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In 1619, Italian philosopher Lucilio Vanini was burned alive for suggesting that humans evolved from apes. Over two centuries later, popular society still reserved its sharpest contempt for evolutionists. Yet a literal interpretation of Genesis started to unravel long before Darwin published On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Europeans were deeply disturbed by the anatomical similarities they saw between themselves and apes, and they struggled to find logical explanations. Some even lumped the Khoi-San peoples (called the "Hottentots") of southern Africa into the same group as apes, classifying them as degenerate children of Adam; citing their lack of "perfect reason" and modesty, 17th-century naturalist Edward Topsell argued that "above all they cannot be Men as they have no religion." Meanwhile, what some Europeans considered evidence of the Old Testament reached new heights of absurdity. Canon Johann Jakob Scheuchzer found a fossil of what he claimed was a relic of "the accursed race that must have been swallowed up by the waters" of the Great Flood. Less than a century later, French naturalist Georges Cuvier demonstrated that the bones had really belonged to a giant salamander.

Most Recent Additions

Skull views Feb-12-2015
Fossil man Jan-01-2015
Meeting with giant Oct-12-2014
Chain of Being

Year: 1799
Scientist/artist: Charles White
Originally published in: An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables
Now appears in: The Flamingo's Smile by Stephen Jay Gould and Humankind by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
This particularly odious depiction of "lower" and "higher" life forms was once widely accepted as part of the Great Chain of Being. In this depiction, the lowest form of human life is the Negro, and at the top of the ladder is the Greek ideal. The depictions are carefully arranged so that "lower" humans appear in close proximity to "lower" animals. "In whatever respect the African differs from the European," White wrote, "the particularity brings him nearer to the ape."
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Year: 1799
Scientist/artist: Charles White
Originally published in: An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables
Now appears in: Humankind by Felipe Fernández-Armesto
White described this plate as including "copies of the best authenticated engraving" of apes, as well as profiles of a "native of Botany Bay" and an African.

Great Chain diagram

Year: 1617
Scientist/artist: Robert Fludd
Originally published as: The Great Chain of Being
Now appears in: "Science by the Eyeful" in Science and Robert Fludd and His Images of The Divine by Urszula Szulakowska in Public Domain Review
The Great Chain of Being didn't come into existence with Charles White's 1799 diagram. The concept dated back to the ancient Greeks. Persisting throughout the centuries, the great chain was a hierarchical structure of all matter and life, with God at the top and minerals at the bottom. Humans ranked above the other earthly life forms (though, as White's diagram shows, humans could also be ranked by race). At first glance, the Great Chain of Being might look like an early form of evolutionary theory, but it wasn't. The hierarchy wasn't only strict, it was static and, unlike evolution, precluded change. However the Great Chain of Being might have influenced how some early biologists thought about biological diversity, including "higher" and "lower" life forms. One of many people to document the great chain, Robert Fludd was an English physician who worked in the court of King James I. In his vision, the Goddess of Wisdom stands above all life forms on earth, just below the angels. In 2014, this diagram was among the oldest illustrations on display in the British Library's Beautiful Science exhibition highlighting science visualizations over the centuries.

Esau and satyr

Year: 1731
Scientist/artist: Johann Jakob Scheuchzer
Originally published in: Sacred Physics
Now appears in: Crossing Over by Stephen Jay Gould and Rosamond Wolff Purcell
Swiss naturalist Johann Jakob Scheuchzer found the Old Testament a perfectly plausible account of the history of life on earth. But he also tried to reconcile the story with discoveries about the natural world, including the existence of apes. In this image, Scheuchzer compared biblical Esau (Jacob's inordinately hairy, slightly dim-witted older twin) with a "satyr" (the term at the time for chimpanzees). The 18th-century naturalist stopped short of calling the father of the Edomites an ape. "Nonetheless, in making this comparison, I do not wish to insinuate that Esau was a Satyr, nor that this race of savage animals has descended from him. I consider Esau as a monstrous man."
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Fossil man

