Czech scientists reconstruct faces of early Bronze Age women from Moravský Krumlov


Until 2011, the castle of Moravský Krumlov was home to the series of paintings by Alphonse Mucha known as The Slav Epic. A pair of skeletons unearthed in the region two decades ago tell a very different tale – that of two tiny prehistoric women who likely worked in some of the largest mines in Europe.

Visitors to the Anthropos Pavilion in Brno, the Moravian capital, can now learn about the lives of two women whose skeletons were discovered in a shaft where stones were mined more than 6,000 years ago. Czech scientists, working with anthropologists from the Moravian Museum, have reconstructed the faces of the early Bronze Age women, both of whom stood less than 150 centimetres tall (about 4 feet 8 inches), and did not live past the age of 40. Eva Vaníčková, head of the anthropological reconstruction laboratory, told Czech Radio that both women suffered from hunger and disease in childhood, but ate well in their later years, with a diet that included meat and berries. “The women have been shown to be genetically linked. They could be sisters or a mother and daughter. “For this reconstruction, we had an iris polymorphism analysis done, so we know one had blue eyes and the other green, brown or hazel. We also used this to determine hair colour. “It can be seen from the skeletal remains that there are very significant muscle attachments. That means they worked really hard.”

The vast forested area of Moravský Krumlov is known for its prehistoric mining, as it is rich in the outcrops of Jurassic chert that is re-deposited in Miocene sands, sedimentary rocks of silica, or flint stones. The quality of the local stone was mediocre but still led to an intensive settlement of this area from the Middle Palaeolithic.

Due to the prehistoric women’s musculature, archaeologist Martin Oliva believes that there was a kind of inverted natural division of labour, with the hardest work done by the weakest members of the society – in terms of their social standing.

“When you imagine how things went in that society, it was always the case that the powerful forced the less powerful to serve them.

“Thousands of tons of flint stones were mined there. They were processed and dumped back into the shafts or later mainly into the heaps. Very little was taken away.”

The reconstructed faces of the early Bronze Age women are now on display in the permanent exhibition of the Anthropos pavilion in Brno, where there is also a model of a shaft tomb where the women were buried.

Eva Vaníčková, head of the anthropological reconstruction laboratory, again:

“Their busts are interesting in that they are the embodiment of all the research – archaeological, genetic, anthropological – that lies behind it, which visitors usually do not imagine.”

The two women have not been given names yet, but the Moravian Museum has set up a poll on its Facebook page. For now, they are known as the blue- and brown-eyed women.

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