After human skeletal remains are discovered, sometimes there is little to be done to determine the identity of the person. Dental records are only reliable if there are any teeth left on the skeleton and if the medical examiner or forensic scientist can compare them to existing dental records. Sometimes DNA can be extracted from bone, but it’s usually a difficult and expensive process.
With technology and experience, facial reconstruction can provide the answers needed to determine the identity of the victim. This process is creating the identity of the face from skeletal remains through forensic science, artist rendering, anthropology, osteology, and anatomy. This fascinating process has intrigued me ever since I began studying forensic science and the criminal mind.
I’ve written two previous articles about forensic anthropology:
The skull provides the necessary clues to the appearance with the brow ridge, the distance between eye orbits, the shape of the nasal chamber, the chin’s form, and the overall profile of the facial bones.
There are carefully applied steps to begin the reconstruction process of the face. Markers are placed on various areas of the skull to indicate the depths of tissue to be added (see photo above). Studies over the years have indicated the measurements of the depth of facial features based upon different ancestral groups.
The strips of clay are then applied by filling in around the positioned markers by the artist. The features are refined around the artificial eyes, facial contours are smoothed, lips begin to take shape, and details are added to accurately personalize the reconstruction.
There are limitations to the facial reconstruction by the artist/sculptor. The hair color, hairstyles, facial expression, shape of lips, and eye color, and how much fat on soft tissue areas are generalized guesses. However, the completed reconstructions have been successful in many cases to help narrow down searches and assist in identification.
Forensic facial reconstruction can put a name to an identified person or a face in an archeological investigation. This powerful technique has proven its importance in cold cases and no doubt will continue to assist in police investigations.
Are there any cases using facial reconstruction that stand out to you?
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