February 16, 2005

Fathoming the sad face of the caveman.

Here's a picture I found rather disturbing when I was a kid. It's an artist's rendition of Zinjanthropus, a fossil human ancestor discovered in the 1960s. The artist, Peter V. Bianchi, is from Wisconsin, and there is an article about him today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
[Bianchi's] road to fame began when Mary Leakey, wife of the noted anthropologist, Louis S.B. Leakey, found bits of fossilized skull in Africa's Olduvai Gorge. National Geographic set Bianchi to work giving the fossils a face, and the famously crusty Louis peered irritably over his shoulder.

That's because Leakey knew that his find wasn't what he'd hoped; Zinjanthropus would not be the proverbial "missing link." But Leakey wanted to attract the public to his diggings for funds and publicity. He needed a marketing tool.

"Leakey was trying to make his mark and trying at first to claim this was a direct human ancestor. So he had Bianchi paint him with modern eyes and a human stare, full of emotion," said Dan Joyce, senior curator of exhibits and collections at the museum. That stare remains unnerving to this day.
What I find so strange about the picture is that it looks like an absolutely normal human being with the top of his head shorn off. He looks awfully pouty and sad. Who wouldn't be?

So our caveman's please-help-me expression was really Leakey pleading for support?

One wonders what sad pictures publicizing scientific research today are really disguised pleas from scientists for more funding.

UPDATE: Archaeoblog sees Zinjanthropus a different way.

1 comment:

Sebastián Blanco said...

Hello, lol, he wasn't really a caveman, let me tell you :D.

The zinjanthropus belonged to the genre of the australopithecus, that means, he should more likely lived in savanna and slept on top of trees rather than caves. Besides, hes real appearance would have been much more hairy and chimp-like dark skin.

The "real caveman" we all know, lived in the cold Europe at -30 degrees and those were the neanderthalis and the h. sapiens.

I'm sorry but I couldn't help clearing that out. Greetings from Peru =)