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History of facial reconstruction

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During the Renaissance period, people began to take an interest in the anatomy of the human body. Artists such as Verrocchio, Michelangelo, Versalius are known to have used wax models to document their works. Towards the end of the 18th century, Lelli and his colleagues pioneered the development of scientific art and were the first sculptors to realize that the skeleton is the ideal frame upon which to build the musculature and the body (Ballestriero, 2010). The credit for developing the theory behind facial reconstruction can be thus credited to these artists. In the 19th century, work was done to obtain the facial tissue depth measurements from cadavers.

Facial reconstruction was earlier achieved through the collaboration of scientists and artists. Anatomists depended upon the sculptors to depict their data, as can be seen in the cases of His and Sefner (1895), Kollmann and Buchly(1898) (Vermeulen, 2012). In 1895, the German anatomist His made the first scientific endeavor in this field and worked with the artist Sefner to reconstruct a plaster skull cast of Johann Sebastian Bach using the skin depth measurements at nine midline facial points and six lateral points of twenty-four males and four female white cadavers in Leipzig. He further authenticated the reconstruction by comparing it with available portraits of Bach.

A few years later, Kollmann and Buchly also made a facial approximation of Dante in 1898 (Rynn et al., 2012; Snow et al., 1970) from the tissue depth measurements taken at ten midline and eight lateral points of 21 males and four female cadavers to His’s total, thus producing mean measurements for 45 male and eight female European White cadavers. The subjects were ranged between 17 and 72 years of age and were all described as moderately well-nourished (Snow et al, 1970). Kollman then went on to reconstruct the face of a stone-age woman from France. Kollman measured flesh thickness from hundreds of women from that area and produced technical drawings, which were then brought to life by Buchly (Vérze, 2009).

Various anatomists and anthropologists produced many further reconstructions of early hominoids such as Neanderthal and Pithecanthropus, and others of the stone age such as that of a well preserved Neanderthal skull found in the Chapelleoux Saint, in France, in 1908; the head of an old Neanderthal male from the cave of Le Moustier, France. In 1913 anthropologists Martin and Von Heggeling at the Anatomy Department of Jena University produced different reconstructions of a Neanderthal face from the same skull (Tyrrell et al., 1997).

With the advent of the 20th century, facial reconstructions began to be used in museums and also the various manual reconstruction techniques began to spring up. Also, in 1989, the concept of three-dimensional computer-aided reconstruction for forensic identification was first proposed by P. Vanezis. The method utilized a low-power laser scanner and a video camera connected to a computer. The current trend is to move towards computer-assisted techniques that are considered to be less subjective and more rapid.

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