The heads have been produced by the technique that police forces use to help identify murder victims. It has never been used in such detail by any museum project in Britain. Eventually the Jorvik centre plans to have a total of 31 figures on show.
Laser equipment and computers were used to produce images from the skulls, making measurements while images of reflected light were recorded on video. The recordings were then fed into a computer program linked to information about muscle thickness. Eventually a clay head, cut out by a computer-controlled milling machine, was produced.
For all its accuracy of facial imaging, the process cannot eliminate the need for an artist's interpretation. The sculptress Lynne O'Dowd, 34, was essentially given a death-mask to work from. She worked alongside the original skulls and developed them into human likenesses. Facial image technique cannot accurately reproduce the ears, nose, lips or, of course, skin tones. It was, said Ms O'Dowd, vital to work alongside the original skulls. 'The person who inhabited the skull has definitely moved on and they are actually quite beautiful architecturally. But I'm finding it incredibly hard work. Therefore, the challenge is very interesting. They are all very, very different from one another.'
The task has also involved a little extra light reading: The Forensic Analysis of the Skull by Iscan and Helmer, produced after a conference in Germany in 1988 held by the International Association of Forensic Scientists.
Dominic Tweddle, assistant director of the York Archaeological Trust, said yesterday that there was no better way for people to relate to individuals, even from the past, than by seeing their faces. 'It is an astonishing application, and we are now being asked by other centres here and abroad to help them create similar images.'
The Jorvik centre opened 10 years ago and is one of the top 10 tourist attractions in the country with around 750,000 visitors a year. York, which to some extent has been reconquered, this time by tourists, was the ruined Roman fortress Eboracum, about 800 years old when the Vikings arrived. The Vikings renamed the area Jorvik. In and around the city are buried the largest number of Viking remains anywhere in Britain. To popularise, if not exactly authenticate the Viking individuals, they have each been named: Gamall (top picture), a 50-year-old grandfather; Brandr (above), his five-year-old grandson; Gunnvor, Ranveig, Leoba, Inga and Alfrun.
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