A face from across the sands of time

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The Independent Online
Dressed in the height of Egyptian fashion, flaunting her earrings and neck bands, she is a little more reserved in her hairstyle, wearing it in a neat bun at the back.

The extraordinary thing about her and her man, said a British Museum official, is that they look so modern, so much a part of the contemporary scene. You could see these people in certain parts of London.

But these are Egyptians from Roman times. The skulls of a man and a woman who were alive sometime between the first and third centuries AD have been reconstructed at the British Museum in an attempt to recapture the appearance of the people who lived along the Nile nearly 2000 years ago.

They have been put on show at the museum alongside the original skulls and tomb portraits of the bodies before mummification - and the similarity to the portraits is remarkable.

The reconstructions were carried out by Richard Neave, Artist in Medicine and Life Science at the University of Manchester, and John Prag, keeper of Mediterranean Archaeology at the Manchester Museum.

A British Museum spokesman said: "Dr Neave and Dr Prag were given no information about the portraits until the reconstructions were complete.

"The results are dramatic and remarkable - accurate three-dimensional likenesses of two people who lived nearly 2000 years ago have been recreated, which correspond closely to their painted portraits."

The skulls and mummy portraits were discovered by archaeologist Flinders Petrie in 1888 as he excavated a site at Hawara, south-west of Cairo.

He removed the skulls from many of the portrait mummies for research, believing he could find the age, character and lifestyle of the dead Egyptians.

Each skull was carefully labelled to correspond to its mummy portrait, but the eventual arrival for the artifacts to Britain went unrecorded and the cargo was lost.

A group of skulls have only been traced recently and form part of the current British Museum exhibition: "Ancient Faces, Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt".

The exhibition shows nearly 200 mummy portraits painted on wooden panels, linen shrouds, plaster and coffin lids, from the museum's own collection and others in Europe and America.