University of Dundee

Forensic artisits rebuild face of Cleopatra's sister

26 Mar 2009

The face of the sister of Cleopatra, the last Egyptian Pharoah, has been brought back to life by forensic art experts at the University of Dundee.

The forensic art team at the university - who last year reconstructed the face of the German composer Bach - were commissioned to recreate the face of Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe for a new television documentary `Cleopatra - Portrait of a Killer’ which airs on BBC 1 tomorrow (March 23rd).

The remains of what is believed to be Arsinoe were found in Ephesus, in Turkey.

There was plenty of sibling rivalry between Princess Arsinoe and her powerful sister Cleopatra. It is widely believed the queen ordered Mark Antony to murder her sister, a theory explored in tonight’s programme, which has been made by Brave New Media for BBC 1.

In this case the evidence from the skull and skeleton of Arsinoe has proved very revealing, as it has shown she may have shown both European and ancient Egyptian characteristics.

The Unit for Forensic and Medical Art at Dundee, led by Dr Caroline Wilkinson, uses state-of-the-art facial reconstruction and forensic techniques to generate images and models from human remains.

In this case the forensic artists started off using pictures of the skull from the skeleton believed to be Arsinoe’s. From those Dr Chris Rynn was able to build a 3-D computer model of the head, to which was then added skin, hair and facial features.

'The skull that was found is not complete but from examining the bone structure and shape we are able to add the lower part of the jaw and then render the skull as a full 3-D model,' said Caroline Wilkinson.

'Digital artist Janice Aitken then adds skin colour, hair and eye colour. To do that we combine aspects of the forensic evidence with the historical data to gain a picture of how the person would look.'

In this instance, Janice was able to use a reference from close to home as she assessed the likely skin colour of Arsinoe.

'Although it is not possible to tell the exact skin, eye and hair colour from the skull, the historical background information and shape of the skull suggested a mixed ancestry,' said Janice.

'Last year, through the internet, I was lucky enough to meet for the first time my half sister from my Dad's second marriage. She is an attractive young woman in her early twenties and her parents are from different ethnic backgrounds. When I was looking for references for the colouring of Arsinoe's face, I was intrigued by the similarities. Subsequently, I used my sister as a reference when I estimated the skin colour and eyes.'

'Although the relationship between Arsinoe and Cleopatra, who were half sisters, parallels that of my sister Isla and myself, I am pleased to say that there is no sibling rivalry between us and I have never tried to have her murdered! In fact, I'm sure that Isla was pleased to have been compared to an Egyptian Princess.'

The Unit for Forensic and Medical Art is a dynamic collaboration at the University of Dundee between the College of Life Sciences and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, and is part of the University’s internationally renowned Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification.

The Centre's work has widespread applications, including human identification, archaeological investigation, medical illustration and museum & media exhibition.

Staff members are trained in a range of art skills from the traditional to state-of-the-art technologies. These include the application of virtual reality sculpture systems for facial reconstruction. The Centre provides forensic and medical art services both in-house and to the wider community. It also teaches a professional masters programme to support the transition from undergraduate study to the establishment of professional practice within contemporary forensic fields.