Using the latest forensic techniques, scientists and 3D designers have reconstructed the face of the Jericho skull, a prehistoric skull that was covered in plaster and had sea shells placed over the eyes.
The Jericho skull is approximately 9,000 years old and was first found by archaeologist Kathleen M. Kenyon in 1953 near the West Bank Palestinian city of Jericho.
It is unclear why Jericho’s skull was covered with plaster and whelk shells placed over its eyes. However, it may have been part of a ritual where relatives reconstructed their ancestors’ faces with paint and plaster to honor them.
The skull is now preserved at the British Museum, but a forensic team in Brazil was able to capture a deep understanding of the specimen through computed micro-tomography (micro-CT) scans conducted in 2016.
Most importantly for this project, the 3D scanning was able to see through the cast covering the skull and provide clear information on the structure of the face.
“We are committed to a long-term project that will bring the faces of people with skeletal deformities, structurally degenerative diseases such as syphilis and conditions such as achondroplasia (dwarfism), macrocephaly, etc. closer together. Each of these cases is being studied as a team, so it is not just about presenting face, but to inform the public about the context and historical reality of the skull,” said IFLScience Cícero Moraes, a Brazilian 3D designer specializing in forensic facial reconstruction who worked on the project.
“The Jericho skull fits the bill because it is an anatomical element that has undergone structural remodeling and has a very interesting history associated with its discovery,” he added.
Computed tomography reveals a skull without a lower jaw and two severe fractures. The upper, more severe cut in the upper part of the skull was most likely the result of being crushed by the earth after burial, but a second fracture between the eyebrows may have occurred near the subject’s death.
The skull appears to have belonged to a middle-aged individual, although the person’s gender proved difficult to determine. The skull was originally classified as female, but researchers later agreed it was more likely male due to the large bones and thick orbital rim.
As always with forensic facial reconstructions, the process is a mix of anatomy with some craftsmanship and educated guesswork. While bone structure can give some clues to the shape of the face and what the tissue might look like on the bones, it is more difficult to deduce some facial features from the skull alone.
In the case of the Jericho skull, this was especially true of the person’s jawline, as the bones of the lower jaw of the skull were missing. Other elements such as their hair, beard, and skin pigmentation were also based on what people might have looked like in the region at the time.
The end result is a vivid glimpse into the face of a man who lived in the Levant more than 9,000 years ago and, for reasons that elude modern experts, had his skull covered in thick plaster in an unusual ritual.
The study was published in the journal OrtogOnline.