The Face Of The Neanderthals Reconstruction And Interpretations

With the discoveries described above, the scholarly world had assembled enough evidence to attempt both an interpretation of the fossil pieces and a reconstruction of the fossil human. Thus the Neanderthal came to have a face. A real fascination with reconstruction had developed from the pseudo-sciences ofphysiognomy (study ofthe face) and phrenology (study of the skull), both still popular in the early nineteenth century. Its advocates attempted, using scientific methodology, to establish a person's character based on external features. Hermann Schaaffhausen, already mentioned several times, published one of the first drawings that attempted to show what a primitive human actually looked like. Basing his ideas on the finds in the Neander Valley and at Spy, he had the Bonn painter Philippart sketch a hairy man with a strongly projecting face (Figure 3a). There also appeared, unsupported by anthropological indicators, Neanderthal representations like that of Muston (Figure 4b), who depicted "L'homme primitif" as a romantically wandering noble savage, totally in harmony with nature and himself.

The noble savage model remained the exception, though. Especially after publication of the "cannibal finds" at Krapina, the tendency was to banish the Neanderthal from the human family tree. From then on the image of a heavy-boned brute was dominant. The French paleontologist Marcellin Boule, of the Natural History Museum in Paris, played a large role in the acceptance of this image. But with the discovery of a nearly complete Neanderthal skeleton, 50,000 years old, in a cave near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, a rehabilitation of the "cannibal" at first appeared possible. The La Chapelle site was unequivocally a burial. After all, how could the entire skeleton of a very old individual have remained intact if not because of a burial? Boule, however, did not take this find as evidence of a more or less organized Neanderthal social system, which had cared for the "Old Man of La Chapelle" until advanced old age and buried him after his death. Instead, Boule claimed the find as evidence that Neanderthals could only walk stooped over. This error, based on a faulty interpretation of the arthritic deformations in the old Neanderthal's skeleton, also had a lasting impact on the Neanderthal image. Based on this interpretation, Boule disavowed the placement of Neanderthals on the human family tree. He compared the anatomy of the Neanderthals to those

Boule Pal Ontologie

Figure 3 What did Neanderthals look like? Four reconstructions of a Neanderthal: (a) Shortly after 1856, the Bonn anatomist Schaaffhausen gave instructions for a sketch of a human-like face. He modified it several times afterwards, and in 1888 arrived at a rather grim-looking reconstruction. It was soon followed by entire models, such as (b) a mother with child that was displayed at the turn of the century in the Chicago Museum, or (c) a sitting Neanderthal produced by sculptor Gerhard Wandel in 1962. (d) A recent sculpture is that of a Neanderthal woman produced by Nina Kieser and Wolfgang Schnaubelt, as shown in the sketch here.

Figure 3 What did Neanderthals look like? Four reconstructions of a Neanderthal: (a) Shortly after 1856, the Bonn anatomist Schaaffhausen gave instructions for a sketch of a human-like face. He modified it several times afterwards, and in 1888 arrived at a rather grim-looking reconstruction. It was soon followed by entire models, such as (b) a mother with child that was displayed at the turn of the century in the Chicago Museum, or (c) a sitting Neanderthal produced by sculptor Gerhard Wandel in 1962. (d) A recent sculpture is that of a Neanderthal woman produced by Nina Kieser and Wolfgang Schnaubelt, as shown in the sketch here.

Figure 3 Continued

of recent—modern—primitive peoples and especially regarded them as comparable to modern Australian aboriginals. "What a difference from the Cro-Magnons, who with their more elegant bodies, narrower head, steeper and more pronounced brow, [. . .] manual dexterity, [. . .] power of invention, [. . .] art and religion and the ability to think abstractly, were the first to earn the honorable title H. sapiens!" Boule went on to argue, after the discovery of Homo heidelbergensis at Mauer in 1907 (now regarded

Neanderthal Coloring

Figure 4 Romantic depiction instead of anatomical study: (a) The image of a young Neanderthal reconstructed by H. Friendenthal, with its too-short nose and strongly pronounced chin, also bears little similarity to the actual anatomy of the Neanderthal. (b) The lithograph of a Neanderthal that Muston produced in 1887 shows a figure in harmony with the romantic notion of a nature-loving wanderer with stone axe, elegant fur, disproportionately long legs, and the supraorbital ridges hardly pronounced at all.

