Previous
Next

2000 Yr Old Vesuvius Victim’s Face Reconstructed

A BIG HAT TIP GOES OUT TO DRAWMAN FOR THIS SUBMISSION

The exploded skull of a man who died in the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago has been pieced together giving scientists a unique opportunity to capture the ancient face using 3D imaging.

It is the first real-life reconstruction of the features of a victim of the volcanic disaster who lived in the ill-fated seaside town of Herculaneum.

The appearance is that of a typical southern European who may have been wealthy and educated because he was 50 years old when he died – an unusual milestone for the time.

He was one of 350 casualties discovered frozen in time, buried under volcanic ash in Herculaneum.

 

Every single resident perished instantly when the southern Italian town was hit by a 500°centigrade pyroclastic hot surge in AD 79.

His body tissue vaporised and his brains erupted, bursting through the skulls, as minutes later volcanic ash fell from the deadly mountain.

The Roman’s face will be officially revealed at a press conference on Thursday 22 June in Priverno, central Italy.

The unveiling of the Herculaneum man’s face marks the start of a collaboration between scientists in Italy and Brazil that aims to show how the latest technology can invigorate the archaeological and cultural heritage of a country.

Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two cities on the Bay of Naples in southern Italy, were buried by the cataclysmic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in just 24 hours in AD 79.

This event ended the life of the cities but at the same time preserved them until rediscovery by archaeologists nearly 1700 years later.

The excavation of Pompeii, the industrial hub of the region and Herculaneum, a small beach resort, has given unparalleled insight into Roman life.

‘This is the beginning of what we’re hoping will be an on-going project to reveal the faces of the ancient Roman inhabitants of Herculaneum and Pompeii’, said Italian 3D graphic designer Gianfranco Quaranta who is leading the initiative as part of the Association for Research and Education in Art, Archaeology and Architecture (AREA3).

 

This summer we’re running fieldwork courses, here in Italy, for students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in America who will learn how to use data collected with a 3D camera and a 3D scanner to reconstruct the face of a person. For many it will be the first time they have used anything like this in the field of cultural heritage.

‘By revealing a snapshot of life at the moment it expires, we can learn more about the people who died,’ Mr Quaranta said, adding the programme offering hands on experience, will be open to students worldwide in coming years.

 

HOW WAS IT DONE?

3D graphic designer Gianfranco Quaranta who specialises in 3D scanning and 3D printing took around 150 photos, with a 3D camera, from all angles of the skull and emailed them to Cicero Moraes.

The Brazilian 3D virtual artist said: ‘I received the digitised skull of a European man, about 50-years-old, and used free photogrammetry software to extract the 3D geometric information and create realistic features.

‘I faced a few challenges because the skull had no teeth. So, I used the dentures of a compatible virtual donor placing it on the cranium to get an idea of their positioning and the region for the lips.

‘I consulted a study that measures the thickness of the skin of hundreds of present day Europeans and placed the corresponding markers for a man of his age.’

Mr Moraes imported another virtual donor skull containing segmented ocular orbits to position and align the eyes.

The nose was drawn based on the structure of the nasal bone and the direction of the nasal spine.

‘It is a complicated process but rewarding when you see the final face appear,’ commented Mr Quaranta, president of AREA3, who is currently involved in analysing the remains of Pompeii residents using a 3D laser scanner to map the plaster casts covering the corpses.

‘The face of a Pompeii citizen may be the next one to be revealed,’ he indicated.

Mr Quaranta has been working with the Brazilian 3D artist, Cicero Moraes, who is known for his work in using computer graphics to reconstruct the faces of ancient skulls.

‘He is an authority on visualising what people from the past looked like and we believe his techniques will inspire our students when they see it’, Mr Quaranta said.

Italian archaeologist Pier Paolo Petrone, of the University of Naples Federico II, in Napoli, selected the Herculaneum skull for the project.

Dr Petrone, also a forensic and biological anthropologist, explained: ‘This was one of the best-preserved skulls found in the town but it was difficult to piece together because it was broken in several parts and very fragile.’

His investigative excavations between 1997 and 1999 have been key in providing a fresh perspective and clearer understanding on the way the Herculaneum population died.

‘The residents in this seaside town, which was just six kilometres (3 miles) from Vesuvius, were not suffocated by the ash’, Dr Petrone said.

‘The reality was they were killed in less than a fraction of a second by searing heat, before they even had time to display a defensive reaction.

‘Their hands and feet underwent thermally induced contraction in about one second, and the positions of their bodies were fixed by the sudden deflation of the ash bed occurring over the next few seconds’, he said.

The flesh on the victim’s bodies vaporised and their skulls ruptured as brain mass boiled and exploded from intense temperatures, and their bones and teeth broke.

‘As the scorching heat fell, water from the corpses caused the ash deposit to cool and harden.

Centuries later we found these skeletons, cleaned to the bone, perfectly preserved and in a three-dimensional frozen pose, a condition known as the ‘cadaveric spasm’, Dr Petrone said.

This is a rare but diagnostic form of instantaneous muscular stiffening associated with instant violent death, which crystallizes the last activity one did prior to dying,’ Dr Petrone explained.

Mr Quaranta, who specialises in 3D scanning and 3D printing took around 150 photos, with a 3D camera, from all angles of the skull and emailed them to Mr Moraes.

The Brazilian 3D virtual artist said: ‘I received the digitised skull of a European man, about 50-years-old, and used free photogrammetry software to extract the 3D geometric information and create realistic features.

‘I faced a few challenges because the skull had no teeth. So, I used the dentures of a compatible virtual donor placing it on the cranium to get an idea of their positioning and the region for the lips.

I consulted a study that measures the thickness of the skin of hundreds of present day Europeans and placed the corresponding markers for a man of his age.’

Mr Moraes imported another virtual donor skull containing segmented ocular orbits to position and align the eyes.

The nose was drawn based on the structure of the nasal bone and the direction of the nasal spine.

‘It is a complicated process but rewarding when you see the final face appear,’ commented Mr Quaranta, president of AREA3, who is currently involved in analysing the remains of Pompeii residents using a 3D laser scanner to map the plaster casts covering the corpses.

‘The face of a Pompeii citizen may be the next one to be revealed,’ he indicated.

SOURCE

Previous
Next
Please wait...