Finding Mr. X: What did the skull reveal?

The skeleton had so far revealed Mr. X’s age and stature, and key details about his medical history and habitual behaviours. Professor Martin Evison continued his osteological examination by studying the skull.

This is a replica of Mr. X’s skull.  This skull is of Indo-European ancestry and has worn molars and missing incisors in a similar manner to Mr X
This is a replica of Mr. X’s skull. This skull is of Asian ancestry and has worn molars and missing incisors in a similar manner to Mr. X

Sex

Mr. X’s skull had a sloping forehead with a prominent supraorbital ridge. The upper eye margins did not appear to be sharp and the lateral corners of the orbits were square. The chin appeared rather square and the angle of the outer edge of the jaw bone was quite acute. These characteristics indicated that the skull was likely to be male.

Age

Dental eruption is particularly important in attempting to age the skeleton of a child, but in adulthood, the extent of tooth wear can also provide clues.

One of the best approaches is to measure tooth root translucency. As we age, we lose density in our teeth and by taking thin sections of the roots and measuring the amount of light that passes through them, an estimate of age can be made. Combined with his examination of the pelvis, Martin was able to confirm the man was at least middle-aged and estimate that he could have been over 60.

This is a replica of Mr. X’s demonstrating significant tooth loss of adult teeth This is a replica of Mr. X’s demonstrating significant tooth loss of adult teeth

Ethnicity

Mr. X’s craniofacial dimensions, particularly the width of his nasal aperture and width of his nasal bridge fell within the Indo-European average suggesting that he was either European, Middle Eastern or from the Indian Subcontinent. This information also matched the partial DNA profile that was obtained.

A partial DNA profile was obtained which suggested that he was three times more likely to have originated outside the United Kingdom and more likely, he was from the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent.

This is a replica of Mr. X’s skull showing that the surface of the molars had been ground away by repetitive chewing
This is a replica of Mr. X’s skull showing that the surface of the molars had been ground away by repetitive chewing

Habitual behaviour

An unusual habitual activity had worn his molars down and had caused some of his tooth enamel to dissolve. He had clearly chewed something regularly that was causing both physical and chemical abrasion of his teeth. Did he constantly chew tobacco or something similar?

Put together with the partial DNA evidence, it was surmised that the substance he could have chewed was khat, a narcotic tobacco-like substance used in Yemen.

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Forensic Facial Reconstruction: Finding Mr. X

The University of Sheffield