Monday, April 16, 2012

What Skulls Can Tell Us

Catacombs in Paris

As I sat listening to presentations by first a forensic artist who does facial clay reconstruction of skulls, and then a forensic anthropologist who showed us several pictures of skulls and what we can learn from them, I could not help touching my own head and feeling for the deep bone buried beneath my skin and tissue. I started to wonder what it looked like.

I was surprised to learn that facial clay reconstruction (which I'd actually never given ANY thought to before) relies on charts and graphs and mathematical calculations. Twenty-some points are identified on the face and small place markers are glued to the skull, demarcating how thick tissue (clay) should be applied in certain areas according to the estimated age, gender and race of the skull. Forensic artist Brenda Stewart made it seem so simple, like a paint-by-number that anyone could do. But I was not fooled. This was a delicate art that she has mastered over the years. It was fascinating to watch a face come to life simply by her application of clay strips to a skull.

Equally fascinating was the variety of differentiation in skulls. I know this sounds silly, but I'd never considered that one skull looked any different from another except for size. But once Dr. Elizabeth Murray, Forensic Anthropologist, started showing a slide show of skulls and the details that help her identify age, sex, and other things, I was amazed. Again, I wondered what my skull looks like under all this hair and skin? It was strange to suddenly think that it would appear uniquely mine, and that someday someone could find my skull and reconstruct my face from it -- if Dr. Murray and Brenda Stewart were around.

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