THE ape-like faces of two of our oldest known ancestors have been recreated by a team of scientists.
The reconstructions reveal what the early pre-humans famously known as Lucy and the Taung child may have looked like millions of years ago.
Reconstructions of the early human ancestors Lucy (left) and the Taung child (right)Credit: 2021 Campbell, Vinas, Henneberg and Diogo
Lucy was the oldest and most complete human ancestor when researchers discovered her 3.2million-year-old remains in Africa in the 1970s, while the Taung child is thought to have died at age three 2.8million years ago.
Crafted using silicon casts, the new models feature skin pigmentation and individual hairs painstakingly inserted by hand.
The team of American and Australian researchers behind the new recreations say they are the most lifelike yet because the the interpretations were based solely on data and leading scientific theories.
Their aim was to correct “racist and misogynistic” previous reconstructions of the early human ancestors.
Previous reconstructions of Lucy are ‘racist and misogynistic’, according to researchersCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Study author Dr Rui Diogo from Howard University in Washington, D.C highlighted one of the stereotypes woven into prior interpretations.
“Many previous reconstructions have been highly influenced by imaginary tales about what is ‘primitive’ and ‘savage’, versus what is ‘civilized’ and ‘modern’,” Dr Diogo said.
“Depictions of Lucy tend to show her alone in the wide savannah with her ‘husband’ and one or two children, while the empirical data available tell us that such a concept of a small nuclear family is actually a very recent construction of human history.
“Such biases and stereotypes are moreover particularly relevant because they are profoundly related to longstanding constructed narratives about our ‘cosmic purpose’ and about ‘progress’, which are in turn deeply linked to racist and misogynistic ideas and tribal concepts.”
Lucy, a 3.18 million-year-old specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974Credit: Christian Goup / Alamy
Lucy, a 3.18 million-year-old specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.
Her remains make up one of the most complete and oldest fossil skeletons from any pre-human species, offering unique insights into how our earliest ancestors lived.
CT scan images of her bones suggest Lucy may have nested in trees at night to avoid predators. She fed on a diet of mostly fruit and nuts.
The skull of the Taung child, a member of the species Australopithecus africanus, were discovered in 1924.
TA facial reconstruction of Lucy (without hair and pigment) produced in 2019Credit: 2021 Campbell, Vinas, Henneberg and Diogo
The ancient hominin lived in what is now south Africa roughly 2.5million years ago.
Despite the pair’s remains having been around for decades, reconstructions of their faces are largely inconsistent, researchers wrote in a blog post.
Dr Ryan Campbell, co-author of the study from the University of Adelaide, said he was shocked to discover that a reconstruction of Lucy he saw at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky differed greatly to other versions on display around the world.
“I expected to find consistency in those reconstructions displayed in natural history museums,” he said.
A reconstruction of Lucy without hair or pigment produced in 2018Credit: 2021 Campbell, Vinas, Henneberg and Diogo
“But the differences, even there, were so severe that I almost thought all previous practitioners had never encountered a single hominid reconstruction before commencing their own.”
For their reconstruction, the team based their design on reams of data about the the two pre-human species, as well as leading theories about what they looked like.
They said that they tried their best to “move away from intuition.”
For the Taung child, they relied on a cast of the original, well-preserved skull – although that still left them with a bit of guesswork to do.
A timeline of life on Earth
Here’s a brief history of life on our planet
- 4.6billion years ago – the origin of Earth
- 3.8billion years ago – first life appears on Earth
- 2.1billion years ago – lifeforms made up of multiple cells evolve
- 1.5billion years ago – eukaryotes, which are cells that contain a nucleus inside of their membranes, emerge
- 550million years ago – first arthropods evolve
- 530million years ago – first fish appear
- 470million years ago – first land plants appear
- 380million years ago – forests emerge on Earth
- 370million years ago – first amphibians emerge from the water onto land
- 320million years ago – earliest reptiles evolve
- 230million years ago – dinosaurs evolve
- 200million years ago – mammals appear
- 150million years ago – earliest birds evolve
- 130million years ago – first flowering plants
- 100million years ago – earliest bees
- 55million years ago – hares and rabbits appear
- 30million years ago – first cats evolve
- 20million years ago – great apes evolve
- 7million years ago –first human ancestors appear
- 2million years ago – Homo erectus appears
- 300,000 years ago – Homo sapiens evolves
- 50,000 years ago – Eurasia and Oceania colonised
- 40,000 years ago – Neandethal extinction
It’s not clear what ape or human-like the creature’s appearance would have been, so the team crafted two versions.
For their Lucy reconstructions, the researchers plugged data on modern humans skin thickness into an equation used to calculate the thickness of early human skin thickness.
“Our work shows that methods for achieving scientifically justified reconstructions are still not quite in our grasp, despite what many artists and institutions readily advertise,” said Gabriel Vinas, an artist from Arizona State University who brought the hominins to life.
The researchers published an analysis of facial reconstructions in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution on February 26.
In other news, an Ancient Roman payslip has revealed how a soldier was left penniless after the military took out fees for his food and clothes.
An ancient sword mislabelled as “medieval” was actually made around 5,000 years ago and could be one of the oldest in the world.
And, a mysterious ancient tablet has finally been deciphered to reveal a 1,500-year-old “demon curse”.
What do you make of the reconstructions? Let us know in the comments!
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