The faces of medieval Scots reconstructed in 3D by researchers

In 1957, while renovating vaults at the ruined site of Whithorn Priory (Dumfries and Galloway, southern Scotland), workers came across several skeletons in a medieval crypt. But sixty years later, scientists are trying to bring them back to life through the project “Cold Case Whithorn“, conducted by The Whithorn Trust, a charitable organization that now manages the former monastery. As part of a conference (called “Bishops, bones and graves”) of September 30, 2022, announced by the BBCthree experts from theEnglish University of Bradford presented 3D facial reconstructions of three individuals, named as a young woman, a priest and a bishop.

Opposite but Fascinating Skulls

Once the skulls were loaned by the National Museums of Scotland and those of Dumfries and Galloway Council, a mix of technology and hands-on techniques was needed to reconstruct the faces. The first step, says Scotland-based forensic anthropologist Christopher Rynn, quoted by LiveSciencewas to create a 3D scan of each skull. “As for the muscles, I sculpted them in wax and then 3D scanned them the same way the skull was scanned”, he continues. And to make the CG images look as realistic as possible, photographs of different people resembling the 3D model were superimposed, creating texture.

The researchers thus obtained the very realistic face of a mysterious medieval woman, in her twenties. Her skull, extremely symmetrical, suggests that she must have been extremely beautiful and had benefited from a healthy education, according to Dr. Rynn. Physical or emotional trauma in childhood would have indeed disturbed the balance of his face and his jaw, he develops. In addition, she was buried on a bed of shells, in a stone coffin placed in front of the high altar (main altar of a church). She was therefore supposedly of high status. Perhaps she was visiting the priory on pilgrimage—scallops were associated with it on the site.

Next to it was the tomb of Bishop Walter, who was in charge of leading the community of Whithorn in 1209, according to the National Museums of Scotland. The gold ring and the wooden crozier buried with him testify to his high office. It was finally in a nearby stone coffin that the remains of the third individual were found, a priest with a cleft lip palate. And unlike the young woman’s skull, his was “the most asymmetrical” that Dr. Rynn worked on. The three were therefore digitally reconstructed and reanimated by artificial intelligence, which makes them move, blink and even smile as if they were still alive. Voiceovers were also recorded.

New insights into life in medieval Scotland

The intention of the project is ultimately to “revealing information about the lifestyles, diets and health of inhabitants of the distant past”, says the BBC. An isotopic analysis of the woman’s skeleton would have to be carried out to identify her diet — rich in fish, like the bishop, she would confirm her high rank. But also, to tell the story of a region known as the “cradle of Christianity” in Scotland. Whithorn is said to have been the birthplace of the country’s first Christian, Latinus of Whithorn (c. 450 AD), mentioned on his oldest Christian memorial, the Stone of Latinus. Julia Muir-Watt, Head of Development for The Whithorn Trustdeclares to our colleagues:

It’s always a challenge to imagine what life was really like in medieval times, and these reconstructions are a brilliant way to engage with who those people of our past really were, their daily lives, their hopes. and their beliefs.

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The faces of medieval Scots reconstructed in 3D by researchers


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