Four faces reconstructed by scientists from ancient skulls for a new TV series were displayed Thursday in Jerusalem.
The lifelike faces, fashioned from clay by a Canadian forensic artist, are based on the skulls of four people whose remains were unearthed in Israel. They include a male, perhaps a hunter, who lived 6,000 years ago and was buried in a Judean Desert cave; a baby interred inside a vase underneath a Jordan Valley house in the same period; a woman thought to be a Philistine who lived on the coast near Ashkelon 3,000 years ago; and a Galilean male who lived around the time of Jesus.
The four-part series, “Biblical Forensics: Real Faces of the Bible,” will have its first screening on Canadian television this weekend.
The skulls were reconstructed for the show by an Israeli forensic anthropologist, Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University, with the help of technicians using 3D imaging equipment. Victoria Lywood, the forensic artist, then produced clay renderings of what the four might have looked like when they were alive.
The reconstructed faces, which Lywood called “facial approximations” in a nod to the rather inexact business of drawing conclusions about a face based only on a skull, “are made in the same manner that you would use if you found unidentified skeletal remains and the police needed to identify the person,” she said.
“Even though these are archaeological reconstructions, they’ve been done in the same manner as we would use to identify people so that relatives could possibly help give a name to that skeleton,” Lywood said.
The show is produced by Simcha Jacobovici, known for popularizing biblical archaeology on TV as host of “The Naked Archaeologist,” which aired in the US on the History Channel. His work tends to draw public interest, and criticism from some archaeologists who charge him with playing loose with the facts in pursuit of entertainment value.
Jacobovici, an Emmy winner, is undoubtedly an able entertainer, and his formula is very much in evidence here: The show links the Philistine woman, for example, to the Philistine seductress Delilah, and includes a re-enactment in which an actress playing a scantily clad version of the biblical character is anointed with aromatic oils. In another segment, a burly actor cast as her lover, Samson, dispatches a group of armed Philistines with his bare hands.
The 6,000-year-old infant, the show suggests without much by way of convincing evidence, might have been the victim of human sacrifice — linking his story to that of Abraham and Isaac.
The Galilean, inevitably, becomes “the man who knew Jesus.”
However accurate the characters’ back stories or the facial reconstructions themselves, a spectator standing in front of the lifelike busts might be struck by how much they resemble people who might pass by on a Jerusalem street today.
A viewer’s interest in the series might hinge on how interesting he finds the fact that these “real faces of the Bible” end up looking pretty much like us.