International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 123, Issue 4, pp 333–344 | Cite as

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

  • S. Benazzi
  • E. Stansfield
  • C. Milani
  • G. Gruppioni
Case Report


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 



We thank Philipp Gunz for providing the formulae that he developed in order to reconstruct missing data in Mathematica. We wish to express our thanks to the staff of the Radiology Department of Ravenna Hospital (Ravenna, Italy) and Clinica Pinna Pintor (Turin, Italy), in particular to Dr Gino Carnazza, for support in this project on the technical aspects of CT scanning. Thanks to Prof. Giacomo Giacobini for help in the choice of the reference skull. Many thanks to Stephanie Kozakowski for copy editing our manuscript. This work was supported by EU Marie Curie Training Network MRTN-CT-2005-019564 EVAN.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Benazzi
    • 1
  • E. Stansfield
    • 1
  • C. Milani
    • 2
  • G. Gruppioni
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Palaeoanthropology and Messel ResearchSenckenberg Research InstituteFrankfurt am MainGermany
  2. 2.Department of Genetics, Evolution and AnthropologyUniversity of ParmaParmaItaly
  3. 3.Department of History and Methods for the Conservation of Cultural HeritageUniversity of BolognaRavennaItaly

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