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Read, Watch and Listen

Basalt stela of Antiochus I Theos greeting Verethragna-Herakles-Ares from Nimrud Dagh (1st century BC)

Antiochus I is shown as an eastern king wearing an adapted Armenian tiara with a lion decoration. He shakes hands with the divine Verethragna-Herakles-Ares (shown nude in the Greek fashion) who represents Victory and Strength in Zoroastrian, Greek and Roman traditions. Like the balance of cultures in this religious relief, Commagene was cautious in choosing its political alliances. Although Commagene cooperated with Rome, the statesman Cicero was wary of Antiochus’ loyalty: “…the least trust should be given to that king.”

© Trustees of the British Museum

Silver drachm of Hormizd II (303-309 AD).

This Sasanian king’s crown is adorned with a bird holding an incandescent pearl in its beak, echoing earlier images of the Veragna bird delivering the khvarnah. The coin’s reverse shows a central fire holder with the king emerging from the sacred flames. Fire was considered to be the son of Ahura Mazda and was a sacred symbol of the Zoroastrian religion. During the Parthian and Sasanian periods, a regnal fire was lit when a new king ascended the throne.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Marble statue of Mithras slaying the bull, found in Rome (2nd century AD)

In the 1st-4th centuries AD, the Mithraic Mysteries seeped into Roman culture from the East. This secretive religion was inspired by the Zoroastrian Mithra, divinity of Contract and Oath. This statue displays Roman Mithras in a Parthian-like costume powerfully pinning down a bull for ritual slaughter. It is thought that Mithras appealed to the martial identity of Roman soldiers serving in the East. A Zoroastrian hymn describes an armed Mithra victoriously smashing the skulls of the Daevas or evil spirits.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Painted manuscript showing the hero Rostam piercing an enemy, made in Shiraz in southern Iran (1435-1440 AD).

This illustration shows a scene from the Shahnameh, an epic work that recounts Iran’s historical and mythological past. Elements from Roman, Greek and Zoroastrian sources are echoed in the depicted central hero, Rostam. A feline skin covers Rostam’s helmet and jacket, mirroring the Greek hero Herakles’ famed lion pelt. As seen in Commagene, Herakles was associated with Verethragna, the Zoroastrian divinity of Victory who appeared as a gold-adorned horse and warrior. Golden details also decorate Rostam’s illustrated weapons and armour.

© Trustees of the British Museum

3D bust of Ivan the Terrible, Tsar Ivan IV (Gerasimov, 1955)

Dr. Mikhail Gerasimov pioneered research into facial anthropology and developed the technique known as the anatomical method. His research had a significant influence on current facial depiction practice, and focused on an understanding of facial anatomy and the importance of muscle structure and position for the production of a recognisable likeness. Image used with permission of Elizaveta Veselovskaya, Moscow Institute of Sciences.

Reliability assessment (Helmer, 1993)

A double blind accuracy study was carried out by Prof. Dr. Richard Helmer. Two researchers reconstructed 12 skulls following a plan based upon the skull morphology. Each reconstruction (examples A & C) was then compared to an ante-mortem photograph of the subject (examples B) using resemblance ratings from five observers. The results suggested the reconstructions were closer resemblances to each other (50% approximate) than to the subjects (42% slight). Image courtesy of Wiley-Liss Inc.

Tissue depth data

The variation in facial tissue depths between sexes, ages, ethnic groups and different nutritional states has been studied over the last 120 years. Facial tissue depth markers are added at the beginning of the facial depiction process and commonly include 15-34 anatomical points on the skull surface. Image provided by Face Lab, Liverpool John Moores University.

2D method of facial reconstruction – Karen Taylor

Karen Taylor in the USA developed a 2D method involving drawing over a frontal image of the skull. This process included the addition of tissue depth pegs to the skull prior to taking the photographs. Images of the April Lacy case (1982) from Oklahoma City, courtesy of © Karen Taylor.

3D manual method of facial depiction from skeletal remains

The ‘manual method’ is a term applied to a depiction process involving materials such as clay or wax applied by a sculptor onto a skull or skull replica. Initially tissue depth pegs are attached to the skull, then the facial muscles are sculpted following anatomical standards and finally soft tissues and skin are added and aged appropriately to create a finished depiction. Image provided by © Ludo Vermeulen.