These days we can use technology for just about anything. With the advent of deep fakes, software that can recreate people’s real voices, and everything in between, it’s scary to think about how we’ll know who’s real and who’s not a few years down the road. And that might not be limited to people currently alive. Technological advances have made it easier to figure out what certain historical figures actually looked like. In some cases, there were paintings of them, but that’s obviously subject to a lot of interpretation by the original artist. And in other cases, we’ve had to rely more on written descriptions of these famous faces.
But now, we can use facial reconstruction technology to get a fairly accurate rendering of what they looked like. 3D facial reconstruction utilizes a human skull, and takes the natural markings on it to recreate what the face that was once on top of it looked like. The marks tell the computer how much skin to layer over each area of the face, which gives the face it’s general structure. Today, we’re taking a look at some of the famous faces they’ve been able to recreate. So stick around, as Facts Verse Presents: Technology Reveals What Historical Figures Actually Looked Like
The biggest name among the founding fathers was obviously George Washington, and there were plenty of paintings of Washington that we can reference. However, we have to keep in mind that painters sitting in a room with George, or even ones working off of their memory of what he looked like, were going to likely made his visage as impressive and flattering as possible. They also always gave him expressions of sternness and gravitas. But facial reconstruction isn’t as concerned with this type of flattery. As such, the recreation of GW looks similar, but not exactly the same as the paintings we’ve often seen of him. For starters, he has much rosier cheeks. He also has a stronger jaw than what we’ve traditionally seen, and his nose is a bit more crooked. Plus, he apparently had dimples. What an adorable first president!
King Tutankhamun is generally referred to as King Tut, and he’s among the most famous of the ancient Egyptian kings. When it tomb was discovered, it gave us the first look at what he might have looked like, based on the mask on the tomb. The assumption was that it was created to match his face. But that still left things pretty open to interpretation. But with 3D facial reconstruction technology, we’re able to see with a lot more precision what the boy king looked like.
The thinking these days is that King Tut was actually more of a sick little boy with a royal title. Historians think he may have had a club foot and walked with a cane, and a limp accentuated by extra wide hips. Deformities like these are chalked up to generations of inbreeding in the royal families. And as you can see from the reconstructed photos, he had quite a flat head. This head shape was actually pretty common in that region during this time period. He also likely had buckteeth and an overbite. So while his physical looks were that of a sick young man, his historical figures and legacy have far outshined that description.
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots was the cousin of Queen Elizabeth. She was a queen almost literally from birth, having ascended to the throne of Queen of Scotland after only 6 days of being alive. But obviously she couldn’t start her rule then, and she was sent to France for her formative days. However, she returned to Scotland at age 19 to take over. Things overall didn’t go so great for her, as she was widowed more than once, imprisoned, and forced to abdicate her throne. But physically, she was apparently quite beautiful.
So that’s something. She was 5’11” which was incredibly tall for women in that era. The early paintings of her show a beautiful girl with red hair and pale skin. Of course, the 3D facial reconstruction photos show her after years of hard living. Though to be fair, she still looks pretty similar to some of her paintings of her. So this is a case where perhaps the historical figures, records, and 3D imaging arrive at a pretty similar place.
Cleopatra was a legend of ancient Egypt. She serves as its ruler from 51 to 30 BC, and famous as much for her beauty as for her intelligence. She was actually Greek by heritage, but she spoke nine different languages fluently. Also, she made the Egyptian language the official language of the land. Tales of her beauty went far and wide, especially because she successfully wooed both Mark Antony and Julius Caesar.And yet people often don’t realize that she was much more likely to have traditional Greek features than the more Egyptian ones we often associate with her.
One thing that’s noticeable in the modern reconstructions of Cleopatra’s face is that her nose is much more prominent than we’ve seen before. It’s likely that painters and sculptures made her Greek nose smaller, to fit the beauty standards of the Egyptian region. But regardless, it’s clear she was a beautiful and intelligent woman.
The Roman Emperor Nero was a bad dude. Not bad, like, cool. Bad as in a bad person. He’s actually considered one of the most nefarious rulers in history, and might have even personally started the giant fire of Rome in 64 AD that destroyed the city.
The famous tale of Nero playing the fiddle casually as the city burned around him is probably apocryphal, but it was likely based on what people thought of him back then. His busts haven’t even been particularly flattering, and perhaps his looks are part of what made him horrible to other people. He had a weak jaw and a brooding eyebrow ridge. And 3D reconstruction has also revealed something we previously didn’t know – he had red hair and freckles. He certainly didn’t look like modern day citizens of Rome, but that’s a fairly common thing for historical figures, since the Roman Empire spanned so much of the globe.
Jesus of Nazareth
The image of Jesus with light skin, long wavy hair, and no beard is one that has somehow endured throughout history. There are even some depictions of him with blue eyes. But given when and where the historical figure was born, it’s pretty unlikely that he looked much like that at all. A big part of this is that with the rapid spread of Christianity, many parts of the world adopted the religion, and just started making recreations of Jesus that were similar to how the people in their area looked. That was true of the Romans and Greeks, who presumed that Jesus must have looked somewhat like them. And their influence on the globe was so far reaching that the images they created of him were the ones that endured through history. But for starters it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t a white guy.
Like all the other people living in modern day Israel, he would have had much darker skin. And his eyes and hair would have been likely dark brown. Plus his hair was likely not straight and flowy, it likely had more of a matted and wool feel to it. As the 3D facial reconstruction shows us, Jesus was a far different person than the depictions of him over the years.
Julius Caesar is another one of the most famous Roman historical figures. Originally a military general and statesman, Caesar took over the Roman Empire in 49 BC, beginning a strong rule that ended with his brutal murder in 44 BC. Though he made some incredibly authoritarian moves, like declaring himself ‘dictator for life’, he also set in motion many important modern programs that changed things for the better.
These included support for war veterans, land reform, and allowing citizenship for people who lived far from Rome but still under the Empire’s rule. He also created the structure of the government bureaucracy for the Empire that lasted for a long time. Of course, because he was such a strong and important figure, depictions of him have always been quite flattering. He’s seen as a handsome figure and an imposing one too. But the real Caesar wasn’t nearly as good looking. Facial reconstruction has shown us that his stern brow, often seen in sculptures and paintings of him, was fairly accurate. But his head was fairly misshapen, reportedly due to a tough delivery when he was born. And his eyes were incredibly close set. So all in all, Caesar was an important and powerful figure, but a bit of an odd looking guy.
Queen Elizabeth is one of the most famous and influential of the British monarchs in history. And most depictions of her show a young queen looking fresh and vital. And that was a very deliberate thing on her part. As the queen began to age, she demanded that painters keep painting a young version of her. She even went so far as to give them a template to work from – one that showed her as a much younger woman. The result is that many of the paintings of her over the years look basically the same.
Unfortunately it’s likely that aging didn’t treat her very well, mostly because of the beautification techniques she used. Back then, women often used white paint as makeup, to give them even more fair skin. Sadly, that paint contained a lot of lead, which damaged the skin over the years. Elizabeth also contracted smallpox, which scarred her face (and left her half bald.) But to be honest, even the facial reconstruction shows a woman who was beautiful, despite her aging and the medical issues she dealt with.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Which of these faces was the most surprising to you? Let us know in the comments section below!