The Purpose Of Facial Approximation

A trait that is innate among human beings is an ability to recognize faces, particularly those with whom they are familiar. This fascination with the facial form long predates written human history and may well be hardwired into the brain as an aid to recognition of tribal and family associations. From a forensic point of view, recognition of an unknown body relies heavily on this visual aspect of identification. When no soft tissue remains, attempts can be made to reconstruct the soft tissues on the remaining bony framework of the skull, hopefully to the extent that will make facial recognition possible. When examined carefully, the skull can deliver a surprising amount of information about its former owner. When interpreted by a skilled anthropologist together with an artist or sculptor, the story the bones tell can result in a resemblance that, when handled properly, may lead to the recollection of an individual face and a subsequent identification.

From a reconstructive point of view, the skull may be related to the soft tissues in a variety of ways. Whichever method is being used, be it a two-dimensional drawing, a three-dimensional clay approximation (Figure 3.1), or a computerized overlay of soft features against an image of the skull, it depends on the accurate interpretation of a series of anthropometric measurements. These measurements can be obtained from established databases that relate to an individual's sex and ethnic origin.

Such an approximation is at best an attempt to create a resemblance of the facial features of the deceased. Hopefully it will stimulate interest in the wider population, and somebody will recognize a similarity to the features of their missing friend or relative. The clay technique as described in this chapter is merely a starting point in the following forensic investigation. Modern technology has enabled the completed clay approximation to be scanned into a computer and appropriate features added or changed digitally.

General information such as age, height, weight, sex, and ethnic grouping are paramount in the success or otherwise of a facial approximation. Depending upon evidence being available, hair color, length, and texture, male facial hair, skin coloring, jewelry, and clothing will enhance the approximation.

The success of the technique of clay approximation depends upon the accuracy of the available data, the skill of the sculptor involved in the approximation, and the ability of the media to disseminate the resulting image as widely as possible.

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