Portrait of a Young Lady


This is a drawing of a skull. It took me about 5 hours and I drew it with a 6B graphite stick. Graphite is the stuff you get in pencils – a stick of it is usually pure graphite with no clay additives and no wooden casing. Using a graphite stick enables you to make a wider variety of marks and to get blacker blacks. I get mine from Jackson’s Art Supplies and they are made by Koh-I-Noor. They cost about £2 each but are a pleasure to use.

The skull belongs to a person found at the Iron Age hill-fort of Fin Cop near Ashford-in-the-Water. An estimated 400 people were massacred there more than 2000 years ago.

As I sat in Buxton Museum drawing I wondered about a question that a few of us at the museum have been grappling with. Was this person male or female?

The fantastic work done by the archaeologists – Clive Waddington and his team from Archaeological Research Services and a team of volunteers led by Ann Hall – could not be certain about this person’s gender. They know by looking at the person’s bones that they were probably about 15 years old when they died. And from what I understand, it is signs on the bones of an adult skeleton that enable their gender to be established. The age of this person means that those signs are not all present so their gender could be male or female.

As far as I know there is nothing about a skull that indicates gender – certainly not to my non-scientific eyes sat there in the museum drawing. But as the portrait progressed I did convince myself that I was drawing a young lady. Maybe this is because I have teenage daughters of my own, maybe it is because I have an over-active imagination! I think the real reason is that I know the shocking truth about the Fin Cop massacre. Everywhere the archaeologists dug along the wall of the fort they found skeletons. All the skeletons for which they could assign a gender were female. But also among the adults were teenagers, children, toddlers, newborns and unborns. What happened at Fin Cop was an act of genocide. The Fin Cop story is about women and girls.

With that in mind how could I not be drawing the portrait of a young lady? A beautiful, confident, talented young lady, her life cut short.

So by the time the portrait was finished I had another question. How could somebody have inflicted such violence on her? And why, more than 2000 years later are women and girls still subjected to such violence the world over? We have many lessons to learn from the past and museums can teach them to us.

A replica of the skull will go on show at Buxton Museum when it reopens to the public in May 2017 after major refurbishment.