NatGeo illustrator uses friend to pose as Neanderthal


Fun story from Dinotopia illustrator James Gurney:

When National Geographic asked me to paint a small illustration of a Neanderthal father telling a story to his son, the art director emphasized that he should look recognizable, “like a guy who stepped off the subway.” Only the heavy brow ridge should give him away.

Where to find a model? I racked my brain for who would fit the part. One guy I knew named Jim would be ideal. But how should I ask him to pose? “Hey, Jim, would you mind posing for a Neanderthal picture I’m doing?” I was afraid he might be insulted.

I managed to ask him, and he cooperated. Later I asked him if he minded being a cave man. “Not at all,” he replied with a smile. “My girlfriend says it gives me more sex appeal.”

A terrific illustration, too! Link


  1. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m just a caveman. I fell on some ice and later got thawed out by some of your scientists. Your world frightens and confuses me! Sometimes the honking horns of your traffic make me want to get out of my BMW.. and run off into the hills, or wherever.. Sometimes when I get a message on my fax machine, I wonder: “Did little demons get inside and type it?” I don’t know! My primitive mind can’t grasp these concepts. But there is one thing I do know – when a man like my client slips and falls on a sidewalk in front of a public library, then he is entitled to no less than two million in compensatory damages, and two million in punitive damages. Thank you.

  2. Re:Cpt. Tim
    Grooming & calculated self decoration DO predate opposable thumbs.

    Most mammals and birds are hard wired to be vain.

  3. @#2:
    Probably not so much. There’a sad story about evjdence literally uncovered at a Neander site in Spain that dates to the tail end of their run, long after they first encountered us, where they seemed to be attempting to imitate signature Cro-magnon bone carvings. So something was stirring behind those beetle brows, perhaps something like envy or awe. You know, like ”How do they do that?” At least I find this sad. Their light was about to go out, these cousins of ours, and they had seen the tall blue-eyed future.

    But I’ll bet the new guys were covered with tats, scars, paint, and jewelry of every available sort. Humans are a self-decorating species.

  4. Great, another myth I held, shattered — that the illustrations on Nat Geo are based primarily on scientific research…

  5. Neanderthals disappeared from the human landscape long before the appearance of blue eyes in modern man. I use the term ‘disappeared’ because in all likely-hood modern humans did not out-compete Neanderthals for food or living space. Neanderthals were probably on the decline already -around the time that they first met our early ancestors- due to their inability to cope with the changing environment of the time.

  6. I think we may greatly underestimate the intelligence and other capacities of Neanderthal and other early humans.

  7. Yes, but I said ”blue-eyed future,” an obvious metaphor. The Gibraltar site was what I was referring to, where the ”imitations” were found. They and we did overlap for a few thousand years. The primary reason for their extinction is unknown, of course, or we wouldn’t be disagreeing; but I’ll bet Encino Man and Alley Oop did meet eyeball to eyeball on numerous occasions, although there is as yet no genetic indication they interbred.

    We coped with the same climate changes as our hairy cousins; it just seems they weren’t very bright. I know Goldman’s thesis is not highly regarded these days, if it ever was, but we are known for warring over resources, as is every species.

  8. Oh, Jesus, I’ve got an old tweed jacket somewhere, and i think the patches have patches.

  9. My high school anthropology teacher used a particularly Cro-Magnon-ish kid as an example of what they probably looked like, pointing out details regarding his brow and somewhat prognathous jaw – it was a running joke between the two of them until graduation.

  10. What do you mean? That’s us. Me. You. Very little has changed in the 60,000 or so years out of Africa.

  11. I love James Gurney. His art blog is always fun to read, and I’ve always adored his Dinotopia books.

    Learning that he does stuff for National Geographic makes him even more awesome.

  12. (whispers) “I got a bone stuck in my throat”
    “I can’t hear ya, Pop!”
    “I got a ack uuuhkk…”

  13. I just heard James Gurney tell this anecdote at Ithaca College today, he was giving a lecture at a convention for the national guild of science illustrators. now i come home and see the same thing on boingboing….

