(P080)
Depiction of the Dead: ethical challenges and cognitive bias
Location SOAS Senate House - S116
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 13:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Caroline Wilkinson (Liverpool John Moores University) email
  • Kathryn Smith (Liverpool John Moores University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

How does cognitive bias affect forensic facial depiction or the depiction of the faces of people from the past in archaeological investigations? What are the ethical challenges associated with facial images of the deceased and their presentation?

Long abstract

The depiction of faces of the deceased can be controversial and challenging, both in production and presentation. How do we balance the aims of public exhibition with the complexities of facial perception and appreciation, and do contemporary digital technologies present new and multifaceted challenges?

This panel welcomes papers discussing the ethical challenges of presentation of faces of the dead.

In addition, cognitive bias may affect the decisions we make relating to facial appearance and public exhibition, and this applies to both forensic and archaeological applications. Facial depictions utilised in forensic identifications and archaeological investigations are not portraits and cannot wholly represent the appearance of the subject. Yet in forensic cases there is a fundamental struggle between the objective of recognition/identification and the desire to produce a realistic and accurate image, and in archaeological cases there is a similar balance necessary between evidence-based and subjective interpretation. How do we make the decisions relating to skin colour, eye colour, hair colour/style, clothing, signs of ageing, BMI, pathology, trauma and ethnic group, and how do we know that these decisions do not reflect the cognitive bias associated with our understanding of ancient or contemporary populations?

This panel also welcomes papers that debate the challenges associated with the depiction of people from the past and/or contemporary forensic casework, especially in relation to cognitive bias and interpretation.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Introduction to cognitive bias in relation to facial depiction from human remains

Author: Caroline Wilkinson (Liverpool John Moores University) email

Short abstract

This paper explores how cognitive bias affect facial depiction from human remains, using examples from forensic identification and archaeological investigation. The ethical challenges associated with facial images of the deceased and their presentation are discussed, along with the effects of historical fame and judgements of personality and character.

Long abstract

Professor Caroline Wilkinson has been involved in facial depiction from human remains for over 25 years, and this expertise has a controversial and challenging history. In forensic cases there is a fundamental struggle between the objective of recognition/identification and the desire to produce a realistic and accurate image, and in archaeological cases there is a similar balance necessary between evidence-based and subjective interpretation.

This paper will discuss how experts balance the aims of public exhibition with the complexities of facial perception and appreciation, and debates the challenges associated with recent advances in digital technologies and CGI techniques. This paper describes how decisions are made relating to skin colour, eye colour, hair colour/style, clothing, signs of ageing, BMI, pathology, trauma and ethnic group, and how cognitive bias associated with our understanding of ancient or contemporary populations can be limited and/or accepted.

Typological archives: incarcerated flesh, untold histories and modern dilemmas

Author: Tobias Houlton (University of the Witwatersrand) email

Short abstract

The University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) houses 1110 typology masks and one full body cast, taken of African persons. Born from an antiquated science and Eurocentric chauvinism, this historic collection demands a renewed enquiry to their purpose, meaning and value in modern times.

Long abstract

Housed in the School of Anatomical Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) is the little-known "Raymond A. Dart Collection of African Life and Death Masks". This comprises 1110 typology masks with an uncanny association between early-twentieth century anthropology and Eurocentric imperialism, fascism, racism and eugenics. Related to this collection is a single full body cast of a young deceased ‡Khomani San woman. Identified via historical and comparative craniofacial analysis to be /Keri-/Keri. In life her face was cast during the July 1936 Wits Kalahari expedition. From September 1936 till January 1937, she formed part of a "Bushmen Camp" themed attraction at the Empire Exhibition in Milner Park (Johannesburg). By 1939, her lone premature death in a colonial hospital led to continued anthropological exploitation. Her full body was cast then dissected, with skeletal remains retained. Her cast and articulated skeleton was subsequently displayed as a macabre diorama.

The case of /Keri-/Keri is not isolated. Numerous Africans were subjected to full body and facial casting for typological investigations, and to immortalise the Khoisan race before presumed extinction. The mid-twentieth century eventually witnessed a withdrawal from typological concepts to those recognising the complex influence of genetics, the environment and diet in morphology. Though anthropology has advanced, remnants of an undesirable past remain hidden in archives with uncertainties as to their appropriate storage, use and display. These historic collections thus demand a renewed enquiry to their purpose, meaning and value in modern times.

Exploring cognitive bias when texturing a facial depiction of King Robert the Bruce

Authors: Mark Roughley (Liverpool John Moores University) email
Caroline Wilkinson (Liverpool John Moores University) email
Sarah Shrimpton email
Ralph Moffat (Glasgow Museums) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the decisions made during the process of adding photorealistic textures to a facial reconstruction of Robert the Bruce, 1st King of Scotland that would depict his most likely facial appearance, based upon interpretation of a skull cast and historical data.

