Ancient Hominids Face Reconstruction

The Faces of Ancient Hominids Brought to Life in Remarkable Detail

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Several years ago, a team of scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, set out to put a human face to ancient hominid species that once walked the Earth.  Using sophisticated forensic methods, they created 27 model heads based on bone fragments, teeth and skulls found across the globe over the last century. The meticulously sculpted heads are the anthropological products of years of excavation in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

In the last 8 million years, at least a dozen human-like species have lived on Earth. As part of the Safari zum Urmenschen exhibition (“Safari of Early Humans”), the facial reconstructions take us on a journey through time, going back seven million years to the species sahelanthropus tchadensis, and culminating with modern-day Homo sapiens.  Each face tells its own story about the lives of hominids in their respective era, including where they lived, what they ate, and their likely cause of death.

The exhibition drew much controversy when it was first launched, mainly due to scholarly debates that have raged for decades regarding the classification of these ancient species.  Fossils are extremely challenging to categorise as one species or another. Only a few thousand fossils of pre-human species have ever been discovered and entire sub-species are sometimes known only from a single jaw or fragmentary skull. Furthermore, like modern-day humans, no two hominids were alike and it is difficult to determine whether variations in skull features represent distinct species or variations within the same species.  For example, the recent discovery of a skull in Dmansi in Turkey suggested that a number of contemporary species of early “Homo” – Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo ergaster, and Homo erectus – are actually just variations of one species.

Bones can only say so much, and experts are forced to make educated guesses to fill in the gaps in an ancient hominid family tree that extends back 8 million years.  With each new discovery, paleoanthropologists have to rewrite the origins of mankind's ancestors, adding on new branches and tracking when species split, and rather than providing answers regarding our ancient past, many discoveries simply lead to more questions.

‘Toumai’ - Sahelanthropus tchadensis - Facial Reconstruction

‘Toumai’ - Sahelanthropus tchadensis

Toumai (“hope of life”) is the name given to the remains of a hominid found over a decade ago in the Djurab desert in Chad, Western Africa, belonging to the species known as Sahelanthropus tchadensis. Dating back 6.8 million years, it is one of the oldest hominid specimens ever found.  Sahelanthropus tchadensis had a relatively small cranium. The braincase, being only 320 cm³ to 380 cm³ in volume, is similar to that of existing chimpanzees and is notably less than the average human volume of 1350 cm³.

Australopithecus afarensis - Facial Reconstruction

Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus afarensis, is believed to have lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago and had a brain capacity between 380 and 430 cc. A number of remains of this species have been found in Ethiopia, including the individual modelled above, whose skull and jaw were found among the remains of seventeen others (nine adults, three adolescents and five children) in the Afar Region of Ethiopia in 1975.  The most well-known example of an Australopithecus afarensis is “Lucy”, a 3.2 million-year-old nearly complete skeleton found in Hader.

“Mrs Ples” - Australopithecus africanus - Facial Reconstruction

“Mrs Ples” - Australopithecus africanus

"Mrs Ples" is the popular nickname for the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus, unearthed in Sterkfontein, South Africa in 1947.  Although the sex of the fossil is not entirely certain, ‘she’ was a middle-aged individual who lived 2.5 million years ago and had a brain capacity of 485 cc.  Mrs Ples died when she fell into a chalk pit and her remains were preserved when the pit later filled with sediment.  The Australopithecus africanus species, which lived in southern African between 3 and 2 million years ago, has long puzzled scientists because of its massive jaws and teeth, but they now believe the skull design was optimal for cracking nuts and seeds.

“Black Skull” - Paranthropus aethiopicus - Facial Reconstruction

“Black Skull” - Paranthropus aethiopicus

Paranthropus aethiopicus is a species of hominid that is believed to have lived between 2.7 and 2.5 million years ago. Very little is known about them because so few remains have been found.  The individual depicted has been reconstructed from the skull of a male adult found on the west shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya in 1985. He became known as “Black Skull’ due to the dark colouration of the bone caused by high levels of manganese. Black Skull had a cranial capacity of 410 cc, and the shape of his mouth indicates that he had a strong bite and could chew plants.

Comments

Brandane's picture

The last five could pass for modern humans today.

I notice that also, but they mostly look like Africans. The neanderthal clearly looks more like Europeans (and the avg European is over 2% neanderthal).

Peter Harrap's picture

Gorgeous images, an imaginary collective memory of mankind. Thankyou.

In my estimation, I find it strangely peculiar that anthropologists deem it so easy to deem that all species are "inter-related". What is to keep us, the world population, from believing that the indigenous people of North America are not correct in their ancient lore that "mankind" has been re-made six times over? Would this not more completely explain why their are species dated over 6 million years? Personally, I would find this to be more believable than some of the "leaps of faith" being offered by the anthropological community today. I also find it strange that there have been fossils of waves found in the region of the Arctic Circle that predate the existence of the Earth, in anthropological terms, at a time when the entire planet should have been covered in magma. Being a man of critical thinking, I am left to suppose that the Earth, itself, is much older than thought, and that, there is the distinct possibility that "mankind", regardless of it's origin and the Earth itself, are both much older than any of us know. The recent discovery, of a hominid at the bottom of the sea near Japan, would lend further credence to this theory, in my opinion,than a "co-existence" of several different homonid species throughout human history. Then again, I could be totally off base with my own beliefs and assumptions. Unfortunately, when people that purport themselves to be experts on the subject, because they have studied what professors have taught them, profess that their findings are the "truth", we humans take it as the dyed in the wool truth because most of us have forgotten to think critically. My suggestion? Take this, and every other "discovery", "set of facts", and "scientific proof" with a grain of salt. The "truth" may be much easier and rudimentary than that evidence purports
because the data can be skewed to fit the scenario that they intend to prove.

I totally agree with you ! To me the actual science over those issues it is at least 80% fabricated just to justify so called academic degrees , which is become a sort of very profitable industry industry which pays the experts of official dogmas !

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