Staff at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification have pioneered techniques, standards and datasets for facial depiction and identification of the dead.

Craniofacial Depiction for Forensic Identification and Archaeological Investigation

We use identification of faces on a daily basis. We recognise people we know and that enables us to have effective communication and social interaction with others. In a forensic scenario, descriptions of the faces of criminals are used to bring them to justice. We use photographs to authenticate our own identity in things like passports. When it comes to the recognition of the dead, things become more problematic and it's this challenge that's been the focus for a group of academics from the University of Dundee.

Their research, carried out under the leadership of Professor Caroline Wilkinson, was a collaboration between CAHID and the University of Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. Professor Wilkinson has subsequently left CAHID.

Professor Wilkinson created updated and further developed a 3D computerised craniofacial depiction system using existing 3D modelling software and haptic technology, a database of modelled anatomical structures and a 3D facial feature database collected from laser scans. Her team created standards from clinical images and direct measurement of living subjects.

The system was tested in a number of blind studies using CT and laser scan data from living subjects from the USA, Korea and the UK. It was evaluated in relation to the cross-race effect, reliability reproducibility and accuracy. The degree of similarity between the subjects’ face shape and the surface of the craniofacial depiction could be quantified using morphometric and face recognition software.

Research Impact

The achievements of the Professor Caroline Wilkinson and her team include:

  • the creation of an international forensic tool that has enhanced forensic identification from human remains and improved law enforcement services and disaster victim identification
  • international standards in forensic craniofacial identification
  • enhanced public engagement with science and art internationally through the use of craniofacial depictions of ancient human remains including key historical figures such as Richard III, Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Burns, J.S Bach, Ramesses II, Arsinoe - the sister of Cleopatra and St Nicolas.

The researchers involved in the team are Dr Chris Rynn, Caroline Erolin, Janice Aitken and Dr Won-Joon Lee.

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