Skulls, Lasers, and 3D Imaging Bring the Dead to Life

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

Experts at the Smithsonian are using 3D scans of artifacts, like this 19th-century explorer's skull, to recreate the past. Robert Kennicott, a naturalist and early contributor to the Smithsonian collections, died mysteriously on an expedition in 1866. When forensic anthropologists from the National Museum of Natural History exhumed him in 2001 to determine his cause of death, however, they discovered evidence that pointed to natural causes. They were also left with a good looking human skull on their hands -- an ideal item for Vince Rossi and Adam Metallo (aka the "laser cowboys" of the Smithsonian's 3D digitization team) to scan. With a digital scan and replica of the skull, a sculptor recreated Kennicott's face. 

This short documentary was produced by Ryan Reed for Smithsonian magazine, which has an article on how these laser scanning techniques are contributing to paleontology here. Below, compare a photograph of Kennicott, courtesy of Wikipedia, with the final sculpture, in a still from the film:

For more videos from Smithsonian Magazine, visit the YouTube channel

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/skulls-lasers-and-3d-imaging-bring-the-dead-to-life/257632/