The Face of a 2,000-Year-Old Nabataean Woman is Reconstructed for the Very First Time

The first known reconstruction of a 2,000-year-old ancient Nabataean woman was unveiled at AlUla, Saudi Arabia in February. A team of specialists in the fields of archaeology, forensic science, and modelmaking completed the first known reconstruction of an ancient Nabataean woman discovered at Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage. The site was once a vibrant city for this North Arabian kingdom, which dominated the historic Incense Road. The Nabataean woman, known as ‘Hinat’ is thought to have lived around the first century BCE and has lain for over 2,000 years in a Hegra tomb.

A team of archaeologists and academics in the fields of forensic science and modelmaking working under the umbrella of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has, for what is believed to be the first time ever, reconstructed the face of an ancient woman, a member of the fascinating Nabataean civilization.

The Nabataean woman is known as ‘Hinat’ and is thought to have been a prominent woman who died around the first century BCE and lain for over 2,000 years in a Hegra tomb in Saudi Arabia.

The reconstruction is being displayed at the Hegra Welcome Centre in AlUla, 15 years after Hegra was inscribed as the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Saudi Arabia in 2008. The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) expects many more important advances in the coming years as the painstaking work of archaeology across the AlUla area diligently uncovers the secrets of the past.

Archaeologists found her in a well-preserved tomb in a mountainous outcrop that contained the
remains of perhaps 80 people – several of them probably relatives – on the outskirts of Hegra. Hinat appears to have been a woman of some wealth and social standing, who died in the first century BCE. Her skeleton was more complete than most in the tomb and so in 2019 she was selected for the facial reconstruction project.

The Nabataeans settled in Hegra in the first century BCE, after expanding south from Petra into what is
now north-west Saudi Arabia, having amassed wealth as traders in frankincense, spices and other luxury goods. Their cultural legacy is highlighted by the elaborate tombs they carved into the sandstone cliffs at Hegra.

When it came to the reconstruction process, the project included archaeologists, anthropologists,
forensic reconstruction experts and a 3D sculptor. The scientific team gathered in London in September 2019 to discuss what Hinat would have looked like and what she might have worn. The team then wrote a character profile with reference imagery for her clothes, hair and jewellery.

In July 2020, the 3D reconstruction was completed and validated by experts; they changed her
earrings to match examples unearthed at Hegra. Then came the painstaking work of making molds to create a silicon bust of Hinat’s face. Specialists added her hair strand by strand, applied makeup, attached the earrings, and clothed her in artisan-woven linen to match fragments recovered from tombs at Hegra.

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