The old Norwegian woman who lived longer than expected and died hunchbacked and toothless

Hunchbacked and toothless, the years have not passed in vain for this 65-year-old woman.

Thomas Osborne
Thomas Osborne
30 November 2022 Wednesday 13:51
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The old Norwegian woman who lived longer than expected and died hunchbacked and toothless

Hunchbacked and toothless, the years have not passed in vain for this 65-year-old woman. Although it is also true that she lived much longer than most people of her time, a time when adults died between the ages of 40 and 50. The woman died at the beginning of the 14th century in Trondheim (Norway) and modern modeling techniques have made her 'return' to life.

His figure stands out these days in the halls of the Museum of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. It was precisely in the library of this center where the remains of this grandmother were found during archaeological excavations carried out in the 1970s.

When the woman was born, at the end of the 13th century, Trondheim was in a period of prosperity. The city was powerful thanks to the fact that it served as the seat of an archbishop. The completion of the Nidaros Lutheran Cathedral attracted craftsmen and merchants from all over Europe.

“Based on where she was buried, we believe she may have been part of a merchant family who were based on the city's busy Kaupmannastretet street. She therefore had good living conditions, although during her long life trajectory she had time to see major changes in Trondheim”, the researchers note.

The vicissitudes experienced left clear marks on the old woman's skeleton. The life-size 3D model features her smiling, though she proposes that she needed a thick wooden cane to support herself 800 years ago on her walks through the central Norwegian city.

"We know that she was buried in the cemetery near the street where the merchants lived," explains archaeologist Ellen Grav. And experts consider that all those who could aspire to be buried in that place were quite rich people in their time.

The NRK broadcasting company conducted a public poll to choose a name for the woman. The proposal that she won was that of "Tora" and her reconstructed figure of her is exhibited in a temporary exhibition dedicated to medieval life in northern Europe.

A spinal deformity led Grav and his team to conclude that Tora probably walked with a stoop. She also had no lower teeth and lived without them for a long period of time before passing away. For the researchers, the curvature of the back and the lack of teeth hinted at "signs of hard work and permanent wear on the skeleton."

Grav worked with Thomas Foldberg, a Danish-based makeup specialist working in the film industry, to make Tora as lifelike as possible. Unlike many facial reconstructions that involve the use of X-rays or CT scans, Foldberg focused on the old woman's bones to create a 3D model of what she might have looked like. "Each strand of hair on the eyebrows, eyelashes and facial hair has been attached," Grav said, "one by one. It's really amazing artwork."

Marianne Vedeler, a textile specialist from the Department of Archeology at the University of Oslo, assisted in making her outfit. Vedeler researched archaeological remains in the area dating from the late 13th and early 14th centuries, then turned to an experienced Viking dressmaker named Nille Glæsel.

Glæsel used medieval techniques to make the clothes. "She spun the thread, wove the cloth, and even colored it with Rubia tinctorum (Red Blonde)," a dye extracted from the eponymous plant that ranges in color from red to pink, depending on the proportion of dye used. "Then she hand-sewn the dress and also made the shoes. We have a lot of evidence of footwear from Trondheim, so it was quite easy to tell what shoes would have looked like at that time," Ellen Grav describes.

"People always tend to think that medieval times were dark and heavy, but there was also joy and happiness. People loved each other and some even lived a long life. Tora's was hard, but it must have had good times too," concludes the Norwegian archaeologist.