Facial reconstruction of Ancient Egyptian mummies: Experiences from the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Sanchita Balachandran, Juan Garcia, Mark Roughley, Kathryn Smith, Meg Swaney, and Caroline Wilkinson


Poised at the intersection of science and art, the field of facial reconstruction offers an unprecedented way to approach the ancient dead as human beings who “look like us.” This paper discusses issues precipitated by the digital reconstruction of the faces of two ancient Egyptians stewarded by the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, and considers how new scientific technologies as well as ethical concerns complicate attempts to render human remains more recognizably human. The interdisciplinary nature of this project required developing a new framework for respectful practices for the preservation and presentation of human remains, particularly as there were many perspectives involved; in the case of this research, this included the combined expertise and insights of forensic artists and anthropologists, a facial prosthetist, radiologists, biomedical engineers, digital imaging specialists, Egyptologists, graduate and undergraduate students, as well as an art conservator. Focusing on two ancient Egyptian individuals who have been closely associated with the history of Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University, its hospital and its Archaeological Museum since the early twentieth century, this paper highlights the many unexpected types of documentation that were required to more fully understand the “object biographies” of these two individuals. From their acquisitions to early autopsies, to past conservation treatments, recent computed tomography scanning and digital reconstruction as well as multi-band imaging of associated objects, the kinds of data, and expertise required to decode these new kinds of data, has raised questions about how we affect a more holistic stewardship of human remains. The paper will also consider how the final digital depictions were contextualized and interpreted for a broader audience through student documentation and student-designed public programming in order to invite the museum visitor and the public to have a role in ensuring a respectful stewardship of the people of the past.


2018 | Houston | Volume 25