NATURAL SCIENCE

Oldest cold case: face of man killed in 1624 recreated

A duel, a death, and a decayed corpse are all that remains of a murder mystery in Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America -- and the site of America’s oldest cold case. And thanks to a reconstruction from Preservation Virginia, archaeologists might be on the way to cracking the case.

Jamestown reconstruction front.jpg

The skull of the victim was shattered and crushed flat from centuries of ground pressure, but Preservation Virginia was able to bring his visage back to life. Here's how they did it.

Preservation Virginia

Jamestown reconstruction 1.jpg

The skull was shattered and crushed flat from centuries of ground pressure.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Jamestown reconstruction 2.jpg

Dr. David Hunt painstakingly reconstructed much of the skull into the form you see here. This enabled the forensic anthropologists to take necessary measurements, and begin to learn what the young man may have looked like.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Jamestown reconstruction 3.jpg

An image of the complete skull was created from Dr. Hunt's reconstruction. Computer graphics were used to fill in the missing pieces from other photographs, and to "flip" parts of the image.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Jamestown reconstruction 4.jpg

Using the actual skull and the reconstruction images, artist Sharon Long cast plaster molds of the settler's skull. Using it as a base, Sharon used her skills and Dr. Doug Owsley's forensic description to begin the process of a facial approximation.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Jamestown reconstruction 5.jpg

Sharon placed eyes in the sockets, and used rubber tissue depth markers on specific points of the skull. These numbered markers are based on the average thickness of facial tissue for an individual of this race and gender. She then began to connect the markers with clay, "recreating" the tissue, based on the skeletal structure.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Jamestown reconstruction 6.jpg

When all the tissue depth markers were connected, the artist was able to begin modeling the facial features. This approximation is now partially complete. These are the same methods that many crime labs use in their efforts to learn the identities of unknown victims. Click next to see the completed image of our Jamestown settler.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Jamestown reconstruction 8.jpg

As you have seen in the previous frames, this image is based mainly on skull features. To complete the portrait, the artist chose his hair and eye colors, complexion, and facial hair by studying 17th century paintings of Englishmen and other Europeans.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Jamestown reconstruction 7.jpg

Sharon Long's completed facial approximation of the Jamestown settler. He had wide-spaced eyes, high cheekbones, and a long, fairly prominent nose. Note the fairly low, sloping forehead, and the way the lower portion of his face juts out slightly. Dr. Owsley of the Smithsonian believes these characteristics were far more typical of people 400 years ago than they are today.
Jamestown Rediscovery

Oldest cold case: face of man killed in 1624 recreated

A duel, a death, and a decayed corpse are all that remains of a murder mystery in Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America -- and the site of America’s oldest cold case. And thanks to a reconstruction from Preservation Virginia, archaeologists might be on the way to cracking the case.

More From Our Sponsors