A murmur goes through the Carmelite Church as Constanze Niess carefully opens a piece of white plastic foil and then lifts it up.

A bust made of light-colored plastic appears.

Applause erupts.

The blue eyes under the blond short hairstyle seem to fix the about 50 people who have gathered in the Archaeological Museum in Frankfurt that evening.

A subtle smile plays around the narrow lips.

The pronounced, somewhat angular chin appears resolute.

Here a prince honors himself.

A revenant, so to speak, because his mortal remains were buried 2700 years ago - in the Frankfurt city forest in a mighty, about four meter high burial mound with a diameter of more than 40 meters.

Niess, a forensic doctor at the Frankfurt University Hospital, has spent the past few months researching what the face of this high-ranking man of the early Iron Age might have looked like.

She usually deals with nameless fire victims and anonymous drowned bodies, as well as people who have died as a result of violence.

And thus makes an important contribution to police investigations.

Since 2012, the petite blond woman explains, she has also been giving back the faces of people from bygone eras.

Since then she has made 40 facial reconstructions.

Bronze sword and gold-decorated knife

But before Niess could work out the individual features of the fifty-year-old prince from the city forest, his deformed and partly broken skull had to be reconstructed.

The remains of this person, excavated in 1966/67, who were buried together with a bronze sword, a gold-decorated knife, parts of a chariot and bridle, valuable clay and bronze dishes and even personal care tools such as tweezers and ear spoons, are among the most important prehistoric finds in Frankfurt.

They are currently being presented as part of the Hessen-wide Celtic year in the exhibition "Celts in Hessen?" in the Archaeological Museum.

A reconstruction of the ornate yoke, which also belonged to the grave goods, and the lower part of the sandstone stele that once crowned the burial mound complete the picture.

In the area, however, nothing can be seen of the mighty tumulus, the largest of a group of burial mounds called "Eichlehen" on the city limits of Offenbach.

The 661 freeway now runs where it rose.

Dental status, skull sutures and muscle attachments, pelvis and head shape: Carolin Röding lists the clues that identify a skeleton as male or female.

The paleoanthropologist from the University of Tübingen is convinced that the princely bones are clearly those of a man.

After years of meticulous work, she disassembled his skull into its individual parts.

"But only on the computer," the dedicated scientist reassured the audience.

Then, also digitally, she reassembled the fragmented remains.

All segments, such as the cheekbone, which was only present on one side in the original, were supplemented by mirroring.

She was able to close the remaining gaps with the help of reference data.

However, the complete skull is only one station on the way to the finished face.

Many wheels had to mesh before Niess was able to develop her facial reconstruction within the project started in 2016 and funded by the Frankfurt Historical-Archaeological Society with a good 7000 euros.

As museum director Wolfgang David explains, one of the many facets was the cooperation with the Max Planck Institute at the University of Jena and with the Reiss Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim.

The required 3D printing of the reconstructed skull was financed by the Hessian Ministry of Science and Art.

What the Celt's skull said

Niess emphasizes that the individual facial features that have just been revealed are not the result of artistic imagination.

Hair and eye color are genetically determined.

The skull bones, in turn, contained many clues such as the tear duct, ear hole or remains of the nasal bone, which allowed a reconstruction.

And then there are the soft-tissue markers, small pins that Niess attached to the skull during the reconstruction.

For each individual point, according to the forensic scientist, comparative studies can be used to calculate how much “soft tissue” belongs on the bone.

And why does the prince wear his hair in such a strange way?

According to David, the hairstyle is based on the image of a warrior found in the 5th century BC in the eponymous site of the older pre-Roman Iron Age, in Hallstatt in Austria.

Is a piece of the past awakening with the newly acquired prince's head, for which there is already a separate display case?


In any case, Constanze Niess found out after almost a thousand hours of reconstruction work: "Now he's looking at me."