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The skull provides clues to personal appearance. The brow ridge, the distance between the eye orbits, the shape of the nasal chamber, the shape and projection of the nasal bones, the chin's form, and the overall profile of the facial bones all determine facial features in life.


Amy Danning at work
Image courtesy of: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

In facial reconstruction, a sculptor, such as Amy Danning pictured at left, familiar with facial anatomy works with a forensic anthropologist, to interpret skeletal features that reveal the subject's age, sex, and ancestry, and anatomical features like facial asymmetry, evidence of injuries (like a broken nose), or loss of teeth before death.

The Steps:

Slide show of five stages of facial reconstruction.

Slide show of five stages of facial reconstruction.
  1. Markers indicate the depths of tissue
    to be added to the skull (a cast in
    this case). Studies over the past century of males and females of
    different ancestral groups determine
    the measures of these depths.
  2. Applying strips of clay, the artist
    begins to rebuild the face by filing in around the markers.
  3. The artist begins to refine features around the artificial eyes.
  4. The lips take shape.
  5. Facial contours have been smoothed
    and subtle details added to accurately personalize the reconstruction.


The finished product only approximates actual appearance because the cranium does not reflect soft-tissue details (eye, hair, and skin color; facial hair; the shape of the lips; or how much fat tissue covers the bone). Yet a facial reconstruction can put a name on an unidentified body in a modern forensic case — or, in an archaeological investigation, a face on history.

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