British Museum Finally Reveals 3D Printed Face of the 9,500-Year-Old Man Behind the Ancient Jericho Skull

Share this Article

jericho-skullOne of the really cool applications of 3D printing is when it’s used in such a way as to shine a light into the dusty corners of history. It can be used to give a face to a mummy, determine how Australopithecus afarensis Lucy really died, and for projects inspired by the Terracotta Army. Recently, facial reconstruction experts in Europe released digital 3D facial images of Robert the Bruce, and now researchers with the British Museum have revealed the face of the man behind the 9,500-year-old Jericho Skull. They reverse-engineered the ritual practice that created the artifact, which is considered to be the oldest portrait in the museum’s vast collection. The truncated human skull, with sea shells for eyes and covered in old plaster, has been sitting in a display case since 1954, after it was excavated near the modern West Bank city of Jericho.


In this 1953 National Geographic photo, archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon (right) and technician Cecil Western examine Neolithic plaster skulls recently excavated at Tell es-Sultan, near Jericho. The British Museum’s Jericho Skull can be seen in the rear.

The Jericho Skull is one of seven ornamented, plaster-covered Neolithic skulls found by archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953 at the Tell es-Sultan site, and the discovery was reported in National Geographic later that year. She described the exciting moment when the first skull was discovered to readers of the magazine, explaining that no other archaeologists in the world “had even guessed at the existence of such a work of art.”

Kenyon wrote, “We realized with a thrill of discovery that we were looking at the portrait of a man who lived and died more than 7,000 years ago.”

All seven skulls had been originally stuffed with soil, in order to support the delicate facial bones, before wet plaster was used to create individual features, like ears and noses; some skulls even had traces of paint on them. Researchers agree that ornamented skulls like these represent some type of ancestor worship, but little is known about the people who were immortalized in plaster thousands of years ago.

The skulls were sent to museums all over the world for continued studies, and the Jericho Skull was sent to the British Museum. But though they tried, they weren’t able to discern any important information about the skull. Many physical details from the plaster that covered the skull had been erased by the passage of time, and a traditional X-ray scan, which couldn’t differentiate between the bone and plaster densities, looked like “a white blob on an x-ray plate,” according to Alexandra Fletcher, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Curator for the Ancient Near East, who was in charge of the museum’s reconstruction project.


Some other Neolithic plaster skulls have been examined digitally, but the skeletal human remains inside the Jericho Skull are now the first to be 3D printed and forensically reconstructed. Researchers were finally able to see the remains under the plaster after the skull underwent a micro-CT scan in 2009, and they were able to recreate the face of the person inside the Jericho Skull. As it turns out, it’s a man in his forties, with a broken nose.

According to a recent National Geographic article, “The scan revealed an adult cranium (the lower jaw had been removed, more likely male than female. The septum was broken, and rear molars were missing. A hole had been carved in the back of the cranium so it could be packed with soil, and the scans even illuminated 9,500-year-old thumbprints from where someone eventually sealed the hole with fine clay.”

jericho-skull-facial-reconstructionIn 2016, the British Museum was able to learn even more about the man inside the Jericho Skull, once they used the CT scanning data to create a digital 3D model of the cranium. For example, the scans suggested the man had a broken nose: the 3D model showed just how severe the damage was. Fletcher’s research team decided to keep going, and created a physical model of the Jericho Skull using a 3D printer. Then they teamed up with expert forensic reconstruction firm RN-DS Partnership, which offers a range of creative and analytical image-based skills in order to support the work being done in the archaeological, forensic, and medical fields.

The forensic experts used the 3D printed cranium from the British Museum, and the lower jaw model of a different Neolithic man, to reconstruct the the facial musculature onto the digitally created Jericho Skull remains, incidentally using a similar process to the way people had made cheeks, ears, and lips from plaster and put them onto the original human bone over 9,000 years ago.

Fletcher explained, “It’s as if we did the Neolithic process in reverse.”

If you happen to be planning a visit to the British Museum, the original Jericho Skull and its facial reconstruction will be displayed next to each other in the “Creating an ancestor: the Jericho Skull” exhibit. But hurry, the exhibit will only be up until February 19, 2017! Discuss in the Jericho Skull forum at

[Source/Images: National Geographic]


Share this Article

Recent News

Desktop Metal Buys 3D Printing Resin Maker Adaptive3D

Laser Sintering 3D Printer Firm Farsoon Expands into Japan


3D Design

3D Printed Art

3D Printed Guns

3D Printer Reviews

You May Also Like

3D Systems Expands in Denver to Address Demand for 3D Printed Products

As part of its planned expansion, 3D Systems announced it would add 50,000 square feet of facility space to its FDA-registered and ISO 13485-certified Denver, Colorado site. Along with new...

Satori Set to Launch Kickstarter Campaign for New Industrial Resin 3D Printer

London-based tech company Satori launched its first resin 3D printer, the compact yet professional ST1600, in October of 2020, and introduced a partnership program at the same time in order...

6K to Develop Battery Materials with $25M Investment

After just a few years in existence, 6K has made itself increasingly well-known in the 3D printing industry with its unique metal materials production technology. The startup suggests that its...

Virtual Review: the Formlabs Fuse 1 SLS 3D Printer

The desktop fused filament fabrication (FFF) movement quickly saw a proliferation of low-cost FFF systems, which was followed by a similar trend with desktop vat photopolymerization machines. The low-cost selective...


View our broad assortment of in house and third party products.