Press release

Facial reconstructions give first look at centuries-old Edinburgh-dwellers

Published on 25 March 2021

Facial reconstructions reveal what people living in Leith up to seven hundred years ago might have looked like, thanks to the work of two University of Dundee graduates.

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Forensic artists have used hi-tech software to reconstruct the faces of remains uncovered during the excavation of the medieval graveyard in Leith, dating back to between the 14th and 17th century, as part of the Trams to Newhaven project.  

Forensic Art MSc graduate students Viviana Conti and Elysia Greenway used special 3D scanners to build up digital versions of skulls discovered during excavations outside South Leith Parish Church. These were the basis for lifelike representations created of the former residents, the first step in the aging analysis of bodies. 

The work was undertaken as part of an ongoing internship with the City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist Service. The pair worked closely with project sub-contractors GUARD Archaeology to complete the work.  

The first two pictures feature a man and woman both aged between 35 and 50. Early forensic analysis indicates that the woman may have suffered from nutritional deficiencies.  

Facial reconstruction of Edinburgh man

Lynn Morrison, from the University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID), part of the School of Science and Engineering, said, “Elysia and Viviana have done an excellent job reconstructing the faces of these individuals. This internship has given them a great opportunity to develop the skills learnt on the course and gain some valuable experience in the field. I am delighted to see how well they are doing.” 

Councillor Lesley Macinnes, Transport and Environment Convener at City of Edinburgh Council, said, “These images give us a fascinating insight into the lives of the people who lived in our city centuries ago. The work being carried out now will not only shed light on the area’s past but will help to conserve it for many years to come.”  

John Lawson, City of Edinburgh Council Archaeologist, added, “These fantastic reconstructions help us connect directly with our forebearers. Often, we as archaeologists just see the physical remains but the work undertaken by Dundee University's forensic artists helps put the flesh, so to speak, back onto these remains and by doing so I feel brings them closer to us today.” 

Excavations were carried out in summer 2020 outside South Leith Parish Church, Constitution Street, where previous investigations showed that in the medieval period the church’s graveyard extended across the road with graves surviving beneath the current road surface.  

The team of archaeologists, who were working to remove any human remains that could be affected by the tram works, exhumed more than 360 bodies dating from between 1300 and 1650, as well as finding the apparent remnants of the original medieval graveyard wall. 

The remains are now subject to examination and analysis that will reveal information on the origins, health, diseases and diet of the people of medieval Leith. This has involved partnership work with Viviana and Elysia, who created the facial reconstructions. The pair have recorded vlogs for the Trams to Newhaven YouTube account that explain their process. 


Jessica Rorke

Media Relations Officer

+44 (0)1382 388878
Story category Public interest