Long abstract

In 2016, Face Lab at LJMU and the University of Glasgow revealed a facial depiction of Robert the Bruce, 1st King of Scotland. Robert the Bruce is a key historical figure and his appearance is a significant issue for historians, especially the likelihood of leprosy, as there are no contemporary portraits or written descriptions of his facial appearance.

This paper explores the decisions made during the process of adding photorealistic textures to the facial reconstruction that would depict his most likely facial appearance, based upon interpretation of a skull cast and historical data.

Decisions about hair and eye colour, clothing and armour and the presentation of mild leprosy were made based upon knowledge of the historical figure. How did cognitive bias influence the decisions made during the texturing process? How did the interpretation of historical information concerning Robert the Bruce, specifically relating to hair and eye colour, impact on the final image? Multiple versions of the facial depiction were produced; with/without leprosy and with/without armour, to enable the final images to present the most likely appearance of Robert the Bruce, and what did we learn about cognitive bias during this process?

The release of a facial depiction leads to global cultural enrichment, especially in relation to Scottish medieval history, as a facial depiction has the power to change the way we see this King. This paper discusses the ethical challenges faced when depicting the face of a king.

Facing up to facelessness: constructing virtual humans in archaeological visualisations

Author: Ellen Finn (Trinity College Dublin) email

Short abstract

Faceless avatars haunt our everyday. Whether on Twitter, Facebook or otherwise, we are constantly confronted with human-like figures that lack any discernible facial characteristics. But what challenges arise when these faceless 'grey agents' come to populate digital archaeological visualisations?

Long abstract

Virtual human bodies are at first glance the most evocative element of a visualisation of the past, our empathetic eyes immediately and instinctively drawn to even the simplest silhouette similar to our own form. Indeed, we are all hard-wired specialists: our brain intuitively reacting and recognizing the use of 3D characters that are physically dissimilar to our human selves.

Yet, in many archaeological visualisations, we are met with textureless, faceless mannequin-type figures, often acting as glorified scale-bars for the architectural visualisation within which they are placed. They are identifiably human in form, yet lack the very individuating facial characteristics we are cognitively accustomed to recognise. These 'grey agents' are fundamentally visualisations of ancient people(s) and thus elicit certain presuppositions on the basis of their basic bodily forms. Their production begs the question of why, when virtual humans are often cited as 'repeopling' the past, are we content with a singular 'repersoning'? Is the depiction of faceless, clone-like human figures on the basis of fragmentary data a denial of the diversity and individuality of the people of the past? Is it ethical?

This paper will work to highlight that it is this duality that we confront fundamental complications in the creation of virtual human physiques: our data is partial, yet the resultant figure must be whole; we might wish to include human figures in our archaeological visualisations, but we must recognise that the use of individuals' remains as formative data continually blurs the line between deceased and digital.

One of Us? Navigating 'rehumanisation' questions in the depiction and display of ancient Egyptians from the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum

Authors: Kathryn Smith (Liverpool John Moores University) email
Caroline Wilkinson (Liverpool John Moores University) email
Mark Roughley (Liverpool John Moores University) email
Juan Garcia (Johns Hopkins University) email
Sanchita Balachandran (Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum) email

Short abstract

This paper considers how innovative scientific and curatorial approaches have figured in attempts to 'rehumanise' two ancient Egyptian individuals for display at Johns Hopkins University, whilst encouraging critical interrogation of how we construct knowledge at the interface of art and science.

Long abstract

For professionals engaging with collections holding human remains, responsible and respectful stewardship has demanded close attention in recent years, particularly in the context of repatriation claims. But what of human remains for which there is little or no demand for repatriation, and which lend themselves to highly aesthetic treatment? In the context of recent exhibitions and reinvestment in ancient Egyptian galleries in local/regional museums in the UK, it appears that exhibiting such artefacts continues to capture the popular imagination, and lend cultural cachet to the institutions concerned. What many of these new initiatives have in common is the utilisation of sophisticated imaging technologies to create digital representations of human remains and related artefacts. Claims made for these technologies centre on their non-invasive - and therefore ostensibly more ethically acceptable - affordances: they permit the exploration, analysis and reconstruction of artefacts, particularly mummies, in ways that not only conserve the material integrity of these artefacts, but also allow for new display considerations and public engagement opportunities.

This paper focuses on the facial depictions of two ancient Egyptian individuals who have been closely associated with the history of Johns Hopkins University since the early twentieth century. Carried out by LJMU's Face Lab in close consultation with an interdisciplinary team at Johns Hopkins, we consider how scientific technology, digital imaging and critically-engaged exhibition design complicate attempts to render human remains more 'recognizably human', and what might be at stake, for exhibition makers and visitors alike, in projecting contemporary ideas onto past people.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.