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What History’s Most Famous Figures Actually Looked Like

In our world of camera phones and selfies, it’s easy to forget that photography is a relatively new phenomenon. Before that, people had to be depicted through paintings and sculptures, a slow — and not always accurate — process. The likenesses of many important figures from the past were captured in this way, so can we ever know what they really looked like in real life? With the help of digital imaging technology, we may finally have the answers.


As an Egyptian queen and spouse to Pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti was a significant figure of ancient times. And during her life, she’s said to have supported innovative and cutting-edge art.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that a sculpture of her head now serves as both a fascinating glimpse into the past and an important icon of ancient Egypt.

The Egyptian Queen

Nefertiti’s bust is now in the Neues Museum in Berlin, Germany — although we’ll likely never know how accurate this likeness actually is. Nevertheless, that hasn't deterred people from trying.

In 2018, for example, a team including Bristol University Egyptologist Dr. Aiden Dobdon used 3D imaging to create a replica of the queen’s head. The result of this work was then turned into a sculpture by the paleoartist Elisabeth Daynès.

George Washington

At one time, George Washington was the head of a Virginia plantation. As many of us know, though, he ultimately rose to become the commander-in-chief of the colonial forces during the American Revolution.

And after that, of course, he was chosen as the United States’ first-ever president. But are those rosy cheeks and signature wig a lifelike depiction of the real George Washington?

Would the real Washington please stand up?

Well, you'd think the answer would be an undisputed "yes," given that Washington’s likeness has been emblazoned on paintings and $1 banknotes, and not to mention the side of a mountain! 

Thankfully, we now have a potentially more realistic picture, as researchers Eric Altschuler and Krista Ehinger have managed to create a neat CGI image of the former president. It may be a little late to adjust Mount Rushmore, however.