Ancient Peruvian princess shows face, thanks to 3D printing

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
November 14, 2023

The Peruvian priestess dubbed Lady of Cao died 1,700 years ago, but her face has come back to life, thanks to 3D printing.

A team of Peruvian archaeologists discovered the ruler’s heavily tattooed, mummified remains in 2005 at an ancient ceremonial burial site called “El Brujo.” It took a multidisciplinary team of scientists 10 months to reconstruct her mien using state-of-the-art 3D laser-scanning technology, forensic facial reconstruction and ethnographic insights gleaned from photos of women in the El Brujo area.

Peru’s Culture Minister Salvador del Solar revealed the lifelike oval face with high cheekbones at a ceremony on Monday. The bust, adorned with a tall gold crown, will be available for public viewing at the Ministry of Culture until July 16, along with an exact replica of the Lady of Cao’s mummy. The real one can be seen at the Cao Musem of the El Brujo Archaeological Complex.

The archaeological complex calls the discovery of Lady of Cao “the great discovery that changed the perception of the female role in ancient Peru.” Her mummy revealed evidence that women held power among the Moche people, who occupied the Chicama Valley from about 100 to 700 A.D. and were known for their violent, patriarchal culture.

Gold jewelry, weapons and other valuable artifacts accompanied her body, as did the remains of a teen girl who appeared to have been sacrificed to help shepherd Lady of Cao to the afterlife. The complex burial suggests her position as a ruler.

It’s believed the Lady of Cao died in her twenties due to complications from childbirth. Archaeologists say her mummy is one of the best preserved relics of a civilization that ended more than 1,300 years ago.

The effort to reconstruct her face is part of an effort to preserve and document Peruvian history. The El Brujo Archaeological Complex collaborated with the Wiese Foundation and 3D-technology company FARO Technologies on bringing the famous face back to detailed life.