Face of a man who died 9,500 years ago, brought to life by scientists

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 years old – near the city of Jericho, today part of the Palestinian West Bank.

Hoping to preserve the facial features of the dead, the ancients decorated his skull with plaster and gave it shells for eyes.

It was the the ‘first facial reconstruction in the world’ 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 segmented the skull that is inside the plaster sculpture, generating a digital structure of it,’ said Moraes.

‘With the skull available in a virtual environment, we made a series of statistical projections to find out what some regions of the face could have looked like, such as the nose, lips and ears,’

To complement the data, scientists used a technique called anatomical deformation where they adjust the tomography structure of a living individual, so 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’s in life,’

The result is an objective facial reconstruction, complete with eyebrows and eyelashes, and marks to show age of the dead man and the impact of climate on his skin.

Subjective elements were later added ‘according to the climatic characteristics of the region’ including hair, beard and eyes.

Moraes and his co-authors, archaeologist Moacir Elias Santos and forensic dentist Thiago Beaini, have now published their findings in the journal OrtogOnLine.

‘From the study we published, the expected level of accuracy is quite high,’ said Moraes.

‘It is not a face that is 100% similar to what it was in life – to expect that is utopian. But structurally speaking, in relation to the general aspects of the face, the chance of his face being that one is very great,’

The skull is one of seven discovered by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953. According to the British museum, which today houses the skull, the dead man would have initially been a known individual, but could have become a worshipped ancestor figure over time.

The man would have been long forgotten by the time his skull was finally buried, the museum believes. It was the museum’s 3D uploads of the skull that enabled the new reconstruction.

But this isn’t the only time a 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 more focused on statistical data, extracted from living people, as we worked with digital surgical planning, which ends up touching the field of forensic facial approximation,’ said Moraes.

According to the British museum, the owner of the Jericho skull died with badly-decayed broken teeth and abscesses that must have caused him pain.
He had also recovered from a broken nose, and his head shape had been permanently altered after it was tightly bound as an infant.

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