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. 

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

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

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

The Horrors of Rat Hole Mining

"The river was our source of water. Now, the people won't touch it. They are repulsed by it."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Horrors of Rat Hole Mining

"The river was our source of water. Now, the people won't touch it."

Video

What's Your Favorite Slang Word?

From "swag" to "on fleek," tweens choose.

Video

Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.

Video

Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.

Video

How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

More in Video

Just In