A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The forensic genius of Mikhail Gerasimov
In most of the former Soviet Union, when Mikhail Gerasimov is remembered, it is as the archaeologist who was single-handedly responsible for unleashing World War II by opening the cursed tomb of a great Mongol warrior. In the West, for those familiar with the novel Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith or the movie of the same name starring William Hurt, there was another image of Gerasimov: a genius Soviet scientist named "Andreev," who scuttled about his laboratory at Moscow's Institute of Ethnology, reconstructing the faces of murder victims who had their faces peeled off in a grisly attempt to hide their identity. In reality, Gerasimov's work was an eccentric combination of paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, and forensic science. It was a way to "gaze on the faces of those long dead," he wrote in his 1968 memoir, The Face Finder. Although he was not the first scientist to re-create faces from skulls, he was the first to use a scientific method; the field of forensic anthropology that he helped establish is now responsible for images of everything from the earliest inhabitants of the Americas to--most recently and controversially--what Jesus might have looked like.
Eve Conant is a correspondent for Newsweek in Moscow.