  14. Buddy66, I know you’re using it as a metaphor, but I’d just like to point out for the record that Neanderthals were about the same height as modern humans.

    The ‘short, dark’ stereotype simply isn’t true. And considering that they had brains about 10% larger than ours, they probably weren’t as dim as they’re popularly made out to be either.

    Now, if anyone wants to know my take on why they died out; their heavier build means that they were almost certainly too heavy to swim, and thus were forever at a disadvantage when it came to transport, foraging and warfare.

  15. I’ve always found illustrations like these to be oddly racist. Dark skin, black hair. I’ve been seeing these images, along with unimaginative grey and balck dinos, since the early seventies.

    Neaderthals? How about no chins, HUGE, HUGE! noses and bright red or blond hair and beards fanning out from a round face like an orang utan?

  16. I thought blond hair and blue eyes have been proven to be very recent mutations. Is red new too? I think so. When I was young I only remember picking black hair out of my teeth. Bloody mammals.

  17. inbred,damned dirty apes!
    “Blue-eyed Humans Have A Single, Common Ancestor

    ScienceDaily (Jan. 31, 2008) — New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.”

  18. hah!

    Friday, 27 September, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
    Blondes ‘to die out in 200 years’
    Scientists believe the last blondes will be in Finland
    The last natural blondes will die out within 200 years, scientists believe.

    A study by experts in Germany suggests people with blonde hair are an endangered species and will become extinct by 2202.

    Researchers predict the last truly natural blonde will be born in Finland – the country with the highest proportion of blondes.

    The frequency of blondes may drop but they won’t disappear

    Prof Jonathan Rees, University of Edinburgh
    But they say too few people now carry the gene for blondes to last beyond the next two centuries.

    The problem is that blonde hair is caused by a recessive gene.

  19. get some scales, monkeys!
    Monday, May 9, 2005 – Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

    Will rare redheads be extinct by 2100?

    By Robin L. Flanigan

    She was just walking down the street with her sister, in her old neighborhood, when an elderly woman stopped her car in front of her and called out, “I love your hair! It’s so beautiful!”

    Caitlin Tydings was about 8 then, and caught off guard. Now a high-school senior, she has since grown accustomed to strangers commenting on her strawberry-blond locks.

    If predictions by the Oxford Hair Foundation come to pass, the number of natural redheads everywhere will continue to dwindle until there are none left by the year 2100.

    The reason, according to scientists at the independent institute in England, which studies all sorts of hair problems, is that just 4 percent of the world’s population carries the red-hair gene. The gene is recessive and therefore diluted when carriers produce children with people who have the dominant brown-hair gene.

    Dr. John Gray’s explanation of his foundation’s findings: “The way things are going, red hair will either be extremely rare or extinct by the end of the century.”

  20. lousy cheese eating lactation monkeys!
    Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 February 2007, 00:09 GMT
    E-mail this to a friend Printable version
    Early man ‘couldn’t stomach milk’
    Milk contains sugars that are hard to break down
    A drink of milk was off the menu for Europeans until only a few thousand years ago, say researchers from London.

    Analysis of Neolithic remains, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests no European adults could digest the drink at that time.

  21. One recent theory suggests that red hair is a Neanderthal trait which exists in modern humans due to some past fraternization. This has caused a bit of a foofaraw in the UK due to rampant anti-gingerism and the unfounded perception of Neanderthals as less intelligent.

    And one of the more recent theories on eye color says that it is determined by two genes. One is for hue which is either green or not-green. The other is for light/dark. If you have not-green eyes switched to light, they’re blue, gray, etc. If you have not-green eyes switched to dark, they’re brown, black, etc.

    There’s nothing to suggest that Neanderthals couldn’t have had red hair and green eyes.

  22. I’m no geneticist, but I’m thinking red hair is a recurring mutation. Following our Y chromosone markers back in time we come upon the descendants of our original breeding stock, or what’s left of them, the !Kung; and guess what? A lot of those cats have red hair.

