Somerton Man Mystery: South Australian Museum

With no promising leads and the burial date rapidly approaching, by June 1949 it was decided that a plaster cast should be made of the body in the hope that it would help identify the man in the future. Taxidermist Paul Lawson from the South Australian Museum was approached to see if a plaster cast could be made.

Since the body had been in the morgue for several months, the moulding process was a particularly challenging task for Paul Lawson. Lawson noted at the Coronial Inquest that the embalming process had shrunk and sagged the body, making it difficult for him to recreate the man’s appearance as it would have been when he was alive. Lawson created moulds for the head and upper body and two separate moulds for the man’s ears. Professor Cleland requested that specimens from the body, including the brain, also be casted. However, the impending burial meant there was not enough time and only the upper body could be cast. The final bust was made of Plaster of Paris with sisal fibres.

During the construction of the cast, Paul Lawson observed that the man had a strong physique, and in particular well-defined calf muscles. He suggested that this type of muscle definition, located high up on the leg, was generally found in individuals trained as a dancer. The man’s hands were also soft and un-calloused, a sign he was not a tradesperson or someone accustomed to manual labour.

Could Lawson’s observation perhaps provide a clue into the man’s background and occupation? Was he a dancer or perhaps a former dancer?


Paul Lawson

Paul Lawson

Following the Coronial Inquest, the bust was moved to Paul Lawson's office at the South Australian Museum. The South Australian Police Historical Society are the present-day custodians of the bust which can be seen at their museum (1 Gaol Road, Thebarton). The museum is open Thursday 9am to 3pm by appointment. View File Details Page



Following the discovery of the book and her telephone number in July 1949, Jestyn was asked to view the plaster cast of the deceased man at the museum. Although she claimed to not be able to identify the man, her reaction upon seeing the bust was described as “completely taken aback, to the point of giving the appearance she was about to faint”. View File Details Page


Somerton Man Mystery

Professor Derek Abbott from the University of Adelaide looks at the construction of the Somerton Man's bust. | Source: National Trust of South Australia View File Details Page

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Adelaide City Explorer Team, “Somerton Man Mystery: South Australian Museum,” Adelaide City Explorer, accessed July 23, 2017,
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