La Belle Sailor Forensic Model

Bringing bones to life

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It is one thing to find objects the colonists brought with them from Europe. It is quite another to recover the actual remains of the people themselves. Finding the bones made us feel a very personal connection with La Salle’s colonists and appreciate their misfortune even more.

La Belle Principal Archaeologist Dr. James Bruseth

Before the bones of a French sailor found during the excavation of the 17th century French sailing ship La Belle were buried during a special ceremony at the Texas State Cemetery, computerized tomography or “CT” scans of the skeleton were taken. The scans were used to create perfect three-dimensional resin replicas of the skull for teaching purposes.

Forensic sculptor Amanda Danning used a replica of the sailor’s skull to mold the shape of the face and reveal his possible appearance in life. Her process, visible on the forensic model’s left side, included applying soft tissue “depth markers” specific to age, gender, and ethnicity. Next, she formed key face muscles, soft tissue, and skin out of clay. The finished half of the face on the right side of the model features wrinkles and lines appropriate to the man’s age and hard life, signs of his broken nose, and a jaw structure based on tooth and gum damage scientists identified during examination of his skull.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

La Belle Sailor Forensic Model Artifact from Houston, Texas
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