On November 19, 2013, a team from the University of Chicago Medicine performed an extremely high-resolution CT scan on the skull pictured above. The nearly new 256-slice scanner has been in clinical use for a little more than 150 days, since the Center for Care and Discovery opened earlier this year. The skull is about 150 centuries old.
This cranium has celebrity status. It belongs to “Magdalenian Girl,” a nearly complete skeleton excavated in France in 1911 and acquired by The Field Museum in 1926. For years the bones were thought to be those of a teen-aged girl because her wisdom teeth had not erupted. In 2006, however, a new analysis, including dental x-rays, led Field Museum scientists to conclude that she was not a girl but actually a 25- to 35-year-old woman—with impacted wisdom teeth, the oldest such recorded case—at the time of her death.
Her skeleton has been housed in the anthropological collections at The Field Museum since the 1920s. JP Brown, Regenstein Conservator for Pacific Anthropology, and R.D. Martin, the A. Watson Armour III Curator of Biological Anthropology (check out his recent book), are currently using CT-scanning to re-study the skeleton using cutting-edge imaging tools.
Unfortunately, the skull of Magdalenian Woman was damaged during the original excavation and needed reconstruction. “Areas painted in black in the photograph indicate places where plaster was used to restore the skull several decades ago,” according to Martin. “The plaster is so hard and so solidly attached to the preserved bony structures that a new reconstruction could only be accomplished using virtual images.”
A preliminary reconstruction using a standard CT-scanner permitted correction of the wrongly reconstructed facial area, but also revealed that “higher-resolution scanning would be needed for a fully reliable reconstruction,” Martin explained. This is why he and Brown turned to Christopher Straus, MD, associate professor of radiology, and Nick Gruszauskas, PhD, technical director of the Human Iimaging Research Office at the University of Chicago Medicine, for state-of-the-art medical imaging. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Daynes, a French sculptor, has re-created and fleshed out Magdalenian Woman’s face, with prominent cheekbones, elaborate hair-beads and a subtle Mona Lisa smile. But for some reason her teeth, which many women in their 30s would envy even today, are not visible.
Watch a video of the construction of the skull of Magdalenian Woman from the Field Museum: