The scientific breakthrough: Some 1,700 high-resolution Siemens CT-scanner images of the world’s most famous mummy — King Tutankhamun. The opportunity: Besides providing boundless information on the health and possible cause of death of the legendary young king, the data could paint a fresh portrait of Tut’s face — the first bust of Tut ever created from 3-D CT scans.
Under the leadership of Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, National Geographic has used the CT data to show the world how Tut looked the day he died, some 3,300 years ago. The process involved forensic artists and physical anthropologists from two countries and created two independently made busts of Tut.
The French team’s work will appear on the cover of the June issue of National Geographic magazine and in the two-hour world premiere special “King Tut’s Final Secrets,” on the National Geographic Channel May 15. The second rendering will be seen on National Geographic’s Web site at www.nationalgeographic.com.
How the new face of Tut came about:
1) Using the CT data from scanning done in January, a “rapid prototype model” of the skull was made and provided to French forensic anthropologist Jean-Noel Vignal, of the Centre Technique de la Gendarmerie Nationale. Vignal, who works daily with police officials to reconstruct deceased crime victims, determined from the skull that the person had been male, 18 to 20 years old, with Caucasoid features. “Caucasoid” describes a major group of peoples of Europe, North Africa, the Near East and India.
2) From the CT data, Vignal and his team determined basic measurements and features of Tut’s face. For example, the size of the narrow nasal opening, considered a Caucasoid trait, allowed them to fix the size range of Tut’s nose. Other data guided them on the position of the king’s mouth and his receding chin. Vignal also used the data to calculate the correct thickness of skin on Tut’s face.
3) Vignal’s skull “map” then went to one of the world’s leading anthropological sculptors, Elisabeth Daynes of Paris. Daynes’s job was to combine the science with art to create the most accurate, lifelike face of Tut ever. She used Vignal’s conclusions as well as archaeological information supplied by Hawass that included two wooden sculptures made of Tut during his youth. Daynes used tissue-depth information to lay clay over the plastic skull models and build toward a human image with flesh, filling in the king’s eyebrow thickness, precise shape of the nose and lips, as well as the approximate shape and size of Tut’s ears.
4) Finally, Daynes made a plaster mold of her clay sculpture and created a flesh-toned silicone cast. Attentive to the tiniest detail, she placed glass eyes and implanted a head of hair with surgical precision. Skin tone, which could have varied from very dark to very light, was based on an average shade of modern-day Egyptians. Eyelashes, eye makeup known as “kohl,” and even jewelry were added to adorn the king as he was in life.
5) To further validate the French specialists’ work, National Geographic decided to provide the CT data to a second team — but without telling them who they were recreating. Working “blind,” Susan Antón, associate professor of anthropology at New York University, in consultation with Bradley Adams of the chief Medical Examiner’s office, studied the CT data. She quickly described the mystery person as male, age 18 to 19 years, and of African ancestry with several Caucasian affinities, possibly of north African origin — all uncannily accurate. Using this information artist Michael Anderson of the Yale Peabody Museum then created his own likeness of the mystery figure and cast it in plaster.
To the relief and jubilation of Hawass and National Geographic, the second likeness closely resembled the first, validating the process. Still, despite the solid scientific information used, it is impossible to know for certain everything about how King Tut looked — the shape of the top of his nose, the shape of his ears, the color of his eyes and skin — as they are not determined by the shape and proportions of his skull.
Materials provided by National Geographic Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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