3D Technology Helps French Forensic Artist Reconstruct Head of 17th Century Plague Victim

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2F91CA8000000578-3370622-image-a-69_1450800081657Thomas Craven wasn’t much different than most young adult children of well-to-do Londoners. He was brought up in a privileged, protected environment and his parents had high hopes for him. Thomas, who was born around 1618 and was one of five children in a family that had originated in Yorkshire but moved to London, went off to Paris in the late 1630s, probably to study at the Sorbonne. His father, Sir William Craven, was a wealthy merchant who at one point became Lord Mayor of London; his mother was Elizabeth Whitmore.

The young Englishman was still in his late teens and, like many students before and after him, was surely enjoying college life in boisterous Paris when, in 1638, an outbreak of the plague (the bubonic plague, also known as the “Black Death”) struck him down and left thousands of other Parisians dead as well — though there were no mentions of the plague in his area of Paris recorded at the time of his death.

Thomas was embalmed and then buried in a coffin lined with lead to prevent “leakage” and preserve the body in a suburb of Paris called Saint-Maurice. Gone and quite forgotten, Thomas’s body was found during an archaeological dig in 1986 and, thanks to science and 3D technology, the 350-year-old man has become something of a celebrity in the country where he drew his last breath.

When the coffin was discovered, excavators were able to identify the remains thanks to a plaque containing an inscription in Latin that referred to Craven as a “very noble young Englishman who during his lifetime behaved in such a way as to give others a model of good behaviour” and the inclusion of the family’s coat-of-arms.2F91C7F900000578-3370622-image-a-70_1450800087713

Young Thomas Craven’s shroud-wrapped body had been preserved by the embalming process and the lead-lined coffin. Thus, scientists had the physical material they needed to run tests and even to attempt to recreate his facial features using sophisticated, 3D modeling technology. Not long after Thomas’s coffin and remains were discovered, an autopsy was performed by Djillali Hadjouis, the director of research at the National Centre for Prehistoric, Anthropological and Historical Research in Paris. At first, researchers didn’t know how Craven had died. However, after analyzing his teeth, scientists concluded that Thomas had died of the plague.

A portrait of Thomas Craven's father, Sir William Craven, Lord Mayor of London.

A portrait of Thomas Craven’s father, Sir William Craven, Lord Mayor of London.

The investigation didn’t end there, either. French artist Philippe Froesch was asked to help the research team figure out what Thomas Craven had looked like. Froesch is one of a handful of people who have the skill to use 3D scanning and modeling technology to reconstruct faces from human remains. He has recreated likenesses of some pretty important historical figures like Maximilien Robespierre, who was instrumental in the French Revolution; the French scientist, mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes; and the French king Henry IV.

Froesch, who regards himself as a “forensic artist,” uses high-tech 3D scanning equipment to scan the skull of the deceased. He relies on research such as literary descriptions and images of the person he is, in a sense, reviving, to get a sense of what the facial features may have looked like. In the case of Thomas Craven, a portrait of the young man’s father helped him make some important deductions about the son’s appearance. He also looked at images of people from the period in which Craven lived to determine things like hairstyles.

“The techniques we use,” explained Froesch, “all have sound scientific basis so we can be confident that the images we produce are accurate.”

Well, as accurate as you can be nearly 400 years later.

Froesch has been creating reconstructions for years but with improved technology, it now only takes him about three weeks to complete a given job. He believes his work to be “at least 80 percent reliable.” Of course, there’s really no way to disprove his educated guesswork. He works primarily with museums but occasionally assists police as he did on a case in Barcelona, Spain.

Once Froesch completes his task, Thomas Craven’s body will be reinterred. In the meantime, scientists, technicians and historians have availed themselves of an unexpected opportunity to learn more about the period in which Craven lived and another one of history’s compelling mysteries has been solved.

Forensic artists are helping to reconstruct the faces of those throughout history — including recent crimes. The use of 3D technology helps to craft a more accurate depiction, as we’ve been seeing more and more frequently. What do you think of this artwork? Discuss in the 3D Technology Aids in Reconstruction forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Daily Mail]

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