Letter: Facts and fiction in Viking York

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Sir: The Jorvik Viking Centre is reported by Malcolm Pithers ('Here's looking at you, Gamall', 8 September) as being the first museum to use a forensic technique to reconstruct the faces of skulls found in an archaeological excavation. This is misleading.

The pioneering work in this field was carried out by the Manchester Museum 20 years ago with the medical artist Richard Neave. The techniques developed at the University of Manchester still lead the field: as well as reinvesting the ancient past with a semblance of life, they have secured the apprehension and conviction of murderers in modern times.

Museums in the UK, US, Turkey, Holland and Greece display heads reconstructed at Manchester. One of the most impressive pieces of recent archaeological detective work resulted from Richard Neave's reconstruction of the face of a skull exhumed in 1977 from a richly endowed burial chamber at Vergina in Macedonia.

Some years before death, the head had received a terrible wound to the right temple from above, which would certainly have resulted in the loss of the right eye. This, with other circumstantial evidence, clinched the identity of the occupant of the tomb as Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, who survived the loss of his right eye from an arrow wound in 354 BC, 18 years before his murder. It has also confirmed Vergina as the site of the 'lost' capital of Macedonia, Aigai.

The Manchester Museum continues to develop its research programme on ancient human remains using the techniques of the forensic laboratory.

Yours faithfully,

TRISTRAM BESTERMAN

Director

The Manchester Museum

Manchester

9 September

(Photograph omitted)

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