digital face reconstruction

Scientists recreate the face of 17th century solider

Image credit: pa

The face of a 17th century Scottish soldier whose body was discovered at a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 has been recreated using computer technology.

The man was among 3,000 soldiers who marched south in 1650 following the short but bloody Battle of Dunbar to the then abandoned Durham Cathedral. He was later captured by Cromwell’s troops and died shortly afterwards.

In 2013, between 17 and 28 skeletons were found in a mass grave close to the cathedral. Durham University experts carried out extensive research on the remains to identify who they were.

Liverpool John Moore’s Face Lab specialises in the reconstruction of faces for archaeological and forensic purposes and worked with archaeologists at Durham University to reconstruct a ‘true to life’ 3D image of the solider.

The reconstruction is based on the skull of a male, known only to the project team as ‘Skeleton 22’. Little is known about him, although it is thought that he was aged between 18 and 25 when he died.

What emerged on screen was a wide-mouthed man with a strong nose, who has been depicted wearing a blue bonnet and the brown jacket typical of a Scottish solider of the time.

Professor Chris Gerrard, of Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, said: “The resulting image is a poignant opportunity to come face to face with a young man who lived and died over 300 years ago.”

Professor Caroline Wilkinson, of Face Lab, said: “Our collaboration with Durham University enabled us to draw on scans and data to create the most accurate and lifelike image possible to enable a true glimpse into the past of this Scottish soldier and how his life had been lived.

“This combines a 3D craniofacial depiction system with digital modelling software and facial and anatomical datasets, which can provide the most accurate and lifelike images of an array of fascinating archaeological and forensic art depictions.”

Bone testing has revealed Skeleton 22 had suffered periods of poor nutrition while growing up in south-west Scotland.

The Battle of Dunbar was one of the most brutal and short battles of the 17th Century civil wars, after which thousands of soldiers were marched over 100 miles from the south east of Scotland to Durham in north-east England. Around 1,700 prisoners died in Durham and their remains could be buried around what is now a World Heritage site.

Some of those who survived were transported to the US and Barbados, while others were set to work in mines.

Once the studies have been completed in 2018, the remains of all the skeletons will be buried in a local churchyard.

After Oliver Cromwell’s unexpected victory over Scottish forces who supported Charles II, around 6,000 were captured, with 1,000 of the sickest being freed.

A further 1,000 of the hungry, defeated soldiers died on the gruelling march south, while many escaped and some were shot for refusing to walk further.

Face Lab has already reconstructed historical figures including Robert the Bruce, Richard III and St Nicholas.

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