Faces from Scotland’s past come to life after forensic reconstruction – CNN

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As visitors explore the recently opened Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland, they come face-to-face with the past.

Lifelike digital facial reconstructions of people who lived across the Perth and Kinross region of Scotland centuries ago blink and change their expressions as museumgoers pass by.

The reconstructions, which combine art, anthropology, technology and archaeology, are on permanent display at the museum, which opened on March 30.


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The reconstructions are based on skulls found across Scotland, including a woman from the Bronze Age who lived about 4,000 years ago, an Iron Age man from AD 500 and men and women who lived during Scotland’s medieval period in the 14th and 15th centuries, such as a young male murder victim.

The museum collaborated with Dr. Chris Rynn, a craniofacial anthropologist and forensic artist, as well as University of Aberdeen researchers to study the ancient remains and bring them back to life in a unique way that can connect local visitors more deeply with their heritage, said Mark Hall, collections officer at Perth Museum and Art Gallery.

Visitors can see every step of the process of making the facial reconstructions, from viewing the skulls on display to using accessible screens that show how anthropologists reassemble skulls, create digital models and arrive at the final product.

Museumgoers will be able to digitally build the facial models themselves and see the results, even having the ability to tweak hair and eye color for some recreations.

“I’ve been working with Perth Museum on seven skulls,” Rynn said, “making forensic facial reconstructions of each to be turned into these interactive touch-screen displays so that visitors to the museum can go through the entire process of estimating and sculpting a face.”

The museum’s collections are intended to tell the story of the people who have lived in Perth for the last 10,000 years, Hall said.

“As part of our approach to try and humanize that story, we’ve recreated faces from the past using the evidence of human skulls and applying techniques of what’s called forensic anthropology,” Hall said. “What we can learn about a particular place by studying the people is how they related to each other, what sort of relationships they had, what sort of life they lived, how well were they connected with the rest of the world. And archaeology and anthropology kind of unearths lots of evidence which tells us about those things.”

Uncovering Scotland’s past

She lived somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, yet a woman from the Bronze Age with her facial reconstruction resembles someone who wouldn’t appear out of place in modern society.

“I think seeing faces from hundreds of years ago or thousands of years ago can teach us how little people have changed over that time,” Rynn said.

Her remains were originally found after a tractor broke through a burial chamber beneath Lochlands Farm in Perthshire in 1962. Her body was discovered in a crouched position, and the lower left-hand side of the facial bones had been cleanly cut away.

“The excavator speculated that a desperate injury had been inflicted that possibly caused the individual’s death,” according to information that the museum shared.

Recent research of the remains, including a DNA and dental analysis, revealed the woman was in her 30s when she died. Her bones showed joint degeneration in her lower back, suggesting she suffered from back pain.

A depression was also found on the right frontal bone of her skull that was likely caused by a blunt force. Given that the injury didn’t penetrate the internal cranium, researchers believe the injury just before her death was accidental, and perhaps she bumped her head on something hard.

Another skull belonging to an Iron Age male, likely in his 40s when he died, was discovered during construction work in the early 1980s in Perthshire. His remains date back to the sixth century, and scientists think he was a Pict, an ancient group native to Scotland. Analysis of his bones revealed that he spent his childhood on Scotland’s west coast and later did rough agricultural work, eating pork, wild fowl and freshwater fish.

He moved to Perthshire late in life, and his grave was sealed with a quernstone, which is used for hand-grinding grain.

During the construction of a concert hall in the early 2000s, adjacent to the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, archaeologists unearthed the complete skeleton of a young man who died between the ages of 18 to 25 sometime in the late 14th century.

The skeleton was found stuffed into a shallow pit beneath the foundations of old tenement buildings. While depressions in his skull likely came from a hasty burial, new research suggests he died a violent death and was likely a murder victim.

He sustained two blunt force injuries to two ribs as well as multiple rib fractures, likely from substantial forces being exerted on his chest during a confrontation. An analysis of his bones didn’t reveal any chronic illnesses, but researchers noted that he experienced several disruptions to his growth during childhood, which may have been due to illnesses or malnourishment.

Two silver coins were found with his skeleton, dating from 1279 to 1322 and 1367 to 1371.

Resurrecting ancient faces

Rynn made physical and digital models during his reconstruction work after studying the shape of each skull, which helped him determine and estimate the shape of each face.

Dr. Chris Rynn, a craniofacial anthropologist and forensic artist, used digital scans of the skulls during the facial reconstruction process.

Each skull took about 50 hours to reconstruct. For each skull, a 3D scan was made.

Digital scans allowed Rynn to fill in gaps or pieces missing from the skulls by mirroring what was on the other side. Dental patterns also allowed him to reconstruct part of the missing jaw of the Bronze Age woman. After reconstructing each skull digitally, Rynn added layers of tissue, estimating tissue depths by studying each skull’s shape.

“For me personally, while I’m sculpting them and working on the faces, it feels like I’m meeting someone as well as it comes to the end of the sculpture,” Rynn said.

Then, he sculpted the facial muscles in white wax, scanned them in 3D and digitized them to reassemble the faces. At the end of his reconstructions, Rynn used an algorithm to animate the faces, allowing them to blink or change expressions.

“Finally, you have to kind of bring them to life,” Rynn said. “So what I do is turn that 3D model into a photorealistic portrait and then use an algorithm to make the portrait that I made blink and look around a little bit.”

While the process is methodical, it results in something lifelike that Rynn saw mirrored around him in the real world.

“When you’re in Scotland, if you’ve got Scottish ancestry, quite often people can tell and can guess which clan that ancestry comes from by taking a look at your face,” Rynn said. “I was walking around Perth, and I’d see people who looked like one of the reconstructions that I was working on, and I felt like I was meeting people that I was sculpting.”

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