A Dundee University student has recreated the face of a Stornoway woman – 2,000 years after she was last seen alive.
Edinburgh student Karen Fleming has created the three-dimensional model of the Iron Age woman from wax as part of her Master of Science (MSc) degree in forensic art and facial identification. She’s been named 'Hilda' and she's to go on display from Friday as part of the University of Dundee’s Masters Show, which showcases the work of 80 students studying for masters’ degrees.
Hilda is based on one of six skulls, the only female, donated to the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh in 1833 by antiquarian Donald Gregory, who described them to the society as ‘Druids of the Hebrides’. Four of the skulls were from Iona, one from Harris and the last was identified as coming from Stornoway.
Until she received the skull to work from, Karen had no idea whose face she would be recreating. She told welovestornoway.com today (Wednesday): “I just asked the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomical Museum for a woman’s skull, and this is the one they found for me.”
Karen says that Hilda, despite having died in the Iron Age, retains many physical attributes that are recognisable today. She had lived to be well over 60 despite having lost her teeth, an impressive feat at a time when the average lifespan of a woman was about 31 years.
Karen said: “Hilda was a fascinating character to recreate. It’s clear from the skull she was toothless before she died, which isn’t surprising considering the diet of the folk back then, but it was impressive how long she lived…it is now thought that living longer during the Iron Age is indicative of a privileged background.”
“It is impossible to know for sure when she died as we were unable to carbon date the skull, but assuming the information in the journal from 1833 is correct, Hilda passed away anytime between 55BC and 400AD and was of Celtic origin. I think she looks like many older women I’ve met in my life and I am proud of that.
“While I have been working on her face I felt like a relationship was developing. It’s almost bringing a person to life and you want to do right by them, because she was part of a society that valued her over a long life.”
The name ‘Hilda’ came to Karen while she was working and it was only today that Karen looked up its meaning. “Hilda means ‘battle’,” she told welovestornoway.com. “Maybe she was trying to communicate something to me and that’s why the name stuck!”
The Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design's Masters Show is previewed on Friday (16th August) and open to the public from August 17th to 25th. Admission is free.
The pictures show Karen face-to-face with her wax reconstruction and a digital portrait of Hilda which she also created. (University of Dundee/Karen Fleming).