Thursday, June 23, 2011

i3 report: Forensic and Archaeological Human Identification #i3_conference

Caroline Wilkinson gave a keynote on Forensic and Archaeological Human Identification: Information Processing and Presentation at the i3 conference at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen
She talked about recognition of people from human remains; what it was easier or reconstruct and what was more difficult. A lot of changes happen to a body immediately after death (apparently 10% of dead bodies in the 2004 tsunami were mis-recognised by relatives) and once you are reduced to bones or have decomposed further, the extent to which you can recognise or reconstruct will depend on various factors (e.g. gender is easier to judge from the fast once someone is past childhood and before they get ). Wilkinson gave some interesting insights into the extent to which faces can be reconstructed (for the purposes of publicising the reconstruction, so a body can be identified by the member of the public). Things like skin texture, modifications, weight changes, and habitual expressions can make faces look very different, and cannot be identified from the skull alone. If the person doing the reconstructed picture gets these kinds of detail wrong, it can make the person more difficult to identify.
Sometimes the final image might be given an artistic effect, so that people get an impression and don't fix to much on the detail. Also, several variations could be provided: however what the police like is one photo-like issue.
Wilkinson contrasted this with the process of archeological reconstruction, where the purpose of reconstruction is normally different (e.g. giving people a vivid impression of the person in their times, rather getting an individual identified). She gave a couple of specific examples, including discussing reconstruction of the composer Bach's head.
There is a little news item about her from the bbc and she has written a book:
Wilkinson, C. (2004) Forensic Facial Reconstruction. Cambridge University Press. 978-0521820035
Photo by Sheila Webber: Wilkinson presenting, our first keynote speaker Eric Meyer taking notes and (I think) tweeting in the foreground).

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