Archaeological Facial Reconstruction

Viking Skull

This reconstruction was requested by Oxford Archaeology, which excavated the site, to supplement a Viking exhibition at the British Museum in London.


Viking Mass Burial

At least 51 decapitated individuals were uncovered in a pit in Weymouth, England, with skulls deposited in a pile and post-cranial skeletons tossed throughout. Various assessments and analyses indicated that the individuals were male, of Scandinavian origin, and predominantly within the age range of 18-25 years. Radiocarbon dates estimated a range of AD 970 to 1025, squarely within the Viking age as raiders pillaged England. Peri-mortem trauma was consistent on each individual: a smooth cut through the cervical vertebrae.


Danielle Schumaker created a computerized, 3-d craniofacial reconstruction of the most complete Viking skull from the mass burial. After carefully cleaning and disarticulating the skull and several fragments, she scanned the three-dimensional surfaces with a handheld digital scanner. Using a digital modeling software, muscles were built up from the skull one-by-one according to the cranial morphology, with appropriate pegs representing tissue depth measurements available as guidelines. Muscle attachment sites were closely examined to determine the robusticity of corresponding muscles. The morphology of the eye, mouth and lower face were carefully assessed in accordance with the Manchester Method of facial reconstruction to estimate the appearance of overlying features.

The nose that most closely resembled that speculated from the morphology was selected from the database and imported. It was then further modeled in accordance with the morphological idiosyncrasies indicated by the skull, which included making the tip more rounded, increasing the bulbousness, reducing the protrusiveness, and accounting for asymmetry. Eyes and a mouth were imported and adjusted to best suit the skull.


Bearing in mind the formation of wrinkles perpendicular to the direction of muscle flexion, horizontal forehead creases were carved across m. frontalis, with a transverse nasion crease marking the start of m. procerus. Crow’s feet lateral to the eye fissures were modeled in opposition to the flexion of m. orbicularis oculi. A slight infraorbital crease was placed just superior to the infraorbital rim and made to follow its shape. The strength of m. mentalis suggested the presence of a mental crease between the chin and lower lip.


The fully modeled reconstruction was transferred into Autodesk® Maya® (2012), a three-dimensional animation software, for texturing. In the absence of data regarding the prevalence of hair and eye color in Scandinavian countries, arguably stereotypical hues of blonde and blue (respectively) were selected. A beard was explicitly requested by Oxford Archaeology. Basic skin tone consistent with Northern European ancestry was adjusted to account for the likely weathered appearance of the individual, on the assumption that he spent a significant amount of time outdoors. In light of the hypothesized living conditions for this Viking, some facial creases were accentuated, both by deepening the creases sculpturally in Freeform and by darkening the lines in Photoshop.

Due to the harsh shadows and artificial, metallic appearance offered by other shading options, subsurface scattering was selected for the texturing of the face. This shader simulates how light scatters below the translucent surface of an object before being absorbed or diffused at another point. With its thin, translucent layers, skin is a prototypical example of subsurface scattering. Maya® offers a Mental Ray Subsurface Scattering Skin Shader, which allows a user to control how light diffuses across the surface, the coloring of three layers of skin, the specularity of highlights, and the appearance of 3D textures (e.g. pores). For the texturing of these layers, a “UV map” was made, by which the surface of the head is unwrapped in the form of a two-dimensional image. For each texture-mapped layer, this image was imported into a design software (Adobe® Photoshop®), painted in accordance with the facial features and textures visible on the UV map, and then wrapped around the object again.