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Museum creates head statue from remains of Edo Period Italian missionary

Kenichi Shinoda, left and Kazuhiro Sakaue, researchers at the National Museum of Nature and Science, show off the head statue of Italian missionary Giovanni Battista Sidotti at the museum in Taito Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 8, 2016. (Mainichi)

A Tokyo museum has created a replica of the head of an Italian missionary, who died after entering Japan during the Edo Period when Christianity was banned in the country, based on his recently discovered remains.

    The National Museum of Nature and Science in Taito Ward made the head statue of Giovanni Battista Sidotti (1668-1714) public on Nov. 8.

    Kenichi Shinoda, a researcher at the museum, underscored the significance of the production of the replica. "We've reproduced the face of a person who is described in school textbooks with the help of science. I hope that people will let their imaginations run free over what (Edo-period Confucianist, scholar and samurai) Arai Hakuseki saw when he met Sidotti, and what the two live human beings talked about," Shinoda said.

    Sidotti entered Japan when Christianity was banned in the country, and was detained. He died in detention after being questioned by Hakuseki, an influential bureaucrat within the Tokugawa shogunate.

    Sidotti's remains were found in July 2014 in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward at the former site of an Edo-period detention facility for Christians, and the ward announced the discovery in April 2016.

    DNA analysis showed that the skull most resembles that of an Italian man. After checking the skull against relevant documents, experts identified it as that of Sidotti.

    The museum created the replica of Sidotti's head by combining fragments of the right half of his skull. Researchers then took a CAT scan of the right half and inverted it to restore the missing left half.

    The research team reproduced face muscles based on traces of muscle on the bones, and restored the entire face judging from the average thickness of facial skin of Europeans. Sidotti's black hair and his eyes were reproduced based on various records, including Hakuseki's descriptions in a book he wrote.

    The color of the skin on the statue was determined based on data on middle-aged Italian men, and took into account the fact that Sidotti had visited tropical and sub-tropical areas before coming to Japan.

    Shinoda expressed hope that the achievement made through anthropological and historical studies will help people understand the role that basic science can play in contributing to culture. The statue as well as documents describing the outcome of the excavation and analysis of Sidotti's remains will be on display at the museum through Dec. 4.

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