Skulls, jaws, tibiae, fibulae, pelvis, or even complete and incomplete mummies that show marks of osteoarthritis, sinusitis, trepanations, blow wounds or even tumors and viscera. All these Guanche remains of the Archaeological Museum of Tenerife They can be viewed for the first time in three dimensions through a computer thanks to a documentation project run by the Cultania company, with funding from the Canary Islands Institute for Cultural Development of the regional government and the collaboration of the Museum of Nature and Archeology of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (MUNA), to which the Archaeological belongs.
Javier Soler, founding partner of Cultania together with Josué Ramos, explains that Photogrammetry has been used, a technique that consists of taking photographs of the entire surface of human remains with which a 3D reconstruction is subsequently performed. “For example, for complete mummies we have needed about 800 photographs, while for a skull, 300. They are images that are obtained by moving each rest with great care and placing it at different angles”, details Soler, doctor in Prehistory from the University de La Laguna and professor of Archeology at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
In this first part of the project, the Cultania team has completed the three-dimensional images of 20 Guanche remains. They were selected by the bioanthropologists Conrado Rodríguez Maffiote and Mercedes Martín Oval, from the Archaeological Museum of Tenerife, “whose collaboration has been fundamental,” says Soler. «They are all pieces with different characteristics, which tell very different stories of each individual. It is very interesting because we are talking about some funds, those of this Museum, among the most complete and best preserved in the world, “the archaeologist clarifies.
Osteoarthritis, tumors, bumps
The diseases they present range from the most common in the first populations of Tenerife, It is estimated that they arrived on the Island around the 5th century BC, such as those linked to degenerative processes –arthrosis, sinusitis or abscesses–, to others common in societies with high physical intensity –running, climbing, jumping– such as periostitis –Inflammation of the bones–, fractures –of the septum, for example– or trauma of many different origins. According to studies, the marks of the blows come not only from falls, but also from the impact of instruments made with stones that, as in the case of a skull from Garachico, came to affect the entire right side of the head. “This Guanche must have had half his face destroyed, but he survived by finding scar marks,” recalls Soler.
It has also been sought that the provenance was as diverse as possible, encompassing not only archaeological sites from different areas of Tenerife, but also from different periods: from excavations in the 1940s and 1950s carried out by Luis Diego Cuscoy – such as that of Llano de Maja (Las Cañadas), Barranco Cruz de las Ánimas (Candelaria), El Masapé (San Juan de la Rambla), Cueva de La Lana (Tacoronte) or Cueva de los Guanches (Tegueste) – up to other more recent interventions such as those of Majagora (Guía de Isora), Cueva de San Marcos (Icod de los Vinos) or Mesa del Mar (Tacoronte). Likewise, work has been carried out on remains from collections, such as that of Villa Benítez, which has a skull in which remains of a benign tumor appear; or from donations, such as a San Andrés skull that presents an interesting example of trepanation.
The project will create a background so that anyone can study the remains without manipulating them
These bioanthropological pieces of the Guanches converted into three-dimensional images offer two main advantages, says the company responsible for the project: improving the conservation of these remains, since you will only need to enter a web page to study and observe them in great detail without need to manipulate them directly; and allow that this documentation fund is available to anyone interested in the characteristics of the first settlers of Tenerife, not only the researchers or the curators of the Archaeological Museum themselves.
Javier Soler is struck by the evidence of trepanning, a rudimentary surgical technique practiced by the Guanches through incisions in the skull to relieve pain from headaches or migraines. Among the examples reproduced in three dimensions, some stand out in which it is seen how the bone cauterized after the intervention, which indicates that the individual managed to survive the operation. He was also very curious about the mummified remains, such as that of a torso that preserves remains of viscera, or isolated bones to which soft tissues still adhere, such as the skull of an old woman from Anaga that partially preserves the neck, an ear and part of the nose.
The technique of photogrammetry
Photogrammetry is a documentation technique that “has come a long way in recent years due to its many advantages for the conservation, visualization and dissemination of cultural assets », highlights Javier Soler. In fact, more and more museums are betting on this technology to make their collections known in an innovative way. The different models generated can be consulted through a web page or the Sketchfab application, a platform that allows you to view objects and other elements in 3D. It is also being studied that these images can be exhibited in the MUNA of Santa Cruz and other museums.
Another project that the Cultania company is going to propose is to use this same technique not only on human remains, but also on others belonging to the Guanches, such as containers or utensils that they used for daily tasks. These images will serve to better understand the first settlers of the Islands, who would arrive from North Africa, “many possibly with the help of Punics and Romans.” «Groups of Berbers would arrive each with their culture and customs, because the Berbers of Tunisia were not the same as the Berbers of the High Atlas. Hence possibly the populations experienced differentiated developments and behaviors on each island ”, Javier Soler theorizes.