by Olga BAZANOVA, journalist
Faces of Ages Long Past (Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 2006) is a collection of sorts presenting 249 sculptural and graphic portraits of representatives of various civilizations who had lived hundreds and thousands of years ago. The book sums up the results of five decades of work by Galina Lebedinskaya, Cand. Sc. (Biol.). It was owing to the author's reconstruction of our ancestors' appearance on the basis of skeletal remains that she managed at long last "to see" what they looked like.
Mikhail Gerassimov, Dr. Sc. (Hist.)*, an anthropologist, archeologist and sculptor, has made a most important contribution to the elaboration of a method for the restoration of facial features on the basis of the skull, which has made it possible to compare visually the physical types of the people of past epochs and of our days. A subtle morphologist and artist, he discovered a certain correlation between the features of the bone structure and soft tissues that has formed the basis of his concept. Control tests conducted by Gerassimov and his disciples confirmed the accuracy of this approach. So it was used henceforward to study the evolution of formation and development of man's physical appearance, change in racial types in the course of migration and amalgamation of nations and also to determine someone's identity on the basis of the skull in criminological practice.
In 1950 Mikhail Gerassimov set up an anthropological reconstruction laboratory at the Institute of Ethnography
* See: M. Gerassimova, H. Medvedev. "Reincarnating Images of the Past," Science in Russia, No. 5, 1998. - Ed.
Process of graphic reconstruction of face.
of the USSR Academy of Sciences (now the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology named after N. N. Miklukho-Maklay), thus laying the foundation of research in this field in Russia. The fact is that Galina Lebedinskaya, who had a thorough knowledge in the sphere of normal anatomy and pathology of the bone system, was the best choice for work in the new division. She devoted special attention to the nose area, for it was the most difficult for face restoration. And she proved conclusively the actual correlation of a number of measurement indicators between soft and bone tissues.
Gerassimov's followers went on with his research with the use of anatomic, X-ray, palpation-and-marking* methods and also of ultrasound echolocation. Galina Lebedinskaya also actively used those methods in her research. Moreover, she organized expeditions to various regions of this country to study territorial versions of the dependence of the tissues of the head and face on the bones. As a result, assisted by her colleagues and disciples, she established a solid research-and-methodological foundation for large-scale research into the reconstruction of the appearance of people of ages long past.
The appearance of our ancestors can be restored on the basis of the skull both in the form of sculpture and graphically. However, the latter method is used more often as less laborious, especially when a large series of portraits has to be produced. Their quantity in this case is limited solely by the size of the group of people who had left the burial ground under study. Such a "gallery" of pictures makes it possible not only to gain an idea of changes in the physical type of the population group under study (which is no doubt of interest in itself), but also make a comparative analysis of its members on the basis of a number of racial-and-diagnostic indicators.
Graphic reconstruction, usually in profile, as a more informative (the face en face is as a rule reconstructed in criminological practice alone for identification of personality) is carried out on the basis of a craniogram, i. e., the drawing of the skull contour, obtained, say, with the help of computer or anthropologic photography. The "marks" of the thickness of soft tissues are placed on it at six points (specially calculated according to standards elaborated with the help of ultrasound echolocation), and, next, these "marks" are connected with a smooth line repeating the skull outline.
The reconstruction of the outer part of nose is one of the most complicated stages of work. Its chondral part, according to Gerassimov, repeats in many aspects the form of the skull's nose hole, serving as its mirror reflection, as it were. This fact served as a basis for anthropologists. And the thickness of lips, the location of the mouth and nasolabial fold corresponds to the height and cutting edge of the upper and lower incisors.
The shape of one's eyes is determined on the basis of certain pads, and the presence of an epicanthus - by the direction of the crest located in the upper part of the eye socket. If it is curved outside, it means that the restored face should have this fold of the upper eyelid, typical of Mongoloid race members. If it is curved inside, there was no such fold in the face. However, the dependence between the special morphological features of the skull and the position of the auricle has been insufficiently studied so far. And the practice of reconstruction shows that, in accordance with artistic canons, artists see to it that the height of the ear and nose should be the same.
