Jun 22, 2017 | By Benedict

Scientists in Italy have used photogrammetry 3D scanning techniques to put together the exploded head of a man who died in the Mount Vesuvius eruption that wiped out Pompeii and surrounding areas in the year 79 AD. They say the 50-year-old victim may have been wealthy and educated.

It’s a marvel of modern technology that, far from forgetting about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius almost two millennia ago, we’re actually still learning things about the terrifying event that claimed thousands of lives.

Last year, an extensive Lund University 3D scanning project brought a large Pompeii house back to life, allowing digital “visitors” to walk around its eerily restored rooms. And scientists have now repeated the trick on a different subject: the exploded head of a middle-aged man who was living in the coastal town of Herculaneum when the disaster occurred.

The scientists responsible for this 3D scanning marvel report that the victim’s brains “erupted” and burst through his skull as the town of Herculaneum was hit by a 500°C pyroclastic surge. Amazingly, we’re now able to see the victim’s face for the first time.

Italian archaeologist Pier Paolo Petrone, who carried out extensive excavations on Herculaneum between 1997 and 1999, described the skull as “one of the best-preserved…in the town,” but added that “it was difficult to piece together because it was broken in several parts and very fragile.”

Fortunately, Petrone had assistance from people who can “piece together” better than anyone else.

Gianfranco Quaranta, an Italian graphic designer working for the Association for Research and Education in Art, Archaeology and Architecture (AREA3), specializes in 3D scanning and 3D printing projects. By taking around 150 photos of the victim’s damaged skull, he was able to gather enough information to create a 3D model of the skull.

That part of the project was left to Brazilian 3D visual artist Cicero Moraes, who told the Daily Mail how he used free photogrammetry software “to extract the 3D geometric information and create realistic features.”

“I faced a few challenges because the skull had no teeth,” Moraes said. “So I used the dentures of a compatible virtual donor, placing it on the cranium to get an idea of their positioning and the region for the lips. I consulted a study that measures the thickness of the skin of hundreds of present day Europeans and placed the corresponding markers for a man of his age.”

Another virtual skull was used to get the position and alignment of the eyes correct, while the victim’s nose was drawn based on the structure of the nasal bone and the direction of the nasal spine.

“It is a complicated process but rewarding when you see the final face appear,” Quaranta added.

One of the most interest aspects of the 3D scanning and facial recreation was the information it revealed about the man. The experts say that the reconstructed face shows a typical southern European. However, they were also able to draw further conclusions about the man’s lifestyle. They believe the Herculaneum resident may have been “wealthy and educated” because he was 50 years old when he died—an age that common people would have been unlikely to reach.

Excitingly, the experts behind this exciting 3D scanning endeavor hope they can repeat the process for more Vesuvius eruption victims. “The face of a Pompeii citizen may be the next one to be revealed.” Quaranta suggested. The experts are also running special fieldwork courses for traveling MIT students in order to train more people in the art of 3D scanning and 3D reconstruction.

The reconstructed face of the Herculaneum eruption victim will be displayed at a press conference today in Priverno, central Italy.



Posted in 3D Scanning



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