One of the world’s oldest and most intact skeletal remains – and one that also has ties to the mana whenua – has been “brought back to life” by a digital production company in Dunedin.
Jeasy Sehgal, creative director of Graphic Monk, explains that while the company isn’t the first to reconstruct the 9,000-year-old skull of Kennewick Man, it’s the first to use technology “to make him human”.
Sehgal’s team used Reallusion software to transform reference images and hours of research into an animated person, complete with emotional responses, rather than a “simple 3D character”.
He said the story of Kennewick Man was a reminder of how people take museums for granted and how history can come to life.
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The remains were found in the 1990s in the US state of Washington and have never been put on display.
He was fought for decades by the military, scientists who wanted to study him, and Indigenous people from the Confederate Tribes of the Colville Reservation, who wanted the man reburied.
The prehistoric remains were finally reburied in 2017, but a 3D scan was taken and DNA was taken.
More than 9,000 years old, Kennewick Man’s DNA contained connections to many now distinct cultures, including the Moriori who migrated to the Chatham/Rēkohu Islands, according to an article in the Smithsonian magazine.
People disagreed with what his features would have looked like. The Dunedin team chose a combination of the clay models made over the past decades, as well as more recent DNA discoveries.
It was the connection to New Zealand’s whenua mana that excited Sehgal. He said his team wanted to show how the technology could be used beyond video games and movies, and hoped that in the future they could collaborate with museums in Aotearoa New Zealand.
“There’s so much history in New Zealand…imagine bringing Te Papa to life. You add augmented reality…so we could interact with our ancestors. That excites me.
The project was undertaken as an internal challenge and took the team four hours to complete what Sehgal said would have taken weeks with other technologies.