|Image courtesy The Polar Record|
Their study has just appeared in the latest issue of The Polar Record, under the prosaic title of "Craniofacial Reconstructions of Two Members of Franklin's 1845 Expedition."
Facial reconstruction is part science, part art. The science part starts with the skull or a cast of the skull, which is then dotted with small markers which indicate the average depth of muscles and flesh at each point. From there, the reconstructor builds up "tissue" using modeling clay, then adds features -- glass eyes, sculpted hair, and (in this case) a shirt collar to give the face a life-like appearance. Of course the hairline is an educated guess, as is the hair color -- unless, as was the case with Richard III, DNA evidence lends a clue, which in his case led the reconstructor to replace a brown wig with a blond one, The nose is also partly conjectural, depending on the state of the fragile bone and cartilaginous material in this part of the skull. That there is some element of interpretation is undeniable, but certainly the technique is worth trying.
I've chosen just one of the reconstructions here -- it's certainly the more dramatic of the two. The model is based on "cranium #35," which is the better-preserved of the two. The most notable feature of this reconstruction is the enormous, bulbous nose of almost comical proportions. This is said to be based on "projecting nasal bones," although the preparatory sketch shows a more modest snout. The high cheekbones, heavy-set jaw, and slight underbite seem more realistically rendered. On the chance this this body, which may have been one of those in a boat abandoned near the site, was that of an officer, the authors compared this and the other face to the existing Daguerreotypes. They thought that it most resembled Graham Gore, while acknowledging that since Gore died prior to the 1848 abandonment, the skull can't be his.
But I think the authors missed another possibility. The recently-identified Talbotype of Lieutenant John Irving (which I've blogged about earlier) shows several points of resemblance -- the large prognathous jaw, high cheekbones, and clifflike brow (the model's eyebrows obscure this feature, but it's quite evident in the Irving photo). Of course, Irving's grave was supposedly found by Schwatka, and those bones rest in peace in Edinburgh's Dean Cemetery -- or do they? The next step, as the authors acknowledge, is to try DNA testing; since there are Irving descendants available, if any DNA can be recovered from cranium #35, we are likely to have a much more definitive answer.