Facial Reconstructions

Facial reconstructions are frequently used in forensic anthropology. Occasionally, they crop up in bioarchaeology as well (I’m thinking of a British TV show – the name of which escapes me – that also did facial reconstructions in every episode). They are also used in paleoanthropology – mainly museum displays – to give people a sense of what our hominin ancestors may have looked like. I bring this up because the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a display on the subject called Making Faces: The Art and Science of Forensic Facial Reconstruction. From the museums website:

The exhibition details the process of identifying the remains of a dead body from start to finish. “We’re going all the way from a skeleton found in the woods to identifying it as the exact right individual,” explains Dr. Linda Spurlock, the Museum’s Director of Human Health and an accomplished facial reconstruction artist.
The first step in establishing an identity is to create a biological profile from the victim’s remains. This consists of gender, age, physical stature and race. These characteristics narrow down the field of possible identities dramatically, Spurlock explains.
Forensic facial reconstruction helps narrow down the field still further. Visitors will see how these artists re-create faces using sketches and sculptures. A video shows Spurlock creating a 3-D reconstruction based on a skull cast purchased from a casting lab.

The display a;so includes the reconstructions of a male and a female Australopithecus afarensis, a Neanderthal child, and a 2,000 year old Incan man. Also from the Museum website:

Visitors inspired by the exhibition can try their hand at the reconstruction process. A video will feature Spurlock explaining how to sketch a face from a skull. Visitors then can lay tracing paper on a back-lit photo of a skull with tissue-depth markers in place to create their own sketches. Depending on the results, they can either post their work or take it home.

Sounds fascinating, and if I lived in the area I would be the first in line! If you live in the area I would check it out.


4 Responses

  1. If it’s the show I’m thinking of, it’s Meet the Ancestors presented by Julian Richards.

  2. Yes, that’s it.

  3. One of the first Creationist tracts I read many years ago presented differences in reconstructions as evidence against evolution. Their example was Mary Leakey’s Zinjanthropus. the first reconstruction looked like the popular, “official” one. The second was done by someone who appeared competent, but probably never saw the material. The third was done by a newspaper artist (who may have specialized in advertisements or comics).

  4. Reconstructions have come a long way and are good enough for most purposes. If you look through some of the anthropology books from the 60’s, some of the reconstructions are quite artistically done, others, not so much, but none of them seem to reflect the underlying anatomy. That is not the case today, but, yeah, I have seen some of the creationist materials that make similar arguments…

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