Forensic Reconstruction

Forensic Reconstruction is building a face on a skull to see what the owner of the skull looked like in life. Police departments use the method to trace the identity of unidentified remains. Anthropologists use it to display the likeness of peoples from the past.

I have been fascinated by the process ever since I saw the face of Yaroslav the Wise, founder of the city of Kiev 1500 years ago. I had the opportunity to study the method under Betty Pat. Gatliff, the leading American teacher of the method developed by Mikhail M. Gerasimov in Moscow in the earlier decades of the (last) century.

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The process begins with the skull, sometimes unidentified, and the anthropologist's analysis of it for age, sex, and with less certainty, race. With this information, the reconstructive sculptor consults tables of soft tissue thickness, and glues soft-tissue markers on pre-determined points to indicate how thick the clay should be built up on the skull at those points.

The soft tissues are the muscles, cartilage, fat and skin that clothe the skull in life and produce the face by which we recognize each other. Artificial eyes are placed in the sockets, and the clay is laid on to the level of the markers. The sculptor then uses his or her knowledge of facial anatomy and certain clues provided by skull measurements, to finish the face. The pictures show two skulls on which I reconstructed faces in the advanced portion of Betty Pat's course at Scottsdale Artists School in Arizona, May 1999. The white pegs are the soft-tissue markers. Click on the small pictures to see larger versions. The first four pictures show the stages of recontruction of a 17-year-old girl's face. The last two show a five-year-old boy's skull with soft tissue markers added, then the reconstruction half-removed to show the relationship of soft tissues to the bony structure underneath.
Girl's skull Girl's skull with soft tissue markers Girl's skull, clay added Girl's skull with complete reconstruction boy's skull with soft tissue markers boy's skull, reconsrtuction half removed

Later in the year I had another rare opportunity: I was able to visit Gerasimov's laboratory in Moscow, The Ethnological and Anthropological Laboratory of the Russian Republic. There I saw dozens of faces from Russia's past: Ivan the terrible; my friend from Kiev, Yaroslav the Wise; Ulug-beg, grandson of Tamerlane, the Tartar leader who conquered Russia in the 1300s.

The picture below is of a face I reconstructed for the Anchorage, Alaska Police Department in April 2000. They had found a skull near a road in the city and had never been able to identify it. When I brought this in, they immediately called the television station and broadcast it with a request for anyone recognizing the face to call.

Anchorage Police reconstruction

Unfortunately the trail was cold, since this was an estimated 10 years after the woman's death. Also, certain evidence led the coroner to guess that she was not local. So this one has remained unsolved.

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Jerry Garcia
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