Face of Scottish "Witch" Reconstructed 300 Years After Death

University of Dundee

Lilias Adie was a woman living in Torryburn, in Fife, Scotland at the turn of the 18th century. She was convicted of witchcraft and of having had sex with the devil – crimes she "confessed" to – and was thrown in jail. In 1704, she died in her cell (some say of suicide) while waiting to be burned at the stake.

Now, just in time for Halloween, she's been brought back from the dead. Well, sort of.

BBC Radio Scotland's Time Travels program has teamed up with a forensic scientist from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee to recreate Adie's face using images of her skull and state-of-the-art 3D sculpture.

In the artist's picture, Adie doesn't look evil or hag-like. Instead, she looks like a friend of your gran's.

"Here was the face of a woman you could have a chat with, though knowing her story it was a wee bit difficult to look her in the eye," said the show's presenter, Susan Morrison.

Adie is revealed to be an older, frail woman with failing eyesight, possibly in her sixties. But despite her physical limitations, she was apparently mentally and emotionally strong. According to the show's historian, Louise Yeoman, Adie refused to name her sister "witches", telling her inquisitors they wore masks at gatherings to keep their identities hidden.

"She only gave names which were already known and kept up coming up with good reasons for not identifying other women for this horrendous treatment – despite the fact it would probably mean there was no let-up for her,” explained Yeoman.

Her remains were discovered under a stone slab, put there, historians say, to prevent her from rising from the dead and haunting locals. In the 19th century, antiquarians dug up the grave to study and display the remains. Those remains went missing in the 20th century, but not before photographs of the skull were taken and stored in the National Library of Scotland.

Bringing Adie back to life. The University of Dundee

Dr Christopher Rynn, the forensic artist involved in the research, explained how the process works.

"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,” he revealed.

"There was nothing in Lilias' story that suggested to me that nowadays she would be considered as anything other than a victim of horrible circumstances, so I saw no reason to pull the face into an unpleasant or mean expression and she ended up having quite a kind face, quite naturally."

The team behind the facial reconstruction believe it to be the only accurate reconstruction of a Scottish "witch".

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