Neanderthal Reconstruction

Anatomic science and sculptural techniques revive the past

Completed reconstruction
of Homo neanderthalensis

An intermediate stage
showing the facial musculature,
fat, and cartilage of the face

A slightly reconstructed replica
of the well-preserved Neanderthal
cranium from La Chappelle, France

Neanderthal Reconstruction

Peabody Preparator Michael Anderson’s reconstruction of the facial features of a male Neanderthal based on the fossil evidence is a three-stage examination of Neanderthal cranial and facial anatomy. Visitors can examine the 3 separate sculptures, which show the head of this early human first as bone, then with face and neck musculature, and finally with skin, hair and eyes. Such reconstructions are an important part of the work of both museums and science itself: they take us from pieces of the riddle, the fossil fragments, to what this hominid actually looked like. Such displays also involve the visitor in the behind-the-scenes creative process that occurs regularly in museums.

 
 

The Science of Reconstruction

Early images of extinct humans were based on the very limited scientific information then available. However, reconstructions of fossil humans—particularly those done some time ago—also tended to incorporate preconceptions and fantasies about the past. Recreations of Neanderthals in particular have depicted a great variety of possibilities (and some impossibilities). We know Neanderthals were very robust physically, had fairly large brow ridges, had stone tools, and sometimes lived in caves, but there is little evidence for most of the other common features in artists’ depictions.

Today’s artistic reconstructions of our extinct relatives benefit from our growing understanding of fossils, anatomy and forensics. Knowledge of the thickness of tissue in modern humans helps to produce a plausible picture of what Neanderthals may have looked like. The hair on the completed reconstruction has been cut close to the scalp to more easily show the shape of the face and head. The same reconstruction with a full head of hair and beard can be seen in the opening kiosk of the exhibition and in the opening animation to this
Fossil Fragments web site.

Learning Resources. Timeline of Evolution. The Fossils. History of Fossil Hunting. Home Page.

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