Anthropologists reconstruct faces of two Great Moravian noblemen

The faces of two 9th century Great Moravian nobles have been newly reconstructed in extraordinary detail. The project is the work of anthropologist Eva Vaníčková and sculptor Ondřej Bílek, who have been using scientific methods to create hyper-realistic facial reconstructions of historical figures for six years now. Their work was recently published in a new bi-lingual Czech-English book, which includes over a dozen faces that the duo has brought back from the past.

The remains of the two Great Moravian noblemen were found at a burial site in the heights above Uherské Hradiště - the location of a major local settlement at the time. Thousands of people were buried on the heights at the time, but Ms Vaníčková says that the style and location of the two men’s tombs clearly shows that they were of high status.

“On top of the hill was a church where we found several elaborate burial sites. When it comes to the first man, whose skeleton was located in tomb 122, we chose to make a hyper-realistic recreation of his head. This man’s grave was the largest in the whole burial site. He was of a robust constitution and around 40 to 50 years old when he died.”

The second individual was buried in a chapel that was added to the church. His was the main tomb inside the temple, something that Ms Vaníčková believes may suggest that could be Duke Svatopluk - the most famous ruler of Great Moravia whose empire encompassed parts of the territory of the modern Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.

Photo: Moravian Museum Brno

“We can presume that his social status was even higher than that of the other man whose face we chose to reconstruct. The tomb is decorated with a colourful tombstone on which we can identify paintings in the Byzantine style. We can also see that a lot of attention put into crafting the tomb’s masonry. However, the skeleton’s skull is not in a good state, so in our reconstruction we mainly used past drawings of the famous 20th century paleoanthropologist, Professor Emanuel Vlček.”

Detailed images of the two men’s reconstructed faces can be found in a newly released Czech-English publication called “Face to Face with Our Ancestors. Laboratory of Anthropological Reconstruction.” Documenting the work of the anthropologist and her colleague, sculptor Ondřej Bílek, the book is a catalogue of the work that the two have produced since teaming up in 2015.

“The Bohemian noblemen make up the last two chapters of the book, which also contains 14 other historical faces that we have recreated. Each chapter features detailed photographs as well as a description of who the individual was and how we recreated their face. This includes for example what we know about their state of health, or personal life, things that we can incorporate into the reconstruction.”

The book includes the reconstructed faces of a Neanderthal male hunter, as well as female miners and medieval nuns.

For those who would rather see the faces in physical form, Ms Vaníčková says that four of her statues can be found in the Anthropos Pavilion of the Moravian Museum in Brno.