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Shíshálh ancestors ‘reconstructed’

P 1 shishalh family recon

They are faces from the past, scientific reconstructions of shíshálh ancestors based on bones believed to be 4,000 years old. © Philippe Froesch, Visual Forensic

On July 1, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. will open its new signature gallery, the Canadian History Hall, with a digital facial reconstruction based on the ancient remains of a high-status shíshálh family, estimated to be 4,000 years old. The result of nearly three years of collaboration between the Museum, the shíshálh Nation and the University of Toronto, this forensically based, three-dimensional and animated facial reconstruction is the first of its kind in North America.

“This shows the tremendous relationship that the shíshálh Nation and the Canadian Museum of History have built over the past 10 years,” declared Chief Warren Paull. “With its in-depth knowledge and exceptional experience, the Museum of History has proven an ideal partner for our nation. We look forward to future discoveries that provide further proof regarding what we have said from the beginning: that we as shíshálh people have been stewards of our land since time immemorial.”

At the request of the shíshálh Nation, archaeologists from the Museum of History and the University of Toronto helped excavate a burial site located near the modern community of Sechelt.

The remains of five individuals were discovered and estimated to be approximately 4,000 years old. The individuals — a male of 50; a female aged 19−23; male twins aged 20–25; and one infant of indeterminate gender — had been buried with hundreds of thousands of stone and shell beads, indicating the family’s tremendous wealth and power. This has been one of the most significant chiefly burial finds in North America. After being studied in depth at the Museum of History, the remains were returned to Sechelt for reburial.

The Museum then collaborated with the shíshálh Nation to produce scientifically accurate reconstructions of each of the faces, further including hair, jewellery, facial expressions and clothing. The reconstructions based on scientific data were completed by Visualforensic, the world’s foremost forensic CGI studio.

Another version of the module is being constructed for the Tems Swiya Museum, in Sechelt, in order that the story of these ancient shíshálh ancestors be similarly told in their home community. The module in Sechelt is expected to open on July 1, coinciding with the Museum’s opening of the Canadian History Hall.

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