In 1987, the remains of a woman from the Early Bronze Age, who died 4,250 years ago, were discovered in a rock-cut tomb in the megalithic circle of Achavanich in Caithness, Scotland.

DNA analysis showed that she descended from European immigrants who arrived in Britain several generations before her birth, along with details about her physical characteristics, such as likely having brown eyes and black hair, and being lactose intolerant.

Now, a new study led by archaeologist Maya Hoole and published in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, provides new data about her appearance while also pushing back the dating of the remains (initially thought to be about 3,700 years old).

Analysis of the genomic data resulted in a facial reconstruction of Ava (as she was named) by forensic artist Hew Morrison, introducing some changes from the previous reconstruction (where Ava was depicted with red hair and blue eyes).

The reason for the change is that the new data from DNA analyses conducted by experts from the Natural History Museum in London and Harvard Medical School allows for greater precision in Ava’s physical features.

The consideration of her ancestors as migrants from Northern Europe is inferred from the limited genetic connections found regarding the local population of Caithness in the Neolithic period. Also, from the objects found in the burial, which place her within the Beaker Folk culture, which began in the Chalcolithic period and spread throughout Europe until the early Bronze Age.

At the time of her death, Ava was between 18 and 25 years old, living in a wooded area abundant with hazelnuts, pine, and birch trees. Her diet was rich in meat, indicating her community possessed cattle. According to Maya Hoole, Ava was a healthy young woman who likely engaged in physical labor. We do not know what caused her death, but the careful manner of her burial suggests great care was taken in the creation of her tomb.

The new reconstruction maintains Ava’s facial features the same as the previous one, darkening her eyes, skin tone, and hair.


Hoole, M., Sheridan, A., Boyle, A., Booth, T., Brace, S., Diekmann, Y., Olalde, I., Thomas, M., Barnes, I., Evans, J., Chenery, C., Sloane, H., Morrison, H., Fraser, S., Timpany, S., & Hamilton, D. (2018). ‘Ava’: a Beaker-associated woman from a cist at Achavanich, Highland, and the story of her (re-)discovery and subsequent study. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 147, 73-118.

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