Here's a 700-Year-Old 'Photograph' of a Person

Science is amazing. Using careful measurements and some advanced techniques, scientists reconstructed a remarkably precise account of the life of one of their neighbors from 700 years ago.

At this year's Cambridge Science Festival, the audience got to meet Context 958, a man who had been buried literally under their feet for the past 700 years. One of over 400 skeletons discovered beneath the Old Divinity School of St. John's College, the man was likely living at the Hospital of St. John, which provided food and housing for members of the community who couldn't provide for themselves. Using information inferred only from analyzing the remains, Professor John Robb notes that Context 958 was over 40 when he died and was likely a member of the working class. His job seemed to give him above-average access to meat and fish, but illness brought him to St. John. Check out the reconstruction of his appearance below, which looks remarkably modern. 

Image credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee

Scientists also noted that his tooth enamel had stopped growing twice during his childhood, indicating he had either experienced serious sickness or famine when younger. Context 958 is part of a larger study, "After the Plague," which Robb notes is about "humanizing people in the past, getting beyond the scientific facts to see them as individuals with life stories and experiences... [imagining] them ourselves as leading complex lives like we do today. That's why putting all the data together into biographies and giving them faces is so important."

Much like photographs serve as records of the humanity of individuals in the present, it's interesting to see how these "photographs" of the past humanize those who lived long before we had the ability to take their picture. 

[via Gizmodo and University of Cambridge]

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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