Relive the Past

Using crystal-clear 3-D images from Meresamun’s historic scans, two forensic artists reconstruct the face of a 2,800-year-old Egyptian priestess


Two forensic artists working separately and using different techniques reconstructed Meresamun’s face. Josh Harker used the latest software and imaging technology (left), while Michael Brassell created more traditional police-artist sketches by hand (right), filling in only the color digitally.

She was more than just a pretty face. The ancient Egyptian Meresamun, who lived around 800 B.C., was a working girl, a priestess-musician who served Amun, the preeminent deity of Thebes. Her mummified remains, sealed 2,800 years ago in a skintight coffin of cartonnage (layers of linen and plaster), were examined by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute in September 2008 using the latest in CT scanning technology, a “256-slice” machine that produced startlingly vivid images. For months, she has since been the immensely popular subject of the Oriental Institute Museum’s exhibition, The Life of Meresamun: A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt.

Now, the headline-making CT images have helped two individuals–each working separately with 3-D STL (stereolithography) images of Meresamun’s skull produced from the scans, but using different techniques–reconstruct Meresamun’s face. Michael Brassell is a Baltimore-based forensic artist for NamUs (pronounced “name us”), the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System established by the National Institute of Justice. He created traditional hand-drawn pencil sketches (digitally colored for an “artsy” effect), using the exact same methods he employs when helping the police track down a cold-case victim. Josh Harker, a forensic artist who lives in Chicago and was originally trained as a sculptor, worked digitally, leveraging the latest software and imaging technology.

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(Photo courtesy Josh Harker)               (Photo courtesy Michael Brassell)

Meresamun in profile, shown without hair to reveal the contour of her skull

June 22nd, 2009 at 7:22 am

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