What did the Neanderthals look like? A team of British researchers and Dutch artists addressed this question and their work provided a fascinating look into the past. For the documentary “Secrets of the Neanderthals”, a co-production of the streaming service Netflix and the BBC, the scientists reconstructed the face of a Neanderthal woman from the remains of a skull, who is said to have been around 40 years old when she died almost 75,000 years ago died and was buried in a cave in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan.

The remains of at least ten Neanderthals were found in the Shanidar Cave, 500 kilometers north of Baghdad, in the 1950s. In the current case, however, the reconstruction was doubly complicated: the woman’s skull was almost completely preserved, but it had been pressed into a layer that was only two centimeters thick, probably from a fallen stone. As Der Spiegel reports, Graeme Barker, a professor at Cambridge University and head of new excavations at Shanidar, told the BBC that the skull was “flat as a pizza.” Accordingly, the fragments were transported to Great Britain in their layer and extracted there. A conservator then reassembled the small pieces by hand over a year’s worth of work.

The rebuilt skull was the basis for a 3D model that Dutch paleoartists Adrie and Alfons Kennis used to simulate a face by adding artificial layers of muscle and skin. The result is captivating: The almost 40-year-old woman had a strong, protruding jaw, a large nose and prominent eye areas.

The researchers estimated their age based on their teeth, which were worn down almost to the root. “When the teeth are so worn down, chewing is no longer as effective. Therefore, she is no longer able to eat normally,” Emma Pomeroy, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Cambridge who was involved in the project, told the BBC. “We have other signs of poor dental health – some infections, some gum disease too.” Accordingly, the woman was approaching the natural end of her life. It is not clear whether she actually died of natural causes.

The researchers’ work gives viewers an interesting impression of how the ancestors of today’s modern humans lived and what they might have looked like.

The documentary “The Secrets of the Neanderthals” is now available on Netflix and can also be streamed in German.

Sources: BBC, Der Spiegel, CNN