Reconstruction of the Face from the Cranium

Over many years of diligent work, M.M. Gerasimov gained a detailed knowledge of the relationship between the anatomy of the facial skeleton and that of the soft tissues of the face. The connection proved much stronger than previously believed. The researcher applied different anatomical methods such as dissecting heads and preparing cross sections at various levels of head and face, probing with a sooted needle, and radiography. As a result, a detailed scale of the thickness of soft tissues in different areas of the head and face was elaborated; also, sex and age differences in the distribution of these parameters were assessed. The asymmetry of soft tissues is closely linked to that of the facial skeleton and largely determines the uniqueness of each human face.

Gerasimov has revealed a number of regularities underlying the variation of facial features as a function of the development of cranial relief. Thus, a strongly developed supraorbital region of the frontal bone always co-occurs with thick soft tissues in that area. The relationship holds for Europeans, Africans, and other geographical groups alike; in other words, Gerasimov’s method is universal. It is based on individual rather than racial features of the skull, and all anatomical peculiarities are taken into account. Such characteristics include direction, length and shape of separate muscles, their attachment areas, and their variation depending on the structure of the facial skeleton. Gerasimov was the first to have proven that facial reconstruction from the cranium can result in a close similarity if based not merely on separate characteristic or dimensions, but on the totality of individual morphological details of the facial skeleton.

To evaluate the reliability of his reconstructions, the researcher ran a number of control tests. To that end, he used the skulls to reconstruct the faces of persons whose photographs were available while being unknown to him during his work. The similarity turned out to be appreciable. The possibility of reconstructing the face from the cranium was thereby empirically demonstrated. From then on, forensic experts approached Gerasimov for help more and more often. His method was first applied in forensic practice in 1939. In some cases he succeeded in demonstrating that available portraits of historical persons were idealized and inaccurate.

And yet the principal domain where Gerasimov’s work can be used is physical anthropology. Evaluating the variation of the human species in time and space, we consult his documentary images, which offer a unique chance of literally “looking in the face” of our ancestors and of visualizing human evolution and the history of mankind in greater detail and cogency.

M .M. Gerasimov with members of
his laboratory.
M .M. Gerasimov with members of
his laboratory.
Gerasimov’s bone tools for molding.

Mikhail Gerasimov’s Career
Mikhail Gerasimov as an Archaeologist
Reconstruction of the Face from the Cranium
The Predecessors
Elaboration of the method
Stages in the reconstruction process
Fields of application
Further development of the method
“Sinanthropus” (Member of the Species Homo Erectus)
Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man)
Neanderthal Child from Teshik-Tash
People of the Upper Paleolithic
People of the Mesolithic
People of the Early Iron Age
Drawings by M.M. Gerasimov