Meeting with Hinat
By the end of the 4th century BCE, the Nabataeans, a tribe most likely from central Arabia who had settled in present-day Petra in modern Jordan, were becoming wealthy through the trade in frankincense, spices, and herbs. other luxury goods. As their kingdom expanded, they founded new centers of trade and culture, settling in Hegra – about 300 miles, or 500 km, south of Petra – in the first century BCE. Their unique civilization blended elements from various cultures, fueled by the wealth of their role in trading valuable commodities, and they carved fabulously elaborate tombs into the sandstone cliffs that surround Hegra.
Two thousand years later, archaeologists investigating tombs excavated in Jabal Ahmar, a mountainous outcrop on the edge of the residential area of Hegra, selected one for further study. Known as the tomb of Hinat, daughter of Wahbu, it was filled with exceptionally well-preserved materials such as buried human remains – bones, skin and even hair – as well as textiles, leather, plant materials and other substances.
This tomb had another very particular attraction, as explained by Laïla Nehmé, the director of the Hegra archaeological project: “The Nabataeans are a bit mysterious: we know a lot about them, but at the same time we know very little because they don’t did not leave any literary texts or recordings. The excavation of this tomb was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about their idea of the afterlife. Moreover, this tomb has a very beautiful inscription engraved on its facade, which says that it belonged to a woman called Hinat.
Who was Hinat? We don’t know for sure. But in 60 or 61 CE, she had carved the following message on a panel above the entrance to her tomb: “This is the tomb which Hinat, daughter of Wahbu, made for herself and for her children and his descendants forever. And no one has the right to sell it or pawn it or write a lease for this tomb. And whoever does anything other than that, his share will go to his rightful heir. In the twenty-first year of King Maliku, King of the Nabataeans.”
Analysis of the tomb established that it was the final resting place of no less than 80 people. In one area, a wooden coffin contained the remains of at least four people—one adult and three children. Elsewhere, bones, fabrics and leather were mixed with strings of desiccated dates, apparently created into necklaces.
Gathering as much information as possible from the materials discovered in the tomb led to an intriguing idea. Analyzing one of the skulls from the tomb, a question arose: could we use existing knowledge of forensics and paleopathology (the study of disease in ancient peoples) to reconstruct the person’s face? died and buried here? Such a reconstruction – the first-ever attempt by a woman of the Nabataean period – would be of immense value in being able to tell the story of Hegra and the Nabataean civilization to a global audience.
But who to choose? Analysis of one of the skeletons in the tomb revealed that it was a woman, aged 40 to 50, about 1.6m (5ft 3in) tall, and the nature of her burial suggested that she was of average social status. Inspired by the tomb inscription, archaeologists affectionately named her Hinat, and she became the focus of the project.
Then came a gathering of international experts in London to lay the groundwork for the reconstruction project – archaeologists from the Nabataean civilization, specialists in digital and physical facial reconstruction, forensic experts and science communicators – who would translate a computer-generated image into a physical bust. by Hinat. With almost no images discovered in Nabataean art and very few surviving human remains, scholars have had to use a carefully judged mix of professional rigor and artistic interpretation to make key decisions about Hinat’s characteristics – her eye color , her skin tone, how many wrinkles she had, what clothes she wore, and the style of any jewelry or adornments.
Forensic sculptor Philippe Froesch recounts how every bit of scientific knowledge was exhausted before art came into play: “We created a subjective portrait using [pre-existing] data,” he says.
Froesch’s job was to produce an initial computer image of Hinat. To do this, he worked with forensic scientist Philippe Charlier to fine-tune the details of his face. A computed tomography (CT) scan of the skull revealed signs of chronic osteoarthritis and even traces of infectious diseases in the teeth, things that needed to be considered when shaping Hinat’s mouth. Froesch used technical data on facial musculature and skin thickness to reconstruct Hinat’s features in fine detail, carefully adjusting individual eyelashes and skin pores.
Sitting in front of his computer, Froesch remembers: “There is always a moment which is very moving, and that is when you open the eyelids of the subject. Suddenly you see the eyes of this person looking at you. It’s a kind of dialogue that happens, a very intimate moment.
At that time, Froesch passed the baton to Ramón Lopez, a biologist and sculptor who specialized in creating naturalistic reproductions of humans and animals. Lopez and his team used stereolithography — an industrial 3D printing technique that deploys resins in individual layers — to create a series of molds that ultimately resulted in a silicon bust of Hinat.
Experts working with Lopez tied Hinat’s hair into individual locks, added make-up to the surface of her skin, attached earrings designed as replicas of jewelry discovered at Hegra, and dressed her in hand-woven linen to match fragments recovered from Hegra tombs.
Finally, after lying quiet in the sands of Hegra for twenty centuries, Hinat – or a woman who may have known Hinat, probably as a member of her family – watched the scientists in awe, the result of a month – long, scientifically rigorous and artistically innovative process. Curator and archaeologist Dr Helen McGauran identified the value of such a remarkable project for the 21st century. “There are common threads of humanity that can be recognized in Nabataean history,” she says. “The opening to the outside [and] interaction with other cultures and communities. Hinat’s two-thousand-year-old face has a lot to teach us.
Travel back in time to discover the rich history of AlUla here.