Facial expert on tour

AMY WILLIAMSBroome Advertiser

Putting flesh and a face on the skull of a homicide victim, of a 600-year-old Maori elder or a 17,000 year old Indonesian “hobbit” is not what most of us would call a normal occupation.

But for Dr Susan Hayes, who is in Broome to hold public talks and workshops on her work, evidence-based facial approximation is a dream job.

For the past 12 years she has combined her love of history, art and science, in projects.

Dr Hayes is based at the University of WA in Perth but is often on the road, likening her lifestyle to a musician’s, going from gig to gig all over the world.

A big career highlight was in 2009, working on a Maori elder nicknamed “Aunty”, for the iwi Rangitane people.

Aunty was believed to be among the first Maoris to reach New Zealand, whose bones had been scattered across New Zealand’s museums before being repatriated.

But why did they need a face for the name. “The Maori people wanted their ancestors to be respected as more than scientific curiosities,” she said. “They were really pleased with the results – and it was the first time anyone really cared about what I did, apart from the academic world.”

Dr Hayes worked on facial approximation for unidentified female remains for Sydney homicide, and said though it produced leads, the remains were unidentified.

“There are limitations – because this is evidence-based, it’s also got to do with averages,” she said. Because she has only worked on “modern humans”, Dr Hayes said she was excited about her next project, to approximate the face of her first “archaic hominin”, Homo floresiensis LB1 or “The Hobbit”, a 17,000-year-old female skeleton, found in 2003 in a Liang Bua, Indonesia cave.

She will hold a talk at Kimberley Training Institute library this Thursday at 6pm and weekend clay/drawing workshops.

For details, contact 0408 784 512.

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