Human Biology Open Access Pre-Prints

Document Type

Open Access Article

Anticipated Volume


Anticipated Issue



Computed tomography (CT) scans provide anthropologists with a resource to generate three- dimensional (3D) digital skeletal material to expand quantification methods and build more standardized reference collections. The ability to visualize and manipulate the bone and skin of the face simultaneously in a 3D digital environment introduces a new way for forensic facial approximation practitioners to access and study the face. Craniofacial relationships can be quantified with landmarks or with surface processing software that can quantify the geometric properties of the entire 3D facial surface. This paper describes tools for the generation of dense facial tissue depth maps (FTDMs) using de-identified head CT scans of modern Americans from the public repository, The Cancer Imaging Archives (TCIA), and the open-source program Meshlab. CT scans of 43 females and 63 males from TCIA were segmented and converted to 3D skull and face models using Mimics and exported as stereolithography (STL) files. All subsequent processing steps were performed in Meshlab. Heads were transformed to a common orientation and coordinate system using the coordinates of nasion, left orbitale, and left and right porion. Dense FTDMs were generated on hollowed, cropped face shells using the Hausdorff sampling filter. Two new point clouds consisting of the 3D coordinates for both skull and face were colorized on an RGB scale from 0.0 (red) to 40.0 mm (blue) depth values and exported as polygon file format (PLY) models with tissue depth values saved in the “vertex quality” field. FTDMs were also split into 1.0 mm increments to facilitate viewing of common depths across all faces. In total, 112 FTDMs were generated for 106 individuals. Minimum depth values ranged from 1.2 mm to 3.4 mm, indicating a common range of starting depths for most faces regardless of weight, as well as common locations for these values over the nasal bones, lateral orbital margins, and forehead superior to the supraorbital border. Maximum depths were found in the buccal region and neck, excluding the nose. Individuals with multiple scans at visibly different weights presented the greatest differences within larger depth areas such as the cheeks and neck, with little to no difference in the thinnest areas. A few individuals with minimum tissue depths at the lateral orbital margins and thicker tissues over the nasal bones (> 3.0 mm) suggested the potential influence of nasal bone morphology on tissue depths. This study produced visual quantitative representations of the face and skull for forensic facial approximation research and practice that can be further analyzed or interacted with using free software. The presented tools can be applied to pre-existing CT scans, traditional or cone-beam, adult or subadult individuals, with or without landmarks, and regardless of head orientation, for forensic applications as well as for studies of facial variation and facial growth. In contrast with other facial mapping studies, this method produced both skull and face points based on replicable geometric relationships producing multiple data outputs that are easily readable and software that is openly accessible.