See the Faces of Four Scots Across Thousands of Years of History, Brought to Life Using A.I.

The Perth Museum in Scotland is unveiling digital reconstructions of men and women who lived in the region from the Bronze Age through the 16th century

Man's face next to woman's face against a black backdrop
Independent craniofacial anthropologist Chris Rynn created lifelike facial reconstructions of four individuals who lived in the region. Perth Museum / Culture Perth and Kinross / Chris Rynn, 2024

Modern humans can come face to face with men and women who lived thousands of years ago at the new Perth Museum in Scotland.

When it opens to the public on March 30, the venue will feature digital facial reconstructions of four individuals who lived in the region throughout history.

To create the permanent exhibition—titled “Stories for Faces”—researchers at the University of Aberdeen analyzed human remains from the museum’s collection. They then used radiocarbon, isotopic, DNA, dental and osteological testing to learn more about each individual’s life and death.

Digital facial reconstruction based on remains of Late Iron Age/Pictish male

From their analyses, they were able to glean information about the individuals—such as their sex, age and health conditions—that helped independent craniofacial anthropologist Chris Rynn create lifelike, animated figures.

The facial reconstructions—which, thanks to artificial intelligence, can move their heads, blink their eyes and look around—are like “avatars from the past, here to guide us through some of its realities,” says curator Mark Hall in a statement.

One reconstruction depicts a woman who lived during the Bronze Age about 4,000 years ago and suffered from lower back problems. She stood roughly five feet tall and was likely in her 30s or 40s. When her body was discovered in 1962, the bones on the lower left side of her face were “cut cleanly away,” perhaps indicating an injury that had contributed to her death.

Digital facial reconstruction based on remains of a Bronze Age female

Another represents a man who lived during the Iron Age some 1,500 years ago and performed hard agricultural labor. He moved to the region later in life and likely died in his 40s.

The third reconstruction shows a man who lived during the 13th or 14th century and likely died between the ages of 18 and 25. Researchers suspect his death may have been a murder.

“We don’t know exactly what that blunt-force trauma [to his chest] was,” says Marc Oxenham, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Aberdeen, to the Observer’s Dalya Alberge. “He could have been stomped on by a horse or bludgeoned in the chest with some sort of mace-like object. The way he was buried, basically thrown into a tiny pit, suggests a hasty concealment.”

Digital facial reconstruction based on remains of Late Medieval male

The fourth and final reconstruction depicts a 16th-century nun who likely walked with a limp, per the Observer.

When the museum opens, the new exhibition will display the animated reconstructions alongside explanations of how Rynn created each one.

His challenge was to make each figure look real—but not so real that visitors feel uncomfortable, he tells Artnet’s Jo Lawson-Tancred. On the other hand, they also shouldn’t look cartoonish.

“You want museum visitors to feel like they’ve met someone, not come in and say, ‘What’s wrong with it, it looks like Shrek,’” he adds.

More broadly, the new museum aims to tell the story of Scotland’s past through the lens of Perth, a city on the River Tay that served as the capital until around 1452. It will house artifacts like the Stone of Destiny, which has been used in the coronations of Scottish and British monarchs for centuries—and was even used during Charles III’s coronation last year.

Stories for Faces” will be on view at the Perth Museum in Scotland when it opens March 30.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.