DNA Research On 4,250-Year-Old Burial In Caithness Has Helped To Create A Facial Reconstruction Of ‘Ava’

Scientists have recently conducted new DNA research on a 4,250-year-old Bronze Age woman known as “Ava,” whose remains were discovered inside a grave in Caithness, Scotland in 1987. Ava came from a group of people that are now known as the Beaker people, named for a beaker that was found in Ava’s grave.

According to the BBC, through new DNA work, scientists learned that Ava was the product of European migrants who would have made their humble home in Britain long before her birth and that she most likely would have had dark hair and eyes, which was a change from the previous image we were given of her in which she was portrayed with red hair and blue eyes. Additionally, scientists also believe that Ava may have been lactose intolerant.

With the new genomic data from the Natural History Museum in London and Harvard Medical School, scientists were better able to understand what this Bronze Age Caithness woman would have really looked like, and forensic artist Hew Morrison was able to bring Ava to life once again through facial reconstruction.

As archaeologist Maya Hoole explained, it is fairly unusual for archaeologists to learn what color hair or eyes their subjects would have had, but new cutting edge technology has successfully provided this information for the 4,250-year-old remains of Ava.

“Archaeologists rarely recover evidence that indicates hair, eye or skin color but these new revolutionary techniques allow us to see prehistoric people like we never have before. The revelation that her ancestors were recent northern European migrants is exciting, especially as we know that she has no, or very few, genetic connections with the local Neolithic population who resided in Caithness before her.”

Ava would have been quite young when she died in Caithness, having passed away sometime between the ages of 18 and 25. The Bronze Age community she was a part of is one that would have subsisted largely on meat, and her actual living environment would have been a heavily forested one, filled with an abundance of trees such as birch, alder, hazel, and pine trees.

According to Hoole, despite her early death, DNA research suggests that Ava was a strong individual who, given the time in which she lived, almost certainly engaged in physical labor.

“Ava was a healthy young woman who was likely involved in physical labor. We don’t know what caused her death, but the way she was buried suggests that extra effort was put into the creation of her grave. She was either well respected, greatly cared about or both.”

While initial work conducted on the 4,250-year-old Caithness burial suggested that Ava was fair, the newest DNA research shows clearly that she would have had brown eyes, straight dark hair, and a complexion that would have been a little darker than average in Britain at this time, perhaps giving her more of a southern European look.

The remains of Ava, the Bronze Age Beaker woman from Caithness, were originally recovered close to the A9 trunk road.