A morphological comparison between a death mask of the American Prophet Joseph Smith and a photograph likely to depict him

Teghan Lucas, Debra Hatfield, Maciej Henneberg

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Abstract

Application of forensic identification methods to establish authenticity of a historical photograph is made. Joseph Smith Junior was the Prophet and founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as Mormons. In 1844 Joseph and his brother Hyrum were shot and killed by a mob of angry men who opposed his church and its followers. Shortly after death, Joseph’s face was moulded, and a death mask was made. Photography was invented during the life of Joseph Smith Jnr and there are reports that he had a daguerreotype (photograph) taken, but no image has been verified to be of him. A photographic image of an Illinois man from the 1840s is linked by circumstantial evidence, such as similar clothing, to Joseph Smith Jnr and the photographer’s studio being close to where Joseph Smith III was at the time the photograph has been produced. A morphological comparison is made between the death mask and the photograph in order to establish the likelihood that the man in the photograph is the prophet. Sixteen points of anatomical similarity were found between the death mask and the photograph, the most compelling of which is asymmetry of the face and a possible scar in the area of the left eyebrow. Superimposition confirmed morphological similarity. Finding of close morphological similarity is not an ultimate proof of identification, but increases the probability that the photograph depicts Joseph Smith Junior. This is the first case of an anatomical comparison between a death mask and a photograph.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalPrzeglad Antropologiczny - Anthropological Review
Volume85
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jan 2023

Keywords

  • Joseph Smith
  • image analysis
  • morphology
  • death mask
  • anatomy

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