Re: [AAT] Reconstruction of a neanderthal
[unfortunately the usual mix of fact & fantasy - some comments between 
A team of scientists has created what it believes is the first really
accurate reconstruction of Neanderthal man, from a skeleton that was
discovered in France over a century ago.
In 1909, excavations at La Ferrassie cave in the Dordogne unearthed the
remains of a group of Neanderthals. One of the skeletons in that group was
that of an adult male, given the name La Ferrassie 1.
These remains have helped scientists create a detailed reconstruction of
our closest prehistoric relative for a new BBC series, Prehistoric Autopsy.
La Ferrassie 1's skull is the largest & most complete ever found. The
discovery of his leg & foot bones was hugely significant, revealing to
scientists that Neanderthals walked upright, contradicting previous
research.[the usual wishful thinking: keep repeating something & finally
you're going to believe it - Hn's anatomy was generally halfway He & Hs,
eg, moderate basicranial flexion: in the picture, the Hn's skull is placed
in a very unnatural & wrong way: the eyes look at least 45° too much
downward - also, they have reconstructed the spine upright, but Hn didn't
have Hs' downward directed mid-thoracal spinous processes (which stabilise
our spine vertically IMO): Hn presumably had a different spine]
We now know that Hn were stocky with strong arms & hands, and that they
had large skulls - longer & lower than ours - with sloping foreheads & no
chin.[the thorax was probably much "stockier" than ours, eg, deeper
dorso-ventrally - "broad" arms+hands (eg, curved radius) is a better word
than "stocky" arms+hands - sloping forehead & no chin = hydrodynamic - all
these features (deep thorax, flat arms, flat skull) suggest
(semi)aquaticism, see in the AAT files my "reconstruction" of a Hn]
... Much of La Ferrassie 1's frame was intact, but the thorax, ribs,
pelvis & some spinal pieces were missing.
US-based paleo-artist Viktor Deak - who specialises in reconstructions &
images of early man - filled in the gaps with copies of Hn bones
discovered at Kebara Cave in Israel in 1982.
That dig uncovered a near-complete Hn skeleton, missing just the cranium,
right leg & an area of the left leg.
A copy of the newly-complete La Ferrassie 1 was sent to a team of model
makers in Buckingham. They pieced the bones together and set the finished
skeleton in the correct upright position.[in the assumed upright position
they mean - Hn might have waded regularly, but the thick skull bones
indicate parttime diving]
The next stage was to add the muscles. Some detective work was required.
The La Ferrassie 1 skeleton was helpful in giving clues to assist the team
of model makers, led by Jez Gibson-Harris.
He said that the size & texture of the bones gave an indication of the
type of muscles the hominid would have had.
"... see where the tendons would have attached. There were pretty big
attachment points. You can see there were big muscles there ... very
strong looking, very stocky & well built. But really quite short."[most if
not all Hn joints were very large apparently, eg, a huge patella - not
unlike aquatic mammals AFAIK?]
The bones also provided clues to the Hn's demanding & injury-prone
lifestyle.[diving at sea (Gibraltar, Italian coast, Petralona etc.) &
following the rivers inland is indeed demanding & fracture-prone, esp.with
La Ferrassie 1's arm bones are asymmetrical - the right is larger than the
left.[as in, eg, walruses]
Bones change shape over a lifetime, so this led the scientists to look
into the type of activities he may have carried out.
Colin Shaw (University of Cambridge) studied La Ferrassie 1's flattened
humerus:[I guess the humerus was often held next to the thorax when they
"What you do to the bone through a lifetime causes adaptation, if it's
strenuous & repetitive enough."[he probably means that when you uses your
arms your arm bones become stronger - but He had even thicker bones than
gorillas - He & even Hn bones probably were prone to fracture, as in
osteopetrosis in Hs - in fact, Hn's pachyostosis (He>Hn>Hs) leaves no
doubt that they still spent a lot of time in the water]
The team studied the ways Hn hunted their prey and carried out domestic
chores, noting the impact those actions had on their bodies.
They concluded that they would have repeatedly stabbed their prey - the
woolly mammoth - with spears, but that the really intense work would have
been making garments to survive the cold climate.[the usual prejudices -
Hn probably lived in temperate climates - that Hn hunted mammoths is
fantasy, although they might have butchered mammoth carcasses they
sometimes found in wetlands]
A Neanderthal would have needed a new garment every year, which would have
been made up of c 5-6 hides.[no evidence of Hn clothes AFAIK] They would
have needed to scrape each hide for 8 hours to make it wearable.
On the basis of this evidence La Ferrassie 1's muscles, including those in
the strong right arm, were reconstructed accordingly, and layered on in
Viktor Deak & Alice Roberts lent their expertise to guide the model makers
on other areas of the body.
"With Alice & Viktor & other scientists, commenting on the pose - 'this
muscle should be bigger on that side or the buttock should be smaller, or
that should be longer' - we built up the body structure in that way," says
There were other, more obvious clues to La Ferrassie 1's appearance
contained within his remains. Many of his teeth were still attached and
this helped Viktor Deak determine the shape of the face.[the
"reconstruction" of at least the nose is wrong when we see the very
protruding nasal bone in the figure]
Powerful x-rays a thousand billion times stronger than a hospital x-ray
machine can reveal the daily growth rate of teeth.
Studies comparing the age of teeth with the age shown by the rest of the
skeleton suggest that Neanderthal children grew up faster than modern
humans, and this may cast light on why our species survived
and theirs did not.[nonsense - Hn probably grew up faster because they had
richer diets (incl.seafood, salmon) than later agricultural Hs]
The final stage of creating the replica was to add head & body hair. Here
the team looked to previous research which revealed that many Hn were
La Ferrassie 1 was given red hair & a pale skin tone, suggestive of life
in a northern climate.[some lived in Iraq IIRC]
Adding the hair was a painstaking process for the model makers, with each
strand punched individually into the replica.
After 2.5 months of meticulous work, La Ferrassie 1 was complete.
"It's got a humanising effect, putting the flesh on," says John Hawks:
"Focusing on bone doesn't give us the whole picture".
La Ferrassie 1, is one of 3 recreations.
Over 6 months, the team also built Nariokotome boy, a member of the
species Homo erectus, and one of our earliest prehistoric ancestors - an
Australopithecus afarensis named Lucy.
George McGavin, who co-presents Prehistoric Autopsy with Alice Roberts,
says that various museums have made reconstructions of these 3 individuals
before "but these are the best that exist.
They are designed & made according to the very latest research. They are
as accurate, probably, as we'll ever get."[Lucy is a fossil Afr.ape IMO,
it has nothing to do with our ancestry - how much Nariokotome Boy differed
from erectus from Java etc is difficult to say: the Boy might have had
longer legs (for wading? found in a presumably-freshwater swamp) than
[as usual, the Hs/Hn anatomical differences are underestimated (OTOH many
PAs believe for some reason that Hn can't have had language...): flat long
broad skull, very protruding nasal bones, no chin, retromolar gap, dense
bones, esp.occiput, but not or much less so clavicle, pubis & frontal
skull, very wide pelvis, less basi-cranial flexion, less vertical spinous
processes, longer & horizontal femoral necks, more valgus knees, longer
5th fingers & toes, etc.etc. - all these features fit in a semi-aquatic
lifestyle, IMO along coasts & seasonally along rivers inland - it's time
Hn get pictured as semi-aquatic creatures, diving for shellfish, spearing
salmon, butchering seals & turtles, collecting cattails & waterside
carcasses, perhaps hunting ungulates between reeds etc. instead of as
mammoth hunters on the steppes --mv]