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CHS Forensics Students Reconstruct Face of 15th Century British Monarch

Forensics students at Cleburne High School have been engaged in a unique lab exercise which has also touched on European history and art in reconstructing the face of a 15th century British monarch.

            Modeled after an actual forensics event, following the discovery in 2012 of the remains of England’s King Richard III, students used polymer clay in forming layers of muscle and skin onto plastic skulls in creating the facial reconstruction of the monarch. British archeologists unearthed the skeletal remains of Richard III during the excavation of a parking lot that had once been the site of a church demolished in 1536. Twenty-first century forensic methods, including the use of DNA from the family line of the king’s sister, determined the 500-year old skeleton was indeed Richard III. Paintings of the monarch, who died at age 33, assisted experts in the skull and facial reconstruction, which also determined the cause of his death—wounds to the head suffered in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

            “This is the first time we have involved students in this kind of lab,” forensics teacher Dawn Broadway said. “We’re doing crime scene reconstruction right now. When you find a victim and there is no evidence at the scene to help you identify the remains, facial reconstruction is used to assist with identification. This is a really cool lab and I’m so glad we now have it. This gives students some hands-on experience that is very close to the real thing. It’s been a difficult lab, but it’s also been fun. The classes have worked really hard.”

            Students worked in teams in recreating the face of Richard III. One side of the skull’s face shows tissue and muscle, with skin covering “what lies beneath” on the other side. Students had to conduct comparative measurements to determine the thickness of the facial muscle on their subject in replicating the structure and features of their subject.

For senior Abby Stephens, the lab was affirmation that the world of forensic science is where she wants to be.

            “This was lots of fun and super interesting,” Stephens said. “This is what I want to do as a career, specifically working as a forensic psychologist. I’ve always been really artistic, so this lab aligned with that. I feel art should be considered a core subject because it involves lots of problem solving.”

            Teammate and fellow senior Amy Wallen is taking forensics because she thought it sounded interesting.

            “I’ve always been interested in real cases and unsolved mysteries,” she said. “I’ve never done something like this. I’m the least artistic person there is, but I got to help out a lot as a member of our team. Making this blank skull look like an actual human being definitely got me out of my comfort zone. I thought the hardest part was getting the skin on and making it look like a real person’s.”

            KIM Seattle, manufacturer of the facial reconstruction kits, describes the product as a “way to put a face on history,” while students learn about cranial anatomy.

            Milagros Alfaro said the lab, and her team’s finished product, went better than she expected.

            “Working together really helped,” she said. “We were each in charge of a different segment of the process. Everyone helped each other. It took us three times to get the cheek muscles right. The nose was really hard. We tried to make it manly, and the point of the nose had to be right. We needed to keep the nose even with the other proportions and contours of his face.”

            While the English king might not be a familiar character in history to the students, a movie from their childhood helped to put a “face” on their lab subject. The character of Lord Farquaad from “Shrek” is based on the features of Richard III.

            “I really liked this,” MaKena Sands said. “Doing this for the first time, I’m pretty proud of what our team achieved. I’m currently looking at information on becoming a criminologist, in the study of the behavior of criminals. It was interesting to see how facial reconstruction actually works. I liked the hands-on of this, and our finished product turned out better than we thought. Everything had to be exact—if it wasn’t, it would be obvious when the skin went on.”

            Whether students are taking forensics solely out of interest, or contemplating a career in crime solving, they say this new lab exercise is a good addition to the program at CHS.

            “Forensics is a huge part of the justice system—for the living and the dead,” Stephens said. “For those who died, it’s important that their story is told. Their families deserve to know what happened. What we did in this lab relates to that. It was a great learning experience and lots of fun.”

 

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Cleburne High School students Abby Stephens, left, and Oli Kamp, right, work with their forensic teammates in making final touches to their facial reconstruction of England’s King Richard III. This lab exercise new to Cleburne’s forensic program is based on the actual process used to identify the remains of the 15th century monarch, which were discovered in 2012.