Montag, 26. März 2012

Homo Mousteriensis Hauseri faces

Reflections about the uncertainties of reconstruction

In my first high school year at the age of ten I could enjoy a privileged status concerning Biology. My appreciated teacher Dr. Krieger knew to use my drawing abilities for his lessons at a time without tons of copies and without a beamer, giving me his private books to blow up the illustrations with color charcoal on a board of one to three square meters. I remember gigantic drawings of single cells, plants and insects. In the huge archive of the biology collection I first met the famous skull of one of the latest Neanderthal people, found 1908 in Moustier, Dordogne and considered to have lived about 40000 years ago. I met him again in 2005 in the Anatomy Institute of Cologne, hold him in hands, made a drawing and quickly noticed, that he must be wrong recomposed (done by Hermann Klaatsch, Breslau).

In 2005 I ommited to do a more detailed drawing and added it now, imagining, this could be a half bald man with freckles and full of testosterone. The green sculpture, I found some days ago, obviously is based on the wrong replica too.

I made a second drawing trying to correct the exaggerated prolonging of the face. This replica was probably spreaded throughout Europe a thousand times, being the first complete skull of a Neanderthal man, giving a chance to visualize this new species. Otto Hauser was not only a skilled amateur archaeologue, but also very good at promoting and merchandising his findings.

It was a luck, that they divided the original parts (brown) from the additions (grey - the small skull in the upper left). A study by Thomson, I later found, which worked with computer tomography, recombining all known pieces into a plausible skull, showed no significant difference to my initial sketching. 

After looking for a possible version of the newly found Maludong skull I remembered my own elder reflections about the subjectivity of reconstructions. Even when we face a complete skull without errors like above and can turn him around in hands, we know nothing about all the fleshy and psychic facts, that determine a person. We can only guess, wether he is healthy or sick, vivid or timid, selfconfident, kind or mean, bright or dull, handsome or ugly. The simple fact, that there sometimes is only one version of a head - and often a very expensive one, when a sculpture - can lead to the misleading impression, if you have a scientific method like "Three millimeters flesh on the cheekbones", you will automatically reach an objective version of a skull. The truth is far from that!
The most important determinants for an empathic and real looking version is a well founded prejudice, a guiding idea. I simply played with those possibilities to show, that we could imagine our famous Hauseri skull both as european or rather african or asian.

I opened up a thread to discuss this and to start a project, I will offer to run series of drawings after your proposals.

2 Kommentare:

  1. As I mentioned elsewhere, I am puzzled that this Neanderthal gets a narrow nose with such huge nasal holes, while the Longlin 1 individual gets a broad one in spite of its tiny nose hole. Why?

  2. Oops, I realize now that you attempted to correct that below.

    I'd say that the nose should be rather Afican in width (nasal hole) but European in prominence (nasal bone). Something like a Papuan nose maybe but broader than average (Papuan nose holes are like broad European/Asian ones: pear-shaped not round like African or Neanderthal ones). That's I think less subjective, right: it can be estimated (although if the end of the nose is hooked, straight or concave is less easy to imagine, indeed).

    Otherwise I do agree with the important notion that the skin, hair and many aspects of fleshisness are impossible to be objective about. In the case of Neanderthals it's even more difficult to imagine how they might have looked as they have left only a very small (and very evenly distributed) genetic legacy. I'd say Afro-Euro nose with straight hair (I always imagine straight hair having evolved in Eurasian archaic hominins and then introgressed to H. sapiens, because there's nothing like that in Africa - except where Eurasian genetic influence is dominant like North Africa).