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UVU Professors Collaborate On The Forensic Reconstruction Of An 800-Year-Old Peruvian Priestess

14 January 2013 No Comment

January 14, 2013

For Immediate Release

University Marketing & Communications: Mike Rigert (801) 863-6807

Written by: Mike Rigert (801) 863-6807

Utah Valley University professors Daniel Fairbanks and Haagen Klaus recently played key roles in the forensic facial reconstruction of an 800-year-old priestess in northern Peru.

Fairbanks, an associate dean with UVU’s College of Science & Health, and a professor of biology with expertise in genetics, anatomy, evolution and art, teamed up with Klaus, an assistant professor of anthropology and biology, during the five-month effort to approximate the facial likeness of the priestess/ruler.

The elaborate anatomical reconstruction was based on the skeletonized remains of the woman found in the center of a lavish tomb at the pyramid of Chornancap near the modern city of Lambayeque in 2011. Fairbanks used anatomical data, 19th century photographs of native women from the region, and computer-generated images to reconstruct the face that was unveiled to international anthropologists, researchers and the public during a Dec. 11 ceremony at the Museo Arqueológico Brüning in Lambayeque, Peru. The event was chronicled by numerous international news agencies, including the BBC.

“She was probably one of the most powerful people in Lambayeque 800 years ago during the Late Sicán culture. The items in her tomb included symbols of power and authority including various gold and gilded objects. She was accompanied by eight other bodies, which were possibly human sacrifices, so it appears she commanded significant worldly authority over life and death. Other objects in the tomb are directly associated with religious ideas and icons to suggest further close associations with Late Sicán state religion and is consistent with being a priestess in life,” Klaus told media at the event.

Klaus is director of the 30-year Lambayeque Valley Biohistory Project, a massive bioarchaeological research undertaking to better understand the influential Sicán civilization that inhabited the region just prior to rise of the vast Inca Empire.

Twice a year, Klaus handpicks a small handful of his most promising UVU anthropology undergraduates to join him in Peru to conduct research at dig sites and to analyze individual human remains that help unlock the secrets of how the region’s ancient and colonial inhabitants lived, interacted socially and economically, worshipped and died. Recent discoveries have included the remains of multiple women and children who were victims of Sicán human sacrifice rituals atop massive pyramid-like tombs.

“This was an extraordinary opportunity to bring art and science together through sculptural facial reconstruction,” Fairbanks said. “Not only is this project important for bioarchaeological science, it also is meaningful for the Peruvian people to observe a scientifically-informed inference about the appearance of one of the most important people in that region’s ancient history.”

Haagen Klaus (left) and Daniel Fairbanks, professors at Utah Valley University, participate in the international unveiling of a forensic facial reconstruction the pair created of an 800-year-old native Peruvian priestess whose remains were found in a nearby tomb in Lambayeque, Peru, in 2011.


About UVU

Utah Valley University is located in Orem, Utah, and is home to more than 30,000 students. UVU began as a vocational school during World War II, and in the seven decades since has evolved into a technical school, community school, state college and, finally, a comprehensive regional teaching university. UVU is one of Utah’s largest institutions of higher learning and offers programs ranging from career training to high-demand master degrees, with emphasis on undergraduate education.

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