident of ancient Greece

Yiorgos Karahalis Reuters

DNA from a mass grave found in Athens in the mid-1990s helped experts identify typhoid fever as a possible source of the plague that killed off one quarter of the city’s population in the fifth century  B.C. Now Manolis Papa­grig­or­­ak­is, the University of Athens or­­tho­dontist who published the typhoid discovery in 2006, has assisted in restoring the skull of an 11-year-old girl found in that same grave. Known as Myrtis, she is part of the exhi­bit “Myrtis: Face to Face with the Past” at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki in Greece until March 13. Her reconstruction, the first of a layperson from ancient Greece, is described in the January issue of Angle Orthodontist.

Papagrigorakis worked with Oscar Nilsson, an expert on facial reconstruction, who applied a technique often used in forensics that proceeds muscle by muscle. The skull provided the scaffolding for many of the  girl’s features, and her full set of teeth guided her lips. Richard Neave, who reconstructed Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, is often asked what people looked like in ancient times. Myrtis shows the world, he says, that “people haven’t changed.”

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