Saturday, 19 November 2011

Face-off: Neanderthal Nouveau and Me

 Either I need a better napkin, the back of which to use for illustration purposes, or I need a John Gurche to work some fresh magic with my working hypothesis that Neanderthal carnivory was behind the autapomorhphies* of the mid-face, specifically the larger-than-life nasal aperture and the eye orbits that look like goggles. In this brief addition to my previous two posts on this matter, I will embarrass myself silly while trying to depict the Neanderthal nose in side view, compared to that of people like you and me.
     First, I did a quick reconnaissance at Google image to find the size comparison seen in the first illustration shown below. Neanderthals had only a slightly larger brain and brain case than we did, which is clear from the photo. However, if you look at the distance between the forward-most point of the browridge and that of the upper jaw, you can easily see the great size difference. The Neanderthal nose and upper lip were on the order of twice as tall as ours!  
Size comparison of a Neanderthal and a modern human to scale (image gleaned from the web, no ascription was found).
I couldn't use the above  image for comparison, because as with so many Neanderthal fossils, the nasal bones were missing in this one and the entire area is a plaster reconstruction. Instead I went back to the Shanidar 5 skull, which retains the nasal bones, and then attempted to show the generalized (European) modern human face in relative proportions.

Shanidar 5 reconstruction (after Trinkaus 1983) and Gray's modern human to same scale as above.
Now the process gets embarrassing. After downloading GIMP (free, open-source photo imaging software) at the urging of a friend, and making a number of false starts, I managed to (roughly) describe the outline of the Neanderthal and modern human faces based on the above skeletal outlines. I attempted, as best I could, to model the eyes, nasal bones, and nares as honestly as I could. The results are meekly presented below. Have a look at the faces, which are to scale, and for which the soft tissue has been approximated in both cases. [I even tilted the Neanderthal below the Frankfurt plane** because I didn't want to accidentally overemphasize the near horizontality of the bridge in the Shandiar 5 specimen, the cranial outline of which I couldn't reconcile with that of the comparative photo, at the top. However, I believe that a more horizontal bridge is actually the case, which would result in a far-more vertical naris. I've also downplayed the vertical size difference, again because I didn't want to appear to be making too much of a trait that's likely to vary considerably within and between species. In all likelihood the two faces would be even more disproportionate.] 
Gargett's embarrassingly  poor attempt to model the Neanderthal upper face and that of a modern human using the Shanidar 5 reconstruction and Gray's modern human using the same relative size as in the first illustration above.
Now have a look at my (admittedly crude) illustration of this face from the front.
It's likely that you wouldn't buy a used car from this man. Put a hat on him and you'd still think twice about giving him a ride in your car, unless you have one of those K-9 Corps-type meshes between you and him. And you'd probably be right to do so, if, that is, you wanted to keep all of your limbs intact, especially if he likes the way you smell!
     I think you'd also agree that there's a considerable difference between the Neanderthal profile that I've constructed and any of the artistic attempts that I've stolen borrowed from the web for this exercise, and which are laid out below. I would go so far as to say that the differences would warrant a separate generic status for this hominid, but then I'm not a flint-knapper member of the club that gets to do that fun stuff.

You'll probably recognize the Australian Museum's model in the upper left. The lower left I'm calling the New Age Neanderthal. Upper right is, I think, a game rendering. And the lower right is a fairly traditional, shuffling brute, 'hairy ape' concept.
* This is me using a bit of  biological anthropology jargon so the grown-ups will know that I can walk the talk walk the walk walk and chew bubble-gum at the same time. So are all the other high-falutin' words that I use. It's important to switch linguistic code when you're trying to get in with the cool kids.
** The Frankfurt Plane is the specified position of the head in what's known as the correct anatomical position.


  1. Hey there friend, you used my Neanderthal construction head-on to do the blowup of the features!

    Your article is quite good, I'd like to quote it, if I may.

    And if you need me to morph you another facial reconstruction, I'm reasdy to do it for you.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.

  2. @Dale,
    Good of you to drop by. It's fine with me if you refer to my work in the usual scholarly manner. But I'm really curious. Which Neanderthal construction are you referring to? The Australian Museum's? Please clue me in! Thanks!

  3. The front-on Australian Museum one, which I did in fullface by mirroring the halves. You are using my version with the mirrored halves and the big black-circle nostrils. And I have a cleaned-up version I was going to post on my blog, which is pending now and scheduled to come out later in the week.

    If you like I can send you the link to the blog posting which tells about doing the reconstruction with mirrored halves to make a full face. This version did not exist until I created it. Jus so's we're square on that point. I was just telling you in the friendliest possible manner: I was not about to ask you any money for it or anything.

  4. @Dale,
    Um, it would be good to see the link you speak of. I mean this in the very friendliest terms also. This is, if I'm not mistaken, a HUGE coincidence. The mirrored frontal view is my work, as was the idea to blow up the eyes and the nose to more closely depict what I infer the N. face to look like, and about which I have spoken repeatedly in my blog, before and since I published that mock-up of the face using the Australian Museum's image of their plaster cast.

  5. It would be pretty amazing. I'll look my link up, it has been several months back. But if we both did exactly the samr thing, the really odd part is that they were so similar and even the big black nostril-circles came out looking similar. Which I made by superimposing actual filled-black circles into the nostril area when I made mine up.

    But then there is supposed to be such a thing as Psychic Unity, they say. If so, we may have proven that particular notion.

    And I have another blog where a bible-thumping fellow is accusing me of "stealing his stuff" when the only thing that happened was that the both of us were using the same public-domain images from photosearches...

    By the by, we can take this conversation to the private sector at any time, your call on that.

    Cheers, Dale D.

  6. My nostrils were just filled ellipses on powerpoint. Pretty strange. Psychic unity, for sure! Take care, Bud. Thanks for dropping by!

  7. BTW, I still intend to run a copy of your article soon, giviong appropriate credit, maybe this weekend.

    I guess (bearing in mind that last statement I made about two people independantly posting public-domain sources found on photosearches, a problem I am dealing with currentlty elsewhere) That what actually happened was that we really did happen to mirror the Australian Museum's Neanderthal reconstruction's face independantly of one another. I checked my back records and you published before I did, although I only just happened upon this article recently because one of my blog readers directed me here.And our blogs were both put up independantly without any knowledge of each other up until I posted.

    Therefore it actually was only a very striking coincidence as you say and I apologise if I sounded as if I was accusing you of anything. I do still have a cleaned-up version of the reconstruction which I was intending to run on my blog whenever it goes up, in case you'd like to see that.

    Onward and Upward, Dale D

  8. It would be fun to see what you came up with independently. Fire away! Onward, and ever forward, Manfred (Tom Terrific, remember?).


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