The face of a man who died 9,500 years ago in the Middle East has been brought to life by a team of scientists using 3D scans of his skull.
The skull belonged to a man who died – aged over 40 – near the city of Jericho, now part of the Palestinian West Bank.
Hoping to preserve the facial features of the deceased, the ancients decorated his skull with plaster and gave him shells for eyes.
It was the “world’s first facial reconstruction” according to Brazilian graphics expert Cicero Moraes.
But now Moraes has rebuilt the dead man’s face using the latest techniques, offering a unique window into the past.
“We registered the skull inside the plaster sculpture, creating a digital structure of it,” Moraes said.
“With the skull available in a virtual environment, we did a series of statistical projections to learn what certain areas of the face, such as the nose, lips and ears, might look like.”
To fill in the data, the scientists used a technique called anatomical distortion where they adjust the structure of a live person’s CT scan so that it becomes the person in the skull they measured.
“When we interpolate the anatomical deformation data with the statistical projections, we have a face that could be that person in life.”
The result is an objective reconstruction of the face, complete with eyebrows and eyelashes and marks showing the age of the deceased and the effect of the climate on his skin.
Later subjective elements “according to the climatic characteristics of the region” were added, including hair, beard and eyes.
Moraes and his co-authors, archaeologist Moacir Elias Santos and forensic pathologist Thiago Beaini, have now published their findings in the journal OrtogOnLine.
“From the study we published, the expected level of accuracy is quite high,” Moraes said.
“It is not a face that is 100% like what it was in life – to expect that is utopian. But structurally, in relation to the general aspects of the face, the probability that it is his face is very high.
The skull is one of seven discovered by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953. According to the British Museum, which now houses the skull, the deceased would have originally been a well-known person, but could have become a worshiped ancestor figure over time next year.
The museum believes the man would have been long forgotten by the time his skull was finally buried. It was the museum’s 3D uploads of the skull that enabled the new reconstruction.
But this is not the only time forensic facial reconstruction has been attempted using the so-called Jericho skull. A previous attempt in 2016 yielded visibly different results.
“We used a technique that focused more on statistical data, extracted from living people, as we worked with digital surgical planning, which ends up touching the field of facial forensics,” Moraes said.
According to the British museum, the owner of the Jericho skull died with severely broken teeth and abscesses that must have caused him pain.
He had also recovered from a broken nose and the shape of his head had permanently changed after being tightly bound as an infant.
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