Mirja Koponen

Forensic Art & Facial Imaging MSc

Woman from Blackness: an archaeological craniofacial reconstruction conducted digitally and in wax.

About

colour headshot

It has been a pleasure to study in the unique programme for Forensic Art at Dundee University. During the year of intense studies in anatomical sciences, drawing, forensic casework and applications, I explored anatomical waxwork, techniques for human identification and even SFX character development- a fantastic variety of skills. Whilst all the work was engaging and opened up many ideas for the future, I was particularly drawn to archaeological work. I find the process of being creatively engaged with a person from the past exciting and motivating. To explore with time their physical presence while considering what their life circumstances might have been like – and then being able to share this with a wider public through the work is a privilege.

For my final pieces I chose to do an archaeological facial reconstruction on a skull from the University of Edinburgh Anatomical Collections. It belonged to a young medieval woman aged 18 and was found alongside a 6-year-old child at a gravesite outside Blackness Castle near Edinburgh. The castle served as a port to the royal town of Linlithgow and must have been a lively community. I made the reconstruction both in wax and digitally, as these 2 methods give results that can be used differently, and in the digital version, I was able to put the reconstruction back in her historical setting near the castle. 

The process also involved restoring damage to the skull, where the zygomatic arch had partially collapsed, and the nasal bones were missing.

Digital Facial Reconstruction

The image shows two profile views of a transparent head shape. Facial muscles and tissue depth pegs are visible through the skin layer of the model in right and left lateral view.

A process image of the digital reconstruction. Facial muscles and tissue depth pegs are visible through the skin layer of the model in right and left lateral view.

The image shows a frontal views od two head shapes. head shape. The left image shows the muscles and tissue depth pegs visible through the skin layer in frontal view. The right image shows the model with the first layer of texturing applied.

A process image of the digital reconstruction. The left image shows the muscles and tissue depth pegs visible through the skin layer in frontal view. The right image shows the model with the first layer of texturing applied.

Two images showing a woman with medieval hairstyle, left with solid background colour and brown eyes, the right one the same woman with blue eyes , standing on a beach in front of Blackness castle.

The digital process allowed the exploration of different texture versions for the final reconstruction, such as variations in eye colour, hairstyle and setting. The right image shows her at the Blackness Castle, the site of her discovery.

Image of a wax portrait of a woman with red hair, wearing a shawl.

The manual reconstruction used traditional sculpting methods in building first the muscles, then the skin of the bone.

Image of a wax portrait of a woman with red hair, wearing a shawl., 3/4 view.

Two types of wax and human hair were used in the reconstruction. The model was painted using oil colour.

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