The term “facial reconstruction” refers to the process of building a face over a skull to create an image of what a person looked like during life. This technique has often been used in forensic science when attempting to identify unknown skeletonized human remains. Facial reconstruction has also been used to create the possible facial appearance of hominids and modern humans. The reconstruction of facial features of an individual onto the skull uses a combination of scientific and artistic skills of the forensic artist. This method of identification is often used as a last resort to identify the skeletonized remains of an unidentified individual. There are numerous techniques used, all of which rely on the reproduction of a potentially recognizable face. Images are created by forensic artists from post-mortem photographs of fleshed individuals or from the skulls of skeletonized individuals. The reconstructed face is publicized in the hopes that someone will recognize the individual and come forward with a possible identity. This method of identification is the most subjective and controversial within Forensic Anthropology; meaning it could have the highest margin of error. Although this is a controversial process, it has been successful enough times that advancements and developments continue to be made and it is still widely used.
Through history facial reconstruction has gone through many different phases and had many motivators. Some things that motivated the development of Facial Reconstruction are religion, ancestor worship, and the identification of individuals for forensic cases. Verze (2009) the first evidence showing that skulls were used to remember the dead is in the Neolithic Age. During this time people living in Jericho often separated the skulls of the dead from the bodies and buried them separately beneath their house. These skulls were usually found without a mandible because it separates as the soft tissue decays. Jericho skulls were found under the flooring in some houses in a 1953 excavation in Jericho (Verze, 2009). The skulls that were found had plaster over the bone and shells in the eye sockets. Though each plastered skull was different, they were not accurate portrayals of those deceased individuals. This is the first evidence of facial reconstruction because the artist formed the plaster features based on the skull. There was a lot of artistic subjectivity when forming this plaster skull. Death masks were made from Jericho skulls, but they were modeled from superficial features of the face and resembled a sculpture (Verze 2009). These masks were built from the outside in, rather than building up from the bones that are present. This type of facial reconstruction was most appreciated in the Italian Renaissance. During the Renaissance period artists used the facial reconstruction technique for teaching and model making for surgeons and doctors. In the early 19th century, before facial reconstruction was used forensically the method police used for identification was rather barbaric. They would place the severed head of the deceased in a churchyard or public place hoping someone would recognize it and come forward with a positive identification. Once it began to decay the head was placed in a jar of spirit and placed back in the churchyard. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that medico-legal experts started to seriously consider facial reconstruction of a dead man’s skull a possibility (Verze 2009). Facial reconstruction requires a diverse set of skills such as artistry, basic anatomy, and osteology (Wilkinson 2010). Artistry would include being able to vision and imagine possible facial structures and create them in various ways. Drawing out the possibilities using pen and paper, using a computer program, or even modeling a face with clay are all techniques that require artistry. Anyone can model a face, but to create a face that looks alive requires additional talent....
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