What did our 'cave parents' look like? Without a family album going back 7 million years, it can be tough to imagine them, especially when all we see are the famous skeletons and some vague reconstructions.
All that may change with a new exhibition at the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden that personalizes human history. In the show, scientists have recreated the faces of individual early humans from bone fragments, starting from the earliest specimens that were still mostly ape and going forward in time to some truly moving portraits of Neanderthals that look much more like us.
(Story continues below slideshow. All photos courtesy of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections.)
According to the museum, "Each one tells its own story: where they lived, what they ate, their likely cause of death and much more." The exhibition, which opened in November, covers a wide range of research about early humans, but the 27 facial reconstructions are the centerpiece. Visitors are even allowed to touch many of the objects on display.
Between the Homo rudolfensis man, who still has the prominent cheeks and jutting chin of an ape, and the Homo ergaster boy, who looks like someone you might have played tetherball with in school, you can watch human evolution move forward in sharp relief. These two examples only lived a few hundred thousand years apart, which isn't long at all on an evolutionary time scale.
The most remarkable may be the "Old Man of La Chapelle," only middle-aged by our standards, who was so well cared-for that he must have been an important member of his community. If you look closely, he almost seems familiar, like one of your own favorite grandparents. Have a look; do you see any family resemblance?