The Royal Society of Edinburgh Christmas Lecture 2013 St Matthew’s Academy, Saltcoats Your Face and Your Identity
Professor Caroline Wilkinson FRSE Professor of Craniofacial Identification, University of Dundee Monday 9 December 2013 Report by Kate Kennedy What does your face reveal about your identity? What details in the face tell us whether a person is male or female, old or young, White European or Middle Eastern, and how accurate will this assessment be? This interactive lecture looked at the details of the face that reveal identity, using famous faces and faces from the past to illustrate those features. Is it possible to predict the face of an individual from the skull? Can we identify a face just from the bones, and will such a facial reconstruction be accurate? The lecture looked at the facial depictions of Richard III, Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Burns, Ramses II and St Nicolas, to describe the techniques used to help identify bodies in forensic investigations and bring faces from the past alive. Humans are very good at recognising people and interpreting non-verbal communication displayed through facial expressions. This ability makes us successful as animals. When we look at a face, we can tell various things about the individual even before we communicate with them, including their emotional wellbeing, age range, gender, health, cultural background, ethnic origin, lifestyle factors, genetic inheritance, genetic disease and trauma. Certain aspects of the face which tell us about the individual are also evident on the skull. We are able to distinguish between a male and female face with high accuracy in only a few seconds. People find it difficult to explain why they know whether a face is male or female; but, regardless of the person’s ethnic origin, male faces usually have more facial hair, bigger features, a visible Adam’s apple and heavier jaw lines and brows. Females generally have finer features and larger eyes relative to the size of the face. However, without certain cues such as hairstyle and makeup, it can be more difficult to tell males and females apart. Ambiguous faces are more likely to be female than male; before puberty, male and female children’s faces tend to be similar, until a surge in testosterone causes boys’ faces to develop secondary sexual characteristics. Whilst facial aspects such as texture cannot be seen on the skull, size and shape differences between male and female skulls are evident. Male skulls tend to be bigger than female skulls and have a visible brow ridge. The male jaw line is also bigger and squarer, with an angle close to 90 degrees, whereas the female jaw line is wider, giving a more delicate chin. Because men have testosterone, they have denser muscles and their muscle attachments are stronger and thicker; another aspect that is visible in the male skull markings. These face and skull differences, however, only apply to adults. Humans are not very good at recognising whether a child is male or female from just looking at the face; experiments show the same results as guessing. Furthermore, the younger the child is, the more difficult it is accurately to determine gender from the skull. Around age 12, changes due to puberty may start to take effect, but prior to this most children’s skulls look female. It is easier to estimate an adult’s age than a child’s from looking at the face. In infancy, a child’s face takes up a much smaller proportion of the head; indeed, the brain is almost
adult-sized at birth. The face grows enormously in a downwards and outwards direction between infancy and adulthood. At around age seven to eight, the child develops its recognisable adult facial template. Up to age 19, it is possible, however, to determine the age of a child to an accuracy of six months from the teeth, as dental development tends to follow a predictable pattern. Facial age changes in adults largely relate to texture changes; loss of skin elasticity and subcutaneous fat causes wrinkles. Hair pattern also changes, particularly in men, but post-menopausal women can also experience balding and facial hair growth. It is possible to predict how a face will change, but the timing of these changes is dependent on a person’s lifestyle. Exposure to sun, smoking and drugs can dramatically effect how quickly people age. From looking at the skull, it is possible to estimate age in an average sense, but for reconstruction purposes it is important to know about a person’s lifestyle to determine how they actually looked. The best indication of age in an adult skull is also through examination of the teeth; the more wear on them, the older the person. Histological sections of the tooth can ascertain age to an accuracy of 1.5 years. The small lines on the skull where the bones fuse, known as sutures, also become obliterated with age in most people. Symmetry in the face is linked to health and humans are thought to be attracted to symmetrical faces, albeit subconsciously. The face grows in small steps and does not grow bilaterally; one side grows at a time in small stages. Any environmental interruptions whilst the face is growing can lead to asymmetry. However, everyone has some aspects of asymmetry. Symmetry and beauty are also thought to go together; David Beckham is very symmetrical, but even he has some asymmetry. Asymmetry is also evident in the skull. How we present our face to the public, or modify our face, is very telling about our personality and culture. Some people will purposely change their faces to make themselves look different; for example, through tattoos, piercing, stretching or surgical treatments. Orthodontic treatment can also significantly change the face. Some of these changes are cultural and are indicative of what we find acceptable and what we feel a need to correct. However, any changes