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


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

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg's work in media spans documentary television, advertising, and print. As a producer in the Viewer Created Content division of Al Gore's Current TV, she acquired and produced short documentaries by independent filmmakers around the world. Post-Current, she worked as a producer and strategist at Urgent Content, developing consumer-created and branded nonfiction campaigns for clients including Cisco, Ford, and GOOD Magazine. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University, where she was co-creator and editor in chief of H BOMB Magazine.

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