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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

New Article On Neanderthal Noses

...providing a much-needed check on mythopoeic archaeological inference, but also on occasion commenting on the important discoveries of the day. Every effort is made to keep the invective to a dull roar. Best plug your ears. Welcome to the virtual-reality playground of the ditched and fameless!
What counts is not what sounds plausible, not what we would like to believe,
not what one or two witnesses claim, but only what is supported by hard evidence
rigorously and skeptically examined. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
—Carl Sagan

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.
Dale Drinnon said...
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 ready to do it for you.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

1 comment:

  1. Nocturnalism is one thing but there may have never really been any light in the ice age at all.


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