BACKGROUND: Forensic anthropologists are putting together the pieces to determine what George Washington looked like as a young man, at age 45, and as president.
ABOUT FORENSIC ANTHROPOLOGY: Fans of C.S.I. are familiar with the practice of forensic anthropology: it is often used to identify human remains. A good forensic anthropologist can tell a lot about a body from the bones: gender, age, height, weight, even racial group. Ridges where muscle was attached to the bone can help determine a body's physique in life, or whether that person was right or left handed (there would be more muscle attachment on the bones on the dominant side.) But only part of the facial shape can be determined from the underlying bone structure; the shape of the eyes, tip of the nose and the lips are largely guesswork. So facial reconstruction usually generates a resemblance to an individual, but not an exact likeness.
RE-CREATING GEORGE: A bust of Washington, believed to be the best existing likeness, was scanned into a computer. The anthropologists them created computer models, gradually adding the aspects that would change Washington's appearance as he aged. The computer then modeled the images at ages 19, 45, and 57.
WHAT'S THE POINT: Based on the computer models, along with dozens of other artifacts -- including analysis of snippets of hair and clothing, and his dentures -- specialists at Washington's home in Mount Vernon will build life-sized models of our first president at those different points in his life. The models should go on display in 2006 as part of a new $85 million education center and museum at the site.
SAVING FACE: Washington began losing his teeth in his 20s, and went through several pairs of dentures. Historians believe he was portrayed with a closed mouth and tight lips because he was embarrassed by the state of his teeth. Because of the accompanying bone loss, the shape of Washington's face probably changed dramatically as he aged. By the time he reached his 50s, his face was crooked: his chin receded on the left and protruded on the right because of the tooth loss.