Figure 4 Romantic depiction instead of anatomical study: (a) The image of a young Neanderthal reconstructed by H. Friendenthal, with its too-short nose and strongly pronounced chin, also bears little similarity to the actual anatomy of the Neanderthal. (b) The lithograph of a Neanderthal that Muston produced in 1887 shows a figure in harmony with the romantic notion of a nature-loving wanderer with stone axe, elegant fur, disproportionately long legs, and the supraorbital ridges hardly pronounced at all.

Neanderthal Lithographie

as a European form of Homo erectus), that the development of humans lay in Europe and then split into two lines—that of the Neanderthals, which died out, and another, which led by way of the noble Cro-Magnon to Homo sapiens. With this argument, there was no longer a question of the Neanderthal being our direct ancestor. It was the superior pre-human, the pre-sapiens, who became our direct ancestor. This thesis was corroborated in the 1930s with the discoveries of Homo steinheimensis and skull fragments from Swanscombe in England, both supposedly representatives of the pre-sapiens (although now they are regarded as a typical predecessor of the Neanderthals).

Thus it was hardly surprising that as early as 1909 the artist Frantisek Kupka should sketch the apparently less excellent Neanderthal as a crouched caveman gawking wildly with a club in his hand. This stereotype lasted a long time. In 1930, Frederick Blaschke modeled several dull-eyed Neanderthals with stooping shoulders for a museum in Chicago (Figure 3c). Even the Czech painter Zdenek Burian, whose illustrations became world famous in the 1960s, followed this now-accepted cliché.

The American anthropologist Carleton S. Coon's reconstructive sketches were completely different. He put the Neanderthal in a suit, freshly shaved and provided with a hat, and argued an image of the Neanderthals as "people like you and me." A prominent face, chinlessness, bulging forehead, and flat skull perhaps did not correspond to anyone's beauty ideal, but nonetheless these Neanderthal features were not the "characteristic inferiority or subhuman features" the German historian Fritz Kern asserted in 1953. This was hardly a new insight, since around the turn ofthe century Gustav Schwalbe had already conjectured that the Neanderthal played an important role in the human family tree. In his publication "The Neanderthal Skull," Schwalbe compared the fragment found in 1856 to Java Man. His studies came to the conclusion that both human forms were extinct and had little to do with modern humans anatomically. These reflections left it unclear as to where exactly the Neanderthal should be classified in the human family tree. But based on these findings others, like the American Alfred Hrdlicka, considered that there could be a crossover between the brutish Neanderthal and the noble Cro-Magnon. In consequence, the Neanderthal would have been less a separate species than a step in the evolution of modern humans. In 1931, Otto Kleinschmidt did indeed regard Neanderthal as a subspecies of Homo sapiens. The designation Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, still sometimes used, attests to this view.

After long misunderstanding and confusion, the Neanderthal found his way back to the human family tree (Figure 5). Yet still the myth of the shuffling, muscle-bound primitive human with few brains and armed with

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The chronology of Pleistocene Europe, including the ice ages (right) and the stone age (left). Important hominid find locations worldwide are marked. Such a chart clarifies the various phases in the spread and development of new hominid varieties.

a club has persisted. The image problem of the misunderstood human can still be seen today, 150 years after the spectacular find in the Neander Valley, and still appears in living rooms and classrooms. Not least, media articles about the "war of the first humans," the "death struggle of the flatheads," or novels with expressive titles like "Neanderthal—Valley of Life" or "Daughter of Fire," which can be called "paleofiction," continue to add fuel to the old scholarly conflict about the differentiation of Neanderthals from modern humans. No matter what knowledge is gained by new discoveries or new methods in reconstructing early human history, it still appears difficult for Homo sapiens to comprehend that other humans used to coexist with him, the crown of creation.

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  • Ariosto
    What did neanderthals look like 2011?
    8 years ago
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    Why projecting face neanderthal?
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    How is short nose regarded?
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