Face of Notorious “Witch” Digitally Reconstructed 300 Years after her Death
A group of elite forensic scientists from the University of Dundee, has reconstructed digitally the face of one of Scotland's most notorious “witches”, Lilias Adie. The only documents that helped them with their demanding scientific work, were a few photographs of her skull.
Notorious Scottish Witch’s File Reinvestigated Three Centuries After her Death
Despite being one of the most famous “witches” in Scottish history, the name Lilias Adie probably doesn’t ring any bells with most of us today. The poor woman committed suicide in 1704 behind bars, anticipating that she would be sentenced and burned, as was the fate of most women accused of witchcraft at the time. Instead, she preferred to take her own life in her cell. Within a few hours she ended up being buried on a beach beneath a heavy stone slab in order to stop her rising from the grave, as The Scotsman reports. Her crime? She confessed – after she had been tortured – that the Devil was her lover and master.
Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs uncovered the Torryburn slab. Credit: BBC
Her remains would finally be exhumed during the 19th Century by antiquarians, and her skull would end up in the St Andrews University Museum (where it was photographed) before it went missing during the 20th Century. As The Scotsman reports, a new investigation for BBC Scotland’s Time Travels program has examined historic accounts of her death, as well as the few saved photographs of her remains.
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A photograph of the skull from the grave of Lilias Adie (National Library of Scotland)
Forensic Scientists Reconstruct her Face
A reconstruction of Lilias Adie’s face has been revealed three years after archaeologists unearthed the slab they thought she was buried under. According to local folklore, corpses of people who had died a bad death, such as suicides and executed people, could come back from the dead to torment the living. The same belief was applied to witches. For this reason, heavy stones were placed on top of such burials to prevent the deceased from leaving their grave.
Some of the best forensic scientists from Dundee University managed to digitally recreate Adie’s face, using the only remaining evidence - the few photographs of her skull that were still available. The accounts and reports of her accusers describe a woman, possibly in her mid-sixties, who may have been frail for some time, with failing eyesight. They also painted her as a brave woman who refused to give the names of other women that the local authorities considered suspect of witchcraft. Historian Louise Yeoman, an expert on witchcraft in Scotland, who is featured on the BBC program, initially focused on the injustice and torture this poor woman suffered, “It’s sad to think her neighbors expected some terrifying monster when she was actually an innocent person who’d suffered terribly. The only thing that’s monstrous here is the miscarriage of justice,” she said, as The Scotsman reported.
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Digital reconstruction of Lilias Adie by Dundee University (Dundee University)
She added, “Lilias died a lonely, unmourned death, but she was also a courageous woman and through this recreation we’ve been able to look at her face and see her as a person, and hopefully give her a more thoughtful place in Scottish history. Pictures of ordinary Scottish women from that time who aren’t aristocrats are rare enough, but we don’t have any pictures at all of Scottish accused witches that aren’t imaginary, so this is unique and very moving.”
Reconstruction Work Involves Hi-Tech Art of 3D Sculpture
On the other hand, Dr. Christopher Rynn, who directed the reconstruction work, focused more on the technical part of her face’s reconstruction, which involved state-of-the-art 3D sculpture. He said as The Scotsman reported, “The process is step-by-step anatomical interpretation: sculpting musculature and estimating features (eyes, nose, mouth, ears) individually from the skull, so it’s not as though you could look at a skull and instantly see the face, you have to reconstruct it to visualize it.” And added, “When the reconstruction is up to the skin layer, it’s a bit like meeting somebody, and they begin to remind you of people you know, as you’re tweaking the facial expression and adding photographic textures.”
The Halloween Time Travels special aired on Tuesday 31 October on BBC Radio Scotland at 13:30.
Top image: Left: Lilias reconstructed face as she may have looked when alive. (Dundee University) Right: 3D imagery created from the photo of Adie’s skull. (National Library of Scotland)