Extinct depictions of our forefathers and relatives are frequently more art than science. We don’t mean your family, either.

Take Africa’s Australopithecus. This tree, or hominid of the human family, lived millions of years ago. Scientists produced two sculptures that illustrate the appearance of this hominid. Artists modeled the bust on the skull of 2.8 million years ago kids. A statue was built using the intuition of a sculptor. It seems aperitif. The second, produced with the aid of a scientist, seems more humane. 

The Homo Family

The researchers have now developed criteria for making more precise images of our family members known exclusively from the petrified bone. “Most of them had no scientific basis for the reconstruction of the past,” explains Rui Diogo. “Our objective is to change and change techniques,” he said. “This should offer a more clear perspective on human evolution.” On 26 February, his team reported on their new recommendations in Ecology and Evolution at Frontiers. 

It’s essential to get the family representations correct, Diogo adds. He is an anthropologist in the biological sciences at Howard University. Museum visitors often witness Neanderthals and extinct hominids performed by artists as a reality. But visitors may not understand that the job is partial. And that might distort the opinions of individuals. It can also reinforce damage to the people of today. 

An excellent example is the Smithson’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. A display of extinct hominids displays lighter skin as our family species started to walk upright. “But there’s no proof of skin being more white,” Diogo argues. This representation might emphasize that individuals with lighter complexions have developed more accurately and racistically. 

Racism in Science

Scientists and artists regularly collaborate to portray our family members. However, Diogo’s team believes their selections are guided by whim rather than research. The team has established reference databases by researching muscles in the significant apes and other non-human animals. The datasets belong to the Visible Ape Project. Scientists might use them to rebuild fossil faces—mixed results: choosing an ape or man as a starting point. 

Artists’ representations can also provide misperceptions regarding extinct people’s intellect and conduct. Ryan Campbell believes that neanderthals typically show dull hair. He studied anatomy in Australia at the University of Adelaide. “There’s a preference for our forebears to be portrayed as dumb and unhygienic,” he argues. 

But all types of animals are grooming. Neandertals were different, no reason to think. Indeed, Campbell believes that it may be precise to portray our family without hair. In fossils, hair is seldom preserved. And bone DNA data might hint at the color of the hair. However, the statistics do not disclose toiletries.