An expert in facial reconstruction from the University of Dundee has helped bring Neanderthals back to life for a major new BBC series.
Dr Christopher Rynn, from the University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, will feature in Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors when the two-part show premieres on BBC2 on Sunday.
Dr Rynn was able to reconstruct the face using a fossil Neanderthal skill found in Iraq.
Taking a range of clues from the bone structure, Dr Rynn’s work has allowed us to see the face of the Neanderthal, known as Ned, for the first time in more than 50,000 years.
He has been able to establish that Ned was probably in his 30s when he died and suffered a severe head injury in his teens.
Dr Rynn said: “Having reconstructed Ned’s face, I am as excited as anyone to see how he looks in the final show and to see what the producers have done with him.
“I have been bursting to tell people about this since the filming took place almost a year ago but was sworn to secrecy so I’m relieved I can finally talk about the show.
“I was working from a plastic cast of Ned’s skull, which tells a story in itself. Ned was in his 30s when he died, but the skull shows he had received a severe head injury when he was in his teens.
“The severity and location of the injury means he would likely have been blind and deaf on the left side, while the withered nature of the right side of his skeleton means he would have been quite severely disabled.
“Despite this, he lived for another 20 years after his injury and was found with other members of his family.
“He would have been unable to look after each other He would have been unable to care for himself so this provided the first evidence that Neanderthals looked after each other.”
Dr Rynn appears in the programme alongside Hollywood star Andy Serkis, co-founder of digital performance-capture studio The Imaginarium and Ella Al-Shamahi, a rising star in the field of Neanderthal research.
After Dr Rynn reconstructed Ned’s face, a team of scientists then began the laborious process of working out what Ned’s body was like, building up layers from the fossil skeleton to create a digital Neanderthal.
Then, the same type of motion capture technology that helped Serkis star as Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Planet of the Apes was used to create the first scientifically accurate, 3D working avatar of a Neanderthal.
With the help of CGI technology, the show’s producers were able to reconstruct a Neanderthal hunt, model their voices 40,000 years after they died out.
In the climax of the investigation, the team wanted to see how well Neanderthals would blend in to modern society – and put Ned amongst commuters on a busy tube.
According to recent scientific research, the Neanderthals are not the knuckle-dragging apemen of popular imagination and around 2% of most people’s DNA is of Neanderthal origin.
While Neanderthals were smaller than modern humans they were also much stronger and faster, abilities that were used to ambush and bring down vast animals like woolly mammoths.
New archaeological research is also revealing intriguing details about Neanderthals mental capacities through evidence of Neanderthal art and their preference for dressing in vulture feathers.
Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors airs on BBC2 at 8pm on Sunday 13 May. The second part will be shown at the same time on Sunday 20 May.