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Digital Facial Reconstruction of Tudor Dubliner with intermediate modelling stages shown on left

Revealing the Face of Tudor Dublin

In July 2014 archaeologists from Rubicon Heritage, monitoring Luas Cross City Utilities Works for GMC Ltd. on behalf of Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) uncovered a series of burials during works at College Green. A total of five burials were identified within a utilities trench located just north of the main entrance to Trinity College. Two of the burials were fully excavated, while the remaining three were only partially excavated as they extended beyond the limits of the utilities trench.

Burials at College Green (clockwise from left: SK1; SK2; SK3 & SK4; SK5) Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd.
Burials at College Green (clockwise from left: SK1; SK2; SK3 & SK4; SK5) (Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd.)

Initially it was thought that these burials might date to the medieval period, possibly even that they were Viking or Hiberno-Norse. However, post-excavation analysis of the burials—on behalf of TII—has revealed important new information about them, most significantly that all are of probable Tudor date (1485–1603).

Each of the burials was radiocarbon dated with one (SK5) dating to the mid–15th century, while the other four (SK1–4) dated from the mid–15th to early 17th centuries. This clustering of dates also correlated to the orientation of the burials. Four (SK1–4) were aligned southwest-northeast, while only one (SK5) was conventionally aligned (i.e. west-east).

Though the burials were closely grouped together, they do not appear to have been situated within a formal cemetery as might conventionally be associated with a church, monastery or similar institution (though a number of important institutions were located nearby). The atypical alignment of most of the burials lends weight to this argument. All of the gravecuts appear to have been quite shallow and there was no evidence for the use of coffins. Up until the 17th century this area of Dublin was an open space was known as Hoggen Green—one of the three main medieval commonages controlled by the municipality of Dublin (the other two commonages were Oxmantown Green and St. Stephen’s Green).

Evidence from the analysis of the skeletal remains suggested that these individuals came from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. There was clear evidence for childhood malnutrition and heavy manual labour during life. Four of the individuals (SK1 & SK3–5) were adolescents, so approximately 13–17 years of age at death. Unfortunately, as the skeleton is still growing and maturing at this age, it was not possible to establish if they were male or female. The fifth burial (SK2), however, was somewhat older—an adult male, approximately 5’6” in height and aged 25–35 years at death. Using isotope analysis, which examines the isotopes of oxygen and strontium deposited in tooth enamel as it forms during childhood, it was possible to determine a broad location of birth and early childhood for three individuals; two (SK2 and SK5) were most likely from Dublin, while one (SK1) was from either North-East Ireland or Wales/South-West England.

Digital facial reconstruction of Tudor Dubliner with intermediate modelling stages shown on left
Digital facial reconstruction of Tudor Dubliner with intermediate modelling stages shown on left (Liverpool John Moore’s University for Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd.)

As the skull of the adult burial (SK2) was well preserved a 3D Digital Facial Reconstruction was commissioned. This was carried out using established forensic anthropology methodologies by Professor Caroline Wilkinson and her team at Face Lab, Liverpool John Moore’s University. The first stage of this process was to create a 3D scan of the skull which then formed the basis of the digital reconstruction. Using well-established marker points and specialised software the main facial muscles, soft tissue and skin were layered onto the digitised model of the skull. Analysis of the skeletal remains had already established the age, gender, origin and likely social status of this individual and this information informed the final appearance of the reconstruction. Contemporary 16th and 17th century illustrations of Irish people were also reviewed, though these largely depict people of much higher social standing than this individual. There was no definitive evidence as to what his eye or hair colour would have been so—given that this man was from Dublin—the decision was made to use blue eyes and medium brown hair, fairly typical of Irish complexion and colouring. Clothing shown in the reconstruction was kept plain and simple reflecting the individual’s humble status. All of this has allowed us to see for perhaps the first time the face of an ordinary Dubliner during the Tudor period.