A Roman Facial Reconstruction

Haven’t had one of these in ages … from the BBC:

The face of a wealthy Roman citizen who lived in south Wales has been revealed nearly two millennia after he died.

Using the latest technology, experts have produced a portrait of the man whose skeleton was uncovered 18 years ago in Caerleon, near Newport.

Archaeologists are trying to fill in more details using forensic techniques employed by police.

The image of the man was unveiled at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon on Thursday.

The remains from around AD200 were uncovered by builders who were working on the nearby Newport university campus in November 1995.

Analysis showed the skeleton was that of a well-preserved man of about 40.

Since it was put on display in 2002, the skeleton has become one of the museum’s most popular exhibits, so staff decided to find out more about the man and create a portrait to honour him.

Efforts to build a picture of how the man may have looked began three years ago.

First, scientists carried out isotype analysis on the enamel of one of the skeleton’s teeth. That revealed the man in the coffin had spent his childhood years, between the age of five and eight, in the Newport area and that he was probably a local boy.

Curatorial officer Dr Mark Lewis said the man was living at a time when the Caerleon Roman fortress was at its height, having been established for 125 years. It would have been supplying the legion, serving up to 6,000 soldiers.

“The fact that the man had been buried rather than cremated as most of the people were at that time was a clue to the fact he was probably well off,” he said.
Bath stone coffin containing the skeleton of the Roman man

“What we can learn from the latest evidence is that he may have been a very wealthy merchant who may have been supplying the fortress.

“He may have been high up in the administration of the fortress. He may have even served in the army and come home to Wales for retirement.”

The fact that the research has shown that the man was a native of the local area was also important, said Dr Lewis.

“Maybe his mother or grandmother married a Roman soldier, perhaps his father was a soldier and he followed him into the army.”

Dr Lewis said in future they make take their research into the man’s origins further through DNA testing.

As well as the scientific analysis, the museum commissioned a reconstruction of the man’s face using forensic techniques.

The skull was scanned to create a 3D digital model and two scientists worked in succession on digitally reconstructing the missing areas of the the skull and creating a facial reconstruction.

Because the museum wanted to hang a portrait of the Roman in its gallery, National Museum Wales conservator and artist Penny Hill then got involved.

Ms Hill employed materials and artistic conventions known to have been used in Roman paintings or ancient literary sources.

She said it was a challenging piece of experimental archaeology using a process called “encaustic” which involved creating the painting in wax.

… of course, a photo of the reconstruction accompanies the original article. I guess because it’s a digital reconstruction rather than one of those dramatic forensic type things, we don’t read of this being associated with a documentary …

Some other reconstructions of note:

Latest Arthurian Round Table with a Roman Connection?

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table...
Image via Wikipedia

An item  in the Daily Mail (hyping a television program, as often)  seems to be causing some excitement:

His is among the most enduring ­legends in our island’s history.

King Arthur, the gallant warrior who gathered his knights around the Round Table at Camelot and rallied Christian Britons against the invading pagan Saxons, has always been an enigma.

But now historians believe they have uncovered the precise location of Arthur’s stronghold, finally solving the riddle of whether the Round Table really existed.

And far from pinpointing a piece of furniture, they claim the ‘table’ was in fact the circular space inside a former Roman amphitheatre.

The experts believe that Camelot could in fact have been Chester Amphitheatre, a huge stone-and-wood structure capable of holding up to 10,000 people.

They say that Arthur would have reinforced the building’s 40ft walls to create an imposing and well fortified base.

The king’s regional noblemen would have sat in the central arena’s front row, with lower-ranked subjects in the outer stone benches.

Arthur has been the subject of much historical debate, but many scholars believe him to have been a 5th or 6th Century leader.

The legend links him to 12 major battles fought over 40 years from the Scottish Borders to the West Country. One of the principal victories was said to have been at Chester.

Rather than create a purpose-built Camelot, historian Chris Gidlow says Arthur would have logically chosen a structure left by the Romans.

‘The first accounts of the Round Table show that it was nothing like a dining table but was a venue for upwards of 1,000 people at a time,’ he said.

‘And we know that one of Arthur’s two main battles was fought at a town referred to as the City of the Legions. There were only two places with this title. One was St Albans, but the location of the other has remained a mystery.’

Researchers, who will reveal their evidence in a television documentary this month, say the recent discovery at the amphitheatre of an execution stone and a wooden memorial to Christian martyrs suggests the missing city is Chester.

Mr Gidlow said: ‘In the 6th Century, a monk named Gildas, who wrote the earliest account of Arthur’s life, referred both to the City of the Legions and to a martyr’s shrine within it.

‘That is the clincher. The discovery of the shrine within the amphitheatre means that Chester was the site of Arthur’s court – and his legendary Round Table.’

An interesting idea, but not exactly ‘new’. We recall that the Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon has long been similarly claimed to be the prototype for this ’round table’ of the Arthur King. Indeed, the National Museum of Wales seems to take it as a fact (if this page is associated with them).  And before we get too excited, back in 2000 someone was suggesting a round building in Scotland. And a decade before that, the same round building location (Stenhouse) in Scotland was being cited by no less than Burke’s Peerage (and connected, sort of, to the Kennedy clan).

That said, if we think an ‘amphitheatre’ can be taken as a ‘table’ (I guess “knights of the amphitheatre” gives the wrong impression?),  we can look at  a list of amphitheater remains in the UK (besides Caerleon and Chester) we see there’s one at Cirencester … Arthur was supposedly crowned there (at Cirencester; not necessarily the amphitheatre); that seems to have a potential claim too. There’s one at Colchester, and Colchester is a Camelot candidate; that seems to have a potential claim too. There’s one at Wroxeter, and Arthur may have had a ‘base’ there; that seems to have a potential claim too. There’s probably more, but you get the picture … plenty o’ places are connected with Arthur (who may or may not have been an historical figure, of course … I won’t get into that here) and plenty o’ those places have remains of an amphitheatre of some sort. At best, though, I think we can charitably put this in the ‘imaginative suggestion’ category.

More coverage: