Sunday, July 11, 2010

Forensic Method Reconstructions--Hate Them

It's a fad that has been going on for some time now--creating skulls from radiological images of Egyptian mummies, royal or common, and then making so-called "portraits" of these defunct people using the forensic method. This method has certain guidelines for how much "flesh" [be that clay or just while doing a virtual image] goes onto certain parts of the skull. It was always meant to be a "better than nothing" approximation of the appearance of a dead individual in hopes someone might be able to identify him or her from it. And the result always looks pretty lifeless, too, and only marginally accurate. From the forensic method, there is no way to know what the shape of the nose was [except perhaps how high the bridge] or that of the lips or eyes.

One needs only see the results some reconstructors got using the method from a manufactured skull of Tutankhamun without being told who the subject was. None of them looked alike and none resembled ancient portraits of the pharaoh.

I maintain that, without using ancient portraits for guidelines, these reconstructions are simply useless and to pass them off as how the person once looked a travesty. I have done artistic reconstructions of mummies utilizing large photos of the heads and tracing over them in order to obtain the correct dimensions. One of the best ones I have done is of King Seti I. But I also used likenesses of him executed by the artists of his reign. They were crucial in obtaining a pretty accurate and life-like portrait. Judge for yourself and compare my method to the forensic one. The perspective or angle of the face is the same as the photograph of the head of Seti I in the book, "The Royal Mummies" by Prof. Elliot Smith. Obviously, the photographer was crouched down and so the chin is closest to the camera. I didn't bother with royal headgear as the face is magnificent by itself. The head of the mummy is shaved.


Anonymous said...

You've certainly caught the royal hauteur

tim said...

Hi Marianne

I have always found reconstruction of the living face of ancient beings to be highly questionable as the King Tut fiasco demonstrated.

Questionable are the shape of the ears, eyes, nose, lips, including the color of the eyes, hair and skin. This does not account for warts, scars whether accidental or through disease, or hairstyle worn or even the individual composure carried by the victim.

This also does not account for what the person doing the reconstructions idea of beauty is, which is more than likely to play its part in the final results.

When searching for a loved one any help is appreciated but when reconstructing ancient beings it can be for me very misleading and a negative to the perception of these ancient people.

Marianne Luban said...

That's why I don't like working with a mere skull. But the face of a mummy has a lot more to offer and some, like that of Seti I are very well preserved. The ancient portraits, including those of the nobles who had themselves portrayed with the face of the pharaoh, all tell a story that is very helpful when it comes to restoring the mummified face to its original contours. There really isn't much guesswork there at all--and that's what I like to avoid as much as possible.

Robert Isler Wanka said...

Hi Marianne,

The thing that bothers me about many of the forensic reconstructions is that they do not look real as in like real living people, but rather more like crudely made mannequins. In an effort to convince the general public that these reconstructions should be seriously considered we are regaled by what appears like precise and in-depth scientific understandings about the nature of what lies at the foundations of the human face. While I am somewhat impressed by these complex demonstrations of muscle, ligament, and skin placements I am more often than not, unimpressed with the final results. I believe part of the problem lies in the fact that many of these reconstructions are done by “Technicians” and not by skilled portrait artists. Unless the artist is familiar with observing and painting a living likeness that includes a sense of “personality” (and does it well), the portrait falls flat. This appears to be something technicians fail to grasp and so it would be wise for those who commission such exercises in facial reconstruction, to employ a skilled portrait artist, someone who can “make real” these wooden Pinocchio’s –chuckle, generated by the technicians.