As soon as the work on profile construction has been completed, a blueprint is taken of it, reflecting the contour of soft tissues. Next, it is slightly shaded to show the relief, the degree of protrusion of cheekbones, nose wings, and so on. The portrait is supplemented with hairdo, clothes and adornments if there is trustworthy information about them.
* The palpation-and-marking method is work with a large nomber of faces making it possible to trace and, consequently, confirm on a statistical level many regularities of correlation between the soft tissues of the head and the skull. - Ed.
Graphic reconstruction usually precedes (and serves as a kind of control for) its sculptural stage, with hard plasticine used for the purpose. First, the chewing muscles forming the face oval are reconstaicted with orientation toward the skull relief at the spots of their attachment. Next, a thin net of combs is placed on the skull surface, their height corresponding to the thickness of soft tissues on some or other sections, and the cells formed as a result are gradually filled in. Finally, the nose, eyes, eyebrows, and soon, are reconstaicted according to Gerassimov's methods with the adjustment of certain procedures.
Lebedinskaya's album is built according to the chronological principle. It opens with the section devoted to the prehistoric period when archanthropes, who inhabited that ancient world, were the first to leave the tropical and subtropical zones of Africa, Asia and Europe. The author shows the portraits of hominides of the Lower Paleolithic Age who inhabited the territories of what is now China, Northern Greece and France some 1.1 million, 350,000 - 400,000 and 450,000 years ago, respectively.
We've got an idea of those who lived in the Upper Paleolithic Age owing to several scores of discovered burial grounds. As a rule, separate sepulchral mounds, not multiple burial places, were discovered at sites that were highly varied and were accompanied by complicated rites. You will find in the album the pictures of people who inhabited the central part of European Russia* and Northern Czechia some 22,000 - 28,000 and 26,600 - 27,600 years ago.
The Mesolithic inhabitants of Eastern Europe are represented by the reconstructed portraits of those who had been interred in the burial grounds of Vasilyevka 111 (Ukraine) and Zvejniece (Latvia). Forty-four burial places were discovered
* See: T. Alexeyeva, "A Man from Sungir," Science in Russia, No. 5, 2002. - Ed.
in the former (dating back to the 5th - 4th millennia B. C.). The people were largely buried in a doubled-up position, with their flint tools placed next to them to accompany them to the nether world. The traces of ochre could be seen on a part of the skeletons. The 60 people who had been interred in the second necropolis (dating back to the 6th - 5th millennia B. C.) lay on their back in narrow pits and were covered by a thick layer of ochre. Discovered together with them were stone axes and bone tools, pendants of elk teeth, and a dagger with the handle in the elk head form.
The Neolithic Age has been studied extremely unevenly from the anthropological viewpoint. Pictures of the appearance of the residents of the forest zone of Eastern Europe, steppes and forest-steppes of Siberia and Chukotka provide the most exhaustive idea. For instance, several cultural layers with numerous burial places located there were discovered at the site (dating back some 7,000 - 5,000 years ago) in what is now Ivanovo Region. As a rule, only individual interments were discovered, with many of the remains covered by a thick layer of ochre and containing adornments made of stone, animal bones and teeth and amber. Limestone masonry tombstones, with ceramic tools and siliceous shale daggers accompanying the dead person, are typical of the necropolis located in the mouth of the taiga Zadyrma River, a tributary of the Angara (in the southwest of Eastern Siberia).
The Ust-Belsky Burial Ground (located at the confluence of the Belaya and the Angara), the oldest of all on mainland Chukotka, should be classified as dating back to the so-called vestigial Neolithic Age, i. e., to the 2nd millennium B. C., to be more precise, and it contains bronze artifacts. The fact is that the people who had left this monument had not yet mastered the skill of metalmaking or of manufacturing metal articles. The same is true of the people who represented civilizations (at the turn of the new era) of the
extreme northeastern part of the Asian continent and who must have been ancestors of present-day Eskimos.
You can see the pictures of people who inhabited European Russia in the Bronze Age period (the 2nd millennium В. С.) reconstructed on the basis of the materials of monuments discovered in the vicinity of the Moskva, Klyazma and Volga rivers. Of the greatest interest in the second group is probably the collective burial ground of 27 men aged from 25 to 30 with the signs of mortal wounds (fractured skulls, arrowheads inside the thorax). An axe mold form, crucibles for metal smelting, stone hammers and an anvil lay next to one of the skeletons.
