In 1987, a tomb was excavated near the Peruvian town of Sipán; within it were several mummies along with some stunning artifacts. The most notable of the bodies in the tomb was that of a man adorned with intricate jewelry and ornaments, indicating that he was a high-ranking member of a ruling class. Dubbed the Lord of Sipán, the mummy was considered at the time to be one of the ten most important discoveries of the century. Recently, a team of researchers went to work on digitally reconstructing the face of the Lord of Sipán. 3D computer graphics designers Cicero Moraes and forensic dentist Dr. Paulo Miamoto are best known to us as the “Animal Avengers,” a team of scientists who have repeatedly poured their time and effort into designing and 3D printing prosthetics for injured animals including Freddie the Turtle, who we have covered previously! They’re also members of the Brazilian Team of Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Odontology, and they were commissioned by the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University to take on the challenge of figuring out who, exactly, the Lord of Sipán was.
The Lord of Sipán was in pretty good shape for having spent the last 2,000 years underground, but you can’t hang out under accumulating layers of sediment for two long without getting a little beat up. According to Moraes, the skull was in 96 pieces when it was found, but that wasn’t the most challenging part – technicians at the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum had actually glued the skull back together and pinned a plastic wireframe inside, a well-meaning effort that unfortunately meant it would be extremely difficult to recreate the skull’s original shape. Moraes accomplished this, by using photogrammetry to obtain a high-quality 3D scan of the artifact. He then uploaded the images into a computer and broke the virtual skull back into its fragments so he could rebuild it from scratch, which he did with the help of a template created from an image of an average male human skull. With forensic anthropological and anatomical advice from Dr. Miamoto, he pieced the digital fragments together, filling in the missing parts in gray.
By examining specific areas such as the superciliary arch above the eyebrows and the thickness of the bone behind the ears, Dr. Miamoto was able to confirm that the skull belonged to a middle-aged man, probably between the ages of 45 and 55. Moraes used this information as well as algorithims in his 3D Software to apply layers of muscle and skin in appropriate thicknesses according to the structure of the skull, and features such as skin tone were based on those of other Peruvians. This allowed him to create one of the most accurate models possible, which you can see below.