3-D Reconstruction Reveals Face of 500-Year-Old Irishman

The image offers a rare portrait of an ordinary Dubliner

Irishman's face
Researchers used facial reconstruction software to paint a vivid portrait of one Dubliner that lived 500 years ago. Liverpool John Moore’s University for Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd.

In the summer of 2014, archaeologists working near Trinity College in Dublin discovered the remains of a young man who died about 500 years ago. Much about the deceased was unknown—his name, his precise age, his cause of death—but we now have a pretty good idea of what he looked like. As George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo, researchers at John Moore University in Liverpool have created a 3-D reconstruction of the man’s face, offering a rare depiction of an ordinary Dubliner from centuries past.

The remains of this individual, dubbed SK2 by archaeologists, was found with the bodies of four other people in an open space once known as Hoggen Green. According to the Rubicon Heritage, an archaeological and heritage consultancy firm involved in the excavation, all of the skeletons displayed signs of childhood malnutrition and heavy manual labor, suggesting that the individuals were poor. Experts initially thought that the remains belonged to Vikings or Norsemen, but radiocarbon dating indicated that the bones were placed in the ground between the 15th and 17th centuries, during the reign of the Tudors.

Because the skull of SK2 was exceptionally well-preserved, it was sent off to the Face Lab at John Moore University, which has previously reconstructed the visages of famous folks like Richard III and Robert the Bruce. Researchers began by creating a 3-D scan of SK2’s skull, which acted as the based for the reconstruction. “Using well-established marker points and specialized software the main facial muscles, soft tissue and skin were layered onto the digitized model of the skull,” Rubicon Heritage explains.

Using information from previous analyses of SK2's remains, the team was able to fill in facial details. Testing indicated that the man was between 25 and 35 years old when he died, and about 5”6 tall. Isotopic analysis of his teeth revealed that he hailed from Dublin. Based on 16th and 17th century illustrations of Irish people, researchers guessed that SK2 would have had a beard, medium-length brown hair and blue eyes.

Like the recent facial reconstruction of a poor man who lived in Medieval England, the rendering of SK2 offers new insight into a demographic that is rarely represented in historical documents. The pages of history preserve the legacies of the rich and powerful, but devote relatively little attention to members of lower socioeconomic classes. With their digital reconstruction of SK2, researchers have created a vivid portrait of a common poor man, who might have otherwise faded into obscurity.