Several interments in stone boxes have been studied in Central Tuva. Caucasoid-type skulls were discovered there. The fact is that on this territory people of that type coexisted with those of Mongoloid type, identical to the Trans-Baikal one, and this fact is corroborated by the portraits included in the book. Most interesting monuments of land cultivation civilization of the same period were discovered in Southern Turkmenia, in oases with artificial irrigation. One of them contained a burial ground dating back to the 4th - 3rd millennia B. C. The people buried there lay on their right side with bent legs, surrounded by unfinished bricks and accompanied by few primitive tools.
The early Iron Age (beginning of the 1st millennium B. C.) on the territory of Eastern Europe had a complicated variety of ethnic cultures. Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans (all of Iranian extraction) then made their appearance on the historical arena of what is now southern Russia and Ukraine. Forest and forest-and-steppe regions, in particular, the Middle Volga Area and the Kama Area, represented the eastern flank of the habitat of Finno-Ugric tribes. For instance, a long row of the burial ground stretches along the Volga high bank, close to the Kama's confluence with it. Artifacts discovered there included iron knives, arrows, and in the interments of wealthy people there were also gold ornaments and bronze mirrors. The anthropological type of the people buried there (a broad flat face with a slightly protruding nose) forms the substratum basis of the Finnish-speaking population residing in the region today.
The Middle Ages are represented in the album by the pictures of residents of Eastern Siberia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Turkmenia, the Crimea, the Balkans and of the Central European part of Russia in the 11th - 16th centuries. One of
them, a warrior, was buried together with his horse near what is today the Kvashnikovo settlement, in Saratov Region. His iron helmet inlaid with bronze plates and ornamented on the top with gilded plates in the form of a rosette with a hole for pin, has been well preserved. The remains of a chain armor look much like similar old Russian articles, but the horse harness (stirrups, bridles, buckles, and so on) is typical of the civilization of the Lower Volga Area and the steppes of the southeastern part of Russia.
The results of the excavations on the territory of the Manezhnaya Square in Moscow*, conducted in 1993 - 1995 by the Archeological Research Center led by Alexander Veksler, are very interesting, indeed. Burial places with tombstones and box-type white-stone sarcophagi were unearthed here among the remnants of the Church of St. Trinity in the Fields, on the territory of the Moses Monastery, which operated until 1765, and of a large cemetery. The opened burial places were found in a relatively good state of preservation. In many cases it was possible to determine even the nature of hairdos of town-dwellers of that period (women largely wore their tresses around the head then). One may have a look at a number of their sculptured portraits in the album.
A special section of the book is devoted to historical personalities, and trustworthiness of their appearance is confirmed by identification on the basis of the skull. The gallery includes the portraits of Ersari-Bai, the Turkmen Educator of the 14th century, Cossack chieftain of the Zaporozhye Force I. D. Sirko (? - 1684), Georgian King Archil II (1647 - 1713), the national hero of Yakutia Vasily Sanchary (first half of the 19th century), among others. Now we know exactly how Lieutenant General R. V. Bruce (1668 - 1720), who was chief commandant of St. Petersburg, looked, or S.P. Krasheninnikov (1711 - 1755)**, member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1750 and a pioneer of Kamchatka studies. Krasheninnikov's grave was discovered in 1963, on the territory of the Church of Annunciation, and his remains were moved to the necropolis of the St. Alexander Nevsky Monastery (St. Petersburg).
It is quite significant that Galina Lebedinskaya's book came off the press precisely before the centenary of birth of Gerassimov (1907 - 1970), for he had been her instructor and mentor since 1950. Exhibitions of Gerassimov's works, held in the Timiryazev State Biological Museum and in the State Darwin Museum, always attract the attention of the general public.
Illustrations supplied from G. V. Lebedinskaya s book "Faces of Ages Long Past"
* See: A. Logutin, "Through the Ages", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1999, - Ed.
** See: M. Tsiporukha, "The First Fundamental Description of Earth, Volcanoes, Geysers and Tsunamis", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2001. - Ed.
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