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The skull with the Mona Lisa smile

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Mia Knight
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« on: May 28, 2011, 03:19:00 pm »



But the public is more than capable of distinguishing between real research and outright sensationalism, as can be seen in many of the comments on the Telegraph’s original report of the Mona Lisa excavation plan[32].  Although the excavation is being carried out in a professional manner, Vinceti’s quest to dig up the “real” Mona Lisa is not grounded in scientific research methodology.  The news media’s breathless coverage of it threatens to signal to the public that archaeologists are frivolous with their time, energy, and research money.

    Although the excavation is being carried out in a professional manner, Vinceti’s quest to dig up the “real” Mona Lisa is not grounded in scientific research methodology

With the shortage of academic jobs for newly-minted PhDs and fear of funding disappearing with the recent announcement that Fulbright-Hays[33] and other U.S. government-sponsored research programs are cancelled for the year, it is especially important to harness public support for archaeology by putting faces to skeletons, which helps us connect with the public on a more emotional level.  But what we cannot do is throw around ideas willy-nilly and claim that we can solve Dan Brown-style mysteries with our capital-S science.

Silvano Vinceti may have stumbled upon the grave of Lisa Gherardini, who may have been painted as the Mona Lisa.  But attempting to wrangle a few bits of bone into an archaeo-forensic assessment of a particular person – an assessment that has already been determined by Vinceti – is almost certainly a ploy to drum up interest in Vinceti’s generally harebrained theories rather than a serious inquiry into the past.

In spite of the May 20 discovery of bones, the search for Gherardini’s skeleton continues, with Italian news sources calling this week a critical time for the excavation.[34] Archaeologists will continue to excavate the subterranean vaults at least through to the end of the week, as they are not entirely sure which one holds the remains of Lisa Gherardini.[35] When archaeologists do find her final resting place, it will be interesting to see what kind of portrait forensic artists will paint.
Kristina Killgrove is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina. She blogs on archaeology, biological anthropology, and the classical world at Powered by Osteons (http://www.killgrove.blogspot.com).
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