that do not affect the bone cannot be detected on the skull. Disease or trauma can sometimes be seen on the skull; for example, syphilis and wounds. In facial reconstruction, only wounds and trauma that someone has lived with are depicted and not those that have caused the death of the individual. Ethnicity and race are often visible on the face due to skin colour, eye colour and skin texture. Whilst these aspects cannot be seen on the bones, some differences relating to ancestry may be evident from the shape of the skull. Facial appearance can also be handed down through genetics. However, some families can look nothing like each other; appearance and features are reliant on a lottery of genes, where some are more dominant than others, and also on environment. Even identical twins have small facial and skull differences. Facial reconstruction is used for two main purposes. It is frequently used in forensic cases where the police are unable to identify a body. A depiction of the individual is produced through facial reconstruction and this is put in the public domain in the hope of recognition and identification. It is also used to recreate the faces of people from the past, both famous and unknown; in the latter case to compare similarities and differences to people in contemporary times. Anatomical standards are used to estimate features; the protrusion of the eyes is determined by the depth of the orbit; the position of the canine teeth determines the position of the corner of the mouth and the height of the teeth is related to the thickness of the lips. The nasal aperture is measured to predict the width of the nose, nostril position and profile. The nose was previously the most difficult feature to reconstruct, as it is mostly cartilage rather than bone, but with the development of clinical imaging, hundreds of living people have been measured and now it is one of the most accurate features to reconstruct. The ears, however, are the most difficult. Their position is known due to the external ear hole on the skull and it is possible to tell from a small lump on the base of the skull whether a person has earlobes; approximately 10% do not. It is not possible, though, to determine
their shape, size and prominence. Ears are not usually vital to recognition and thus standard-size ears are usually used in reconstruction. The reconstruction process is very anatomical. From the skull base, average tissue depths are used to build up the face muscle by muscle, and then a skin layer is placed over the top. The skull determines the shape of the muscles and the muscles determine the shape of the face. The features of the skull are used to ascertain the features of the face. Reconstruction can be performed either on a computer system or through physically moulding clay. The process has been tested by working with living people’s CT scans, which are then reconstructed and compared with the living face. These reconstructions are measured to see how accurate they are; approximately 70% of the reconstructed face has less than two millimetres of error. The shape of the head and face is the easiest aspect to predict from the skull; the more difficult part is the detail, for example, colour and texture. It is also difficult to recognise people without any texture detail. The more unusual the face, the more easily it is recognised. Large features are also more easily recognisable from shape alone. The forensic images produced for the police are shown to the public in black and white and are focused on the face rather than on any unknown texture. In archaeological cases, reconstruction can have more artistic licence. Historians and archaeologists may suggest hairstyle and skin colour, etc., and historical texts and portraits of famous people may provide written descriptions. Examples of historical reconstruction work include King Richard III, whose remains were found in a Leicester car park in 2013. As the DNA evidence proving authenticity of his identification had not been established prior to the reconstruction, it was important to justify each decision and not be biased by historical images. The resulting reconstruction was, however, similar to historical portraits. Clothing and wigs were added to the facial reconstruction, with reference to historical portraits, once the DNA results came back as positively identifying the remains. The reconstruction of poet Robert Burns’ face was challenging, because only part of his skull remained. At the time the cast of his skull was taken, it was undertaken for the purposes of phrenology and, as such, a cast of only the upper part was taken. Orthodontic standards and profile portraits were used to determine his features. Burns had a remarkably large head and eyes; indeed, the eyes used in the reconstruction, measuring 26 mm rather than the usual 24 mm, had to be specially made by Glasgow prosthetics department. The reconstruction supports references to his large head found in historical texts. When reconstructing preserved bodies, such as Egyptian Mummies, there is often preserved tissue as well as bone. This, therefore, can give extra information about hair pattern and ear shape and size for use in the reconstruction. On occasion, reconstruction can be produced without any remains. A recent exhibition about Mary Queen of Scots in Edinburgh included an image of her from the time she lived in Scotland. This was created using earlier and later portraits. The 3D face of St Nicolas, a real 3rd-Century bishop from Turkey, was reconstructed from 2D images of his remains that were photographed and measured in the 1950s. His skull clearly shows a severely broken nose, which may relate to the historical stories of his many fights with other bishops!
A Vote of Thanks was offered by Dr Roger Scrutton.
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