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Brymbo Man

The Reconstruction

You can tell a lot about a person from their face. Now with expert help, you can recreate a human face from its skull.

One of the top experts in facial re-construction is Dr Caroline Wilkinson. She works at the Unit of Art in Medicine at Manchester University, where Brymbo Man was sent for his "makeover."

First question: Was there enough left of Brymbo Man's skull for a reconstruction? Just! His skull is not complete: only the chin of his lower jaw remains and part of the left side of his skull has gone. There was enough for Caroline to work on.

Caroline made a cast of the skull. Brymbo Man's skull is too old and fragile to be used for the reconstruction. The skull is real history so it had to be protected from irreversible damage. To make the cast, Caroline had to make a mould. She sealed the holes in Brymbo Man's skull and then covered the skull in aluminium foil to protect it during the making of the mould. The moulding material, exactly the same as that used by dentists for impressions, is like porridge and is spread all over the skull. Once it set, a perfect cast of Brymbo Man's skull could be made.

The next step for Caroline was to tap in the little pegs to indicate the flesh thickness at twenty-one different points on the skull. The measurements are decided by sex, age and ethnic group. The shape of your face is also determined by your weight. We did not know whether Brymbo Man was skinny or fat so his pegs were based on the 'average weight' measurements.

Caroline then added the main muscles in clay. She noted the position and strength of the muscle attachments or insertions on the skull. These indicate the strength of the facial muscles and consequently the shape of Brymbo Man's face.

Nearly every feature of the face is determined anatomically for instance:

It is not guess work or imagination. It is this methodological approach that ensures that the re-construction of Brymbo Man's face is as true to life as possible.

The skin is added in clay strips guided by the little wooden pegs. All the time Caroline also takes account of the muscle structure she created initially. Some things are difficult to decide exactly: lips and ears are particularly tricky. The skill is ensuring that the choice made fits in with the rest of the face. No-one who has had cosmetic plastic surgery could be replicated from their skull or at least not how they looked post operation. Caroline did the final modelling relying on her experience over the years in facial reconstruction work.

Caroline & Brymbo Man

Brymbo Man's next journey was to London to visit the make-up artist. She added hair and eyebrows. Decisions on hair and eye colour are difficult. Many of the choices are based on suppositions about the past that reveal more about archaeologists and pre-historians who make them than what was reality. By giving Brymbo Man brown hair and hazel eyes the question of his exact origin is left open for further discussion. He spent a lot of time out of doors so he needed a weather beaten look. We don't know whether he was clean shaven or not, but they did have razors in the Early Bronze Age.

Now he has returned to the Museum, you can see the finished re-construction for yourself. That is how he looked. Not so different from us after all.

As poles to tents and walls to houses, so are bones to all living creatures

Galen, De anatomicus administrationibus, 2nd Century AD

It is the common wonder of all, how among so many millions of faces, there should be none alike.

Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medicii, 1643