Richard III's ignominious defeat in the Battle of Bosworth Field ended the turbulent Plantaganet years and ushered in the more tranquil Tudor reign in England, and ended the period known as the Middle Ages. All this was part of the Church History course work we undertook at seminary 36 years ago. (en.wikipedia.org)
After the battle, Richard's body was desecrated and buried anonymously in a small chapel called Greyfriars, which was destroyed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the mid 1500s.
Today I will discuss the facial reconstruction – part science, part art – which also help to confirm this identity.
The artists get their turn – facial reconstruction from the skull
Although as much science as possible is brought into the art of facial reconstruction, it is not considered as reliable as the analyses and medical examinations mentioned in yesterday's article. If you ask three artists to reconstruct a face from a skull, and give them all the same information that you have about the person, then each will come up with a slightly different face. In fact, these artists are not eligible to be expert witnesses in court cases. A websites that explain the processes in more detail are: anthropology.si.edu
Having said that, this technique is a valuable tool in the forensic armoury. When the artists and scientists have used the knowledge they have built up over many years about the physiology and biology of faces and bones, then some remarkable results have been obtained in the past, and many forensic cases solved due to their efforts. An interesting interview with an Australian facial artist explaining her work is at: (www.abc.net.au)
Using the known average amount of flesh and skin that overlays the bones on each part of the face, and carefully examining the underlying bone structure of the skeleton (pointy chin, large eye sockets, high cheek-bones etc), then experienced artists specialising in the area of faces can build up the muscles and flesh bit by bit, either using strips of clay or using computer-aided visualisation technology – or both.
They have to guess a bit about the skin tones and eye colour and style of hair, but if there are clues about the ethnicity of the person or the time in which they lived, these can be educated guesses.
In the case of Richard III, there were many contemporaneous descriptions of him, including the fact that he had a slight build (consistent with the skeleton that was found); and at least two portraits gave an idea about colouring, hair and clothing. (www.smh.com.au)
Although the artists state that the portraits did not influence them in their final finishing touches to the face, it is just one of the factors that they must have considered along with the medical and scientific knowledge about muscles and skin and fat cover on the bones. However, in the end, the science was remarkably consistent with the art, both modern and ancient.
The reconstructed face that was published is just another piece in the puzzle that adds to all the pieces of science discussed in the previous article, and it adds to the picture. If history and science are to help us understand the world around us and make better decisions in the future, anything that scientists and artists can do to collaborate to humanise their work will help to communicate its importance to the general public.
So is that stuff on CSI (and similar programs) real, after all?
Some of it is, and some of it isn't. The processes that are depicted on those programs are based on true scientific methods that are available today; the most accurate representation being described in the real-life British program (recently shown on SBS), 'History Cold Case'. (topdocumentaryfilms.com)
However, in fictional TV programs and novels, the science (although technically correct) is sometimes shown as producing results that are certain. Science is never 'certain'; the analysis of results can only indicate probabilities.
Also, crimes cannot be solved in the short time frames, and with such a small team of multi-taskers, that are necessarily depicted in a satisfying dramatic show. Moreover, the forensic scientists who work in the lab (at least in Australia) only provide the scientific results, they do NOT help the detectives 'solve the case' by interviewing suspects or having 'opinions' about what their results mean.
Real forensic scientists also wear disposable zoot suits, soft galoshes, snoods and masks in order to avoid contamination from their own swishing hair or shedding skin cells or sweat or sneezes from their own bodies. They certainly do not wear designer pants suits at the crime scene. Have you noticed that there is never a mark of mud or blood or dust on the white clothes the actors wear?
As mentioned on ABC Radio National "Counterpoint" on 11 February 2013, the science that has enabled his skeleton to be identified as Richard III is not going to change history. He will still have his supporters and his detractors, and we will never know if he ordered the execution of his nephews in the Tower or not. (www.abc.net.au)
Most scientists are respectful of the limitations of their data and the extent of its analysis, and the most effective ones do not make outrageous claims outside their expertise. 1 Peter 5 verse 6 (CEV) says: "Be humble in the presence of God's mighty power, and he will honour you when the time comes."
That is why these results have been reported in the legal terminology "beyond reasonable doubt." If more evidence comes to light with improved analysis techniques, and if this evidence contradicts these findings, then the scientists will review their conclusions, and their published results will be reviewed by other scientists with similar expertise.
I'm sure we will hear more about this investigation in future, watch this space!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html