Case Report

International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 123, Issue 4, pp 333-344

First online:

Geometric morphometric methods for three-dimensional virtual reconstruction of a fragmented cranium: the case of Angelo Poliziano

  • S. BenazziAffiliated withDepartment of Palaeoanthropology and Messel Research, Senckenberg Research Institute Email author 
  • , E. StansfieldAffiliated withDepartment of Palaeoanthropology and Messel Research, Senckenberg Research Institute
  • , C. MilaniAffiliated withDepartment of Genetics, Evolution and Anthropology, University of Parma
  • , G. GruppioniAffiliated withDepartment of History and Methods for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, University of Bologna

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The process of forensic identification of missing individuals is frequently reliant on the superimposition of cranial remains onto an individual's picture and/or facial reconstruction. In the latter, the integrity of the skull or a cranium is an important factor in successful identification. Here, we recommend the usage of computerized virtual reconstruction and geometric morphometrics for the purposes of individual reconstruction and identification in forensics. We apply these methods to reconstruct a complete cranium from facial remains that allegedly belong to the famous Italian humanist of the fifteenth century, Angelo Poliziano (1454–1494). Raw data was obtained by computed tomography scans of the Poliziano face and a complete reference skull of a 37-year-old Italian male. Given that the amount of distortion of the facial remains is unknown, two reconstructions are proposed: The first calculates the average shape between the original and its reflection, and the second discards the less preserved left side of the cranium under the assumption that there is no deformation on the right. Both reconstructions perform well in the superimposition with the original preserved facial surface in a virtual environment. The reconstruction by means of averaging between the original and reflection yielded better results during the superimposition with portraits of Poliziano. We argue that the combination of computerized virtual reconstruction and geometric morphometric methods offers a number of advantages over traditional plastic reconstruction, among which are speed, reproducibility, easiness of manipulation when superimposing with pictures in virtual environment, and assumptions control.


Virtual anthropology Cranium reconstruction Geometric morphometrics Superimposition techniques