Chicago Artist Joshua Harker
used a digital version
of traditional forensic
reconstruction to create this
image of the face of
the mummy Meresamun

Photo credit:
Joshua Harker for
University of Chicago

Mummy's Face "Unwrapped" With CT Would Help Homicide Detective

June 24, 2009
by Lynn Shapiro, Writer
Thanks to the skills of artists who work on cold case investigations, people have a chance to see what the University of Chicago's mummy, Meresamun, may have looked like in real life.

A Chicago forensic artist and a police artist in Maryland prepared the images, which show an engaging woman in her late 20s as she would have looked in 800 B.C. Both artists, though working independently, produced strikingly similar images.

Scans Create 3-D Model of Skull

Dr. Michael Vannier, Professor of Radiology, began the process of restoring the mummy's facial features with two exhaustive CT examinations of Meresamun in 2008 at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

"A huge number of CT scans of the skull were used to create a 3-D digital model of Meresamun's skull," said Emily Teeter, Research Associate at the Oriental Institute and curator of a museum exhibition about the mummy. "Those files were given to forensic artists who use methods employed in cold case investigations where skeletal remains need to be identified."

The Oriental Institute wanted to compare multiple reconstructions, in order to obtain a trustworthy image of Meresamun's face. Both a digital version of the traditional forensic reconstruction and a missing person-type sketch were submitted.

In the traditional forensic method, layers of fat, muscle and flesh are built up upon the skull. Starting with a three-dimensional image of the skull created from multiple CT scans, Chicago artist Joshua Harker used a technique known as the Gatliff-Snow American Tissue Depth Marker Method to calculate the contours of the face to digitally recreate Meresamun's appearance.

"The skull is the driving architecture of the face--all the proportions and placements are there, if know how to read it," Harker explained. "Even the shapes of the lips, nose and eyebrows can be determined if you know what to look for." The American Tissue Depth Marker method has been shown to be effective in accurately reconstructing a face, both in identifying victims and as admissible evidence in court.
Police sketch artist Michael Brassel
produced a missing persons-
type rendering of how Meresamun
may have looked

Photo by Michael Brassel
for University of Chicago


A Homicide Hit

Michael Brassell, who works with the Department of Justice/Maryland State Police Missing Persons Unit, used his skills as a trained sketch artist to produce a second, more traditional reconstruction.

"The project was no different then any of the postmortems drawings I have worked on for cold case homicides. The CT scans were very clear, making my job easy," he said. "If this was a homicide case, I would almost go as far to guarantee a hit on the profile drawing."

Meresamun lived in Thebes (ancient Luxor) about 800 B.C. and died of undetermined causes about age 29-30. An exhibit, "The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt," features her mummy and coffin and will be featured through Dec. 6 at the Oriental Institute Museum. A video display allows visitors to view features of Meresamun's physical state and perform a "virtual unwrapping" of the mummy, enabling them to see how it was prepared.

She was tall by ancient standards--5-and-a-half feet--her features were regular with wide-spaced eyes and she had an overbite. "Meresamun was, until the time of her death, a very healthy woman," Vannier said. "The lack of arrest lines on her bones indicates good nutrition through her lifetime and her well-mineralized bones suggest that she lived an active lifestyle."

Source: University of Chicago