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Skull skill reveals face of past

Revealing the face of a woman from the chance discovery of an ancient skull sent shivers down the spine of college sculptor Adam Wilkinson, writes Fiona MacLeod.

Found in March by two schoolboys walking their dog on farmland near Outwoods, Staffordshire, the skull sparked a police investigation until experts established it dated back more than 600 years.

Ruling out a murder inquiry freed police forensic staff to lend the skull briefly to Stafford college's sculpture department, which used its anatomical expertise to recreate the face.

Experts had already established it belonged to a 30-year-old woman. College sculptor Adam Wilkinson and students on the college's HND in fine art and sculpture used that knowledge as a starting point.

He said: "We study anatomy because it is important to know how things are put together within the body."

Students analyse bone structure and muscle form to understand how to recreate the human form - techniques Adam used with particular help from student Dale Matthews to discover what the woman might have looked like 600 years ago.

It is a regular exercise for the students - but until now only fake skulls have been used.

Adam said: "I have never actually used a real skull and the experience was very thought-provoking. I grew in empathy for this woman as time went on.

"You build up a picture of what she would look like in your mind - you have an intuitive idea - but then there came a point when there was actually someone quite different looking back at me. It sent a shiver down my spine."

However, he stressed it is impossible to define every detail.

"It is as accurate an interpretation as possible," he said, "but a lot of it is guesswork. Even in forensic reconstructions, it is an estimation because you don't know for sure what eyelids were like or lips, and how do you work out what the ears were like without bone?

"But you can be quite sure because the way these areas sit on the face are quite universal."

Technician Adam is currently finishing a degree in conceptual sculpture at Wolverhampton after switching from a career as a scaffolder.

The 42-year-old said: "I wanted to change my life, I had had enough of scaffolding, and the thought processes in sculpture and scaffolding are very similar - you have to imagine what something will look like that isn't there."

Other departments in the college were also involved in the facial reconstruction project: photography students took step by step documentary pictures and craft students researched the era to create an historically-accurate headscarf for the final sculpture.

Adam added: "We will probably never know who she was or how she came to be in the field but it has been a pleasure getting to know her."

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