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In 1996, archaeologists in Gibraltar found a burial site in a cave containing a human skull. They knew it was very ancient, as it was discovered in sediment containing fish bones, birds, mammals, and carved flint objects. So they decided to ‘revive’ it.

When the skull was discovered in 1996, archaeologists could not gather much information from it, not least due to Gibraltar’s humid climate, which makes DNA deteriorate quickly. At that time, DNA analysis was in its infancy, making extracting useful genetic material unlikely. Also, there was some damage done to the skull, which made it even more difficult to study.

So, all odds were against us recreating Calpeia’s physiognomy – this is how scientists named her after the classical term for Gibraltar, known in ancient times as Mons Calpe. However, in the ensuing decades the study of ancient DNA made great strides. In 2019, Science published the genome analysis of 271 inhabitants of Spain, Gibraltar, and Portugal, including the 1996 skull, after researchers at Harvard Medical School were able to extract viable samples of ancient DNA.


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