April 11, 2010

Face of 11-year-old victim of the Great Plague of Athens

On the top left you can see a forensic reconstruction of an 11-year old girl (nicknamed "Myrtis") who died during the Great Plague in 5th c. BC Athens. You can probably get a basic understanding of the Greek article in Ta Nea, via Google Translate.

32 comments:

Marnie said...

Nice article.

Dienekes, I'm trying to understand a comment in this article regarding the stature of the girl. What was her height? How does this compare to the average height of an 11-y-o European girl today?

For anyone interested in classical Greek history, the recount of the Plague of Athens on the wiki page is a bit hard to follow.

For English speakers, I highly recommend the third chapter of the book "A War Like No Other" in order to fully comprehend the impact of the Great Plague of Athens.

Marnie said...

Never mind the question about stature. I misunderstood the sentence, which is refering to the girl's face, not her stature.

Jack said...

Why is her mouth like that? Prognatism?
A defect o what?

onur said...

Why is her mouth like that? Prognatism? A defect o what?

It is explained in this part of the translated version, though the translation is terrible:

""This is a girl about 11 years and all we can say is that he had orthodontic problem: the coexistence baby teeth and permanent overcrowding created in the upper jaw and canines were outside the arc," says "new" by Assistant Professor of Orthodontics University of Athens Manolis Papagrigorakis, which is the soul of the interdisciplinary concept of rebuilding the blueberry facial, done by all players eager and presented yesterday at a ceremony at the New Acropolis Museum. "You can not talk about this feature which distinguishes it from a child of ilkias" he said."

pconroy said...

Interesting, she has large teeth, which are overcrowded in a small mouth and reddish hair - that sounds totally Irish?!

All my family have had the overcrowding problem, and I had to have all my baby teeth pulled - the roots were so deep that secondary teeth were growing behind them, rather than pushing them out.

My Dad had his last baby tooth removed when he was almost 70 yo!!!

onur said...

and reddish hair

The Google translation isn't clear on that:

"As for the colors we chose were based on those people at the time. To find the original would have to analyze the DNA of a process idaiteros kostovora."

As the above text implies, the hair color was inferred based on "people living at the time" (what people and based on which research?), not based on any hair sample or DNA test of the reconstructed girl.

DagoRed said...

It is strange: I had an overcrowded problem, with only one tooth, and I've reddish hair too, despite I'm italian and all my ascendent are from region Latium from many generation.
It isn't a statistic of course, only a odd thing: reddish hairs = overcroweded teeth?
P.S.
I'm the one in my family to have the problem and there are others reddish hairs in it.

Marnie said...

OK. No point in being all hush, hush about it.

My grand-mother, of Scottish origin, had brilliant red hair, freckles, and an overbite.

My mother, of Scottish origin, had brilliant red hair, freckles and an overbite.

I did not get the red hair, but I got the overbite and many years of orthodontics.

I don't know why the authors chose red hair for this girl. However, you still see red haired people in Greece. The father of a friend of mine from the Peloponnese has red hair and freckles. Several people in the village of Liknades have auburn hair, no freckles.

I'm not sure about overbites. As anywhere else in Europe, most adults born with this trait today end up having it fixed by the time they are adult.

onur said...
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onur said...
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onur said...
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onur said...

I don't know why the authors chose red hair for this girl.

I guess it is because some people (but not many relative to the general population) living in that region had and/or have red or reddish hair.

Marnie said...
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Marnie said...

onur,

The author's choice of red hair is puzzling. It's true that there are a small number of Greeks today who seem to be authentic red heads. However, it is quite uncommon.

It is a point of minor interest in this paper as to why the authors chose red hair.

Of course, the greater story, to me, are the discoveries that will come out of analyzing the DNA of the people who died during the Plague of Athens. If that is possible.

It is interesting because of the way they died, but even more interesting because it captures a timestamp of Athenians at the time of Pericles.

onur said...

It is interesting because of the way they died

It would be really interesting if their DNA and the way they died were managed to be associated. But I think it has a very small chance to happen, at least in the near future.

but even more interesting because it captures a timestamp of Athenians at the time of Pericles

Comparing their DNA with the DNA of modern ethnicities/populations would be interesting.

pconroy said...

Yeah, I agree - as Western Europe R1b seems to have been largely populated from an ultimately Near East population, with one branch going through Continental Europe, probably via Greece, and another going along the Southern European coast or North Africa, possibly via Cyprus.

So sampling people then and comparing to other ancient populations would help tease out the routes

onur said...
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onur said...
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onur said...
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onur said...
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onur said...

So sampling people then and comparing to other ancient populations would help tease out the routes

Yes. Using ancient DNA is the only feasible way for detecting and/or understanding an overwhelming majority of the mass migrations (including even the most recent ones) and even a little detailed migratory patterns.

onur said...
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John said...

Maybe the plague preferentially killed the red-haired Greeks?

I say that 3/4 in jest but descriptions in literature and art show a wide variety of coloring among Greeks probably going back far earlier than classical times.

If the artist had portrayed the theoretical average of dark hair and dark eyes, in one sense they would have been more accurate, but a those "average" images pile up they create their own inaccuracy.

onur said...
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onur said...
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onur said...
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onur said...

descriptions in literature

Such descriptions should be read with caution, because very often when they talk about blond hair they are actually referring to any people who have lighter hair than the average dark brown-black hair, or when they talk about dark or black skins they are actually referring to people with tan-colored skin (as in the very well-known example of Colchians), or when they talk about blue eyes they are referring to people with dark blue or even hazel eyes.

Marnie said...

It is very difficult to guess at how hair color has changed in Greece, and in Europe, for that matter, over the last several thousand years.

There are a lot of other things that would explain a shift in hair color before a conjecture about the vulnerability of red haired people to the plague.

Red hair is a recessive trait. It appears frequently only in populations that are quite inbred with respect to the red hair gene. That might explain the orthodontic problems, as well.

Without sunglasses, it is tough to be a red haired, blue eyed person in Southern Europe. It's a subtle, but obvious point. There's probably a very gradual selection process against blue eyes and fair skin in the South of Europe.

As far as fair hair in Greece is concerned, there is more hair color variability in Greece than a tourist, who tends to visit the Islands and Athens, would gain an impression of.

And there is certainly a lot of eye color variability, again, somewhat dependant on geography. (According to village or region of origin.)

That's my impression anyway. Frankly, it is something that has surprised me, having now spent some time there. It really has run against my childhood impression of who is Greek.

I think that we (North Americans and others) are used to a stereotype of what a Greek looks like. A Greek who doesn't fit this stereotype is not remarked upon as being Greek. We think they are German or Italian or "us" and we don't add them in to our Greek stereotype.

Creative said...
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Creative said...

A bit off topic, but I interested in the opinion from Dienekes posters on these two pre-Islamic mummies from Yemen and there perfectly “almost oddly” round eye sockets. Is this typical for med. like populations? In comparison, the Cranium of the individual Greek female looks a bit more "archaic".

Thanks

Yemeni Mummie 1
http://img193.imageshack.us/img193/535/52834015.jpg

Yemeni Mummie 2
http://img718.imageshack.us/img718/6838/71078202.jpg

onur said...

What do you mean by "archaic"? Cro-Magnoid?

Tamar1973 said...

I'm a natural redhead (strawberry blonde) and did not suffer from overbite or a need for braces.

What a stereotype.