  23. wll, after you’ve fermented them for a few months at 300 meters all that’s left is the same flavour. Who notices details?

  24. There are Polynesian and African redheads. How the hell did they inherit a recessive gene in the first place? Yeah, those are ”scientists” at the Oxford Hair Institute, all right. With offices in a shopping mall.

    I still bet it’s a recurring mutation and ain’t going away.

  25. No, you’re all wrong. The plain and obvious fact is, the Irish were here first, and begat you all.

    Buddy, why couldn’t the africans have had the recessive gene first? (after the Irish, of course)

    Also, Antinous, lovely foofaraw’ing.

  26. ”I don’t know,” to quote Mrs. Thurber’s maid, ”That, I just don’t know.” I’ve already said I’m not one of them fancy geneticists—if I had only known, back at Ann Arbor, I might’ve ditched “theory” for lab practicality. The shit I do know isn’t important, and the important shit I don’t know, it’s too late to learn….

    The !Kung are still mutating redheads, and they’re our direct ancestors; hence my suspicion that it’s a universal gene that keeps reappearing, like — although much rarer and less dramatic — albinism. Oh, shit, I dunno . . . I’m really over my head here. I’ve got some work to do.

    Certainly Neanders could’ve been gingers, lightened up through selection by the dark skies of the Ice Age. If we did, and we did, so could they. (I use ”we” to mean human, not Cro-Magnon.”) We lighten or darken according to climatic whims. As to their ”intelligence,” I have commented elsewhere on their lack of a ”symboling” culture, which is the distinguishing mark of our species — despite how many well-meaning primatologists try to get apes to do more than just ape us. They were no doubt an intelligent species — all of our hairy cousins are — just not as ”smart” as us. They didn’t have that extra something that made all the difference. I have no idea why they died out, but knowing the history of homo sapiens sapiens I fear a bloody end.

    The Irish, of course, will be the last to fall . . . still talking, talking, with that ”inextinguishable voice.”

  27. Sure if we’re talking Buddy, sit down and have a drink.
    Ah, go on.
    Sure don’t leave me drink on my own.
    Go on, sure.
    Have a little tipple.
    Will you wet the baby’s head?
    Just a little sprinkle for Jesus.
    Sure, wet the whistle while you’re at it.
    Go on, I’ll get this round, you get the next.
    Ah, sure there’s no harm in one, is there?
    Just take a little nip there, go on.
    Warm your cockles with a little dram.
    I tell ye, me mouth is like Gandhi’s flipflop..
    I’ll just take a little swig.. medicinal like.
    Sure, quench the fires with a little drizzle there yourself.
    Go on sure.
    Go on..
    Ye will sure, go on..
    Ah, go’wan ahead there now..
    There ye are, go on..
    Just the one..
    It’s pint, if your askin’..
    Go on, just a cup’shot..
    A cup o’ the creature?
    Ah yeah, ye will..
    Go on, ya good thing yeh..
    Set them up there..
    Now, lovely.

    What’ll ya have yourself?

  28. #25 spazzm:

    ”… their heavier build means that they were almost certainly too heavy to swim, and thus were forever at a disadvantage when it came to transport, foraging and warfare.”

    Fun-nee, Spazzm. That’s what we used to tell my cousin Teddy, but that dumb 300 lb. human whale stayed in the water for hours at a time. Wrinkled whale he was.

  29. Hah! When I read that line, by spazzm, I thought: but what about the hippos?

    Re: #38, that is a basic “hello” or “goodbye” in Dublin, it can take even longer sometimes (that’s only a mild exaggeration).

  30. You say that’s a BASIC ”hello” or ”goodbye’? Godalmighty that’s really impressive. Were you just jamming? I mean, you’re blowing a lot of that lick from memory, I understand that, but it’s a helluva riff open to lengthy improvisation, right? And you say it’s a mild exaggeration…

    Wooooo. Music to my ears.

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