Year: 1838
Scientist: Pierre Boitard
Originally published in: "L'Homme Fossile" (Fossil Man) in Magasin Universel
Now appears in: Earth's Deep History by Martin J.S. Rudwick
When this illustration was published, the discovery of the first recognized Neanderthal fossil was nearly two decades in the future, and the discovery of the first Homo erectus (originally named Pithecanthropus erectus) fossil was over five decades away. That didn't keep Boitard from speculating about "fossil man," including the prediction that he was at the same time dark-skinned, simian and furry — and simultaneously equipped with monkey-like feet and axes. In fact, under the furry coat, ape skin is often light, not dark. Fossil and genetic evidence indicates that humans evolved in Africa where heavy sunlight exposure would have selected for dark skin, but this illustration may have more to do with an assumption common throughout the 19th century: Dark skin is a mark of primitive people.
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Flood witness

Year: 1731
Scientist/artist: Johann Jakob Scheuchzer
Originally published in: Sacred Physics
Now appears in: Fossils: Evidence of Vanished Worlds by Yvette Gayrard-Valy and Cradle of Life by J. William Schopf
"The reality of the Universal Deluge, albeit acknowledged for many centuries, has never been more patent than it is at the present time." So declared Scheuchzer in describing this specimen, which he named Homo diluvii testis. This "witness to the flood" was a 4-foot-long fossil with eyes that had apparently widened their sockets with horror at the rising waters. Decades later, Georges Cuvier reexamined and cleaned the fossil, and discovered its clawed forefeet. It wasn't a human witness to Noah's flood; it was a big, extinct salamander. The species was later renamed, in Scheuchzer 's dubious honor, Andrias scheuchzeri.
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Flood witness

Year: c. 1765
Explorer: John Byron
Now appears in: Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose by Lee Alan Dugatkin
An 18th-century misconception about the New World was that cold, damp conditions there stunted its inhabitants. The French naturalist Buffon long embraced this idea, but he wasn't alone. Cornelius de Pauw, son of a director of the Dutch West Indies Company, also insisted that the New World was cold and its people and animals were scrawny. Arguing against Buffon and de Pauw was Thomas Jefferson, who assembled physical specimens of big American animals. Also arguing against them was a French Benedictine monk named Antoine-Joseph Pernety, who revived a legend dating back to the 16th century. In 1520, Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian explorer accompanying Ferdinand Magellan, wrote of a Patagonian giant taken onboard the ship. This tall tale got an 18th-century reinforcement from the British admiral John Byron who commanded the Dolphin. He claimed to have met a 7-foot-tall Patagonian chief, and further claimed that few of the other men in the tribe were shorter. The alleged meeting is depicted here. Byron's story gained traction during the 1760s, with some outlets describing the Patagonians' height at 8 or 9 feet, but de Pauw rejected the story as fabulous, writing, "some living proofs of their existence would certainly have been brought to Europe: or, at least, their skeletons." De Pauw went on for 30 more pages refuting the Patagonian giant claim. This might have made sense except that the Amsterdam native never bothered to gather physical evidence of anything he wrote about the New World, not even for his assertion that Native American mothers molded their babies' heads into conical or square shapes. He also wrote that Western Hemisphere frogs weighed as much as 37 pounds. That might have been interpreted as an argument against New World puniness but de Pauw insisted that giant frogs were a further sign of degeneracy since frogs are icky.


Years: 1839-1849, 1977-1996
Scientists: Samuel George Morton, Stephen Jay Gould
Artist: John Collins
Originally published in: Crania Americana
Now appears in: "The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias" by Lewis et al. in PLoS Biology
In the mid-19th century, Morton measured hundreds of skulls from different ethnic groups to determine differences in cranial capacity, initially using mustard seed and later, on a more diverse sample, lead shot. In the late 20th century, Gould reanalyzed Morton's results and found them lacking, as he explained in The Mismeasure of Man. Gould did not accuse Morton of deliberately falsifying his results, and pointed out that Morton published his raw data, something he wouldn't have done if he felt he had anything to hide. But Morton's conclusions that Caucasians consistently came out on top, plus changes in some skull measurements between the seed-based and shot-based studies, led Gould to conclude that Morton's assumptions about race subconsciously influenced his results. Gould did not actually re-measure Morton's skulls, but in the early 21st century, a group of anthropologists did — at least some of them. They found that Morton, whom Gould made the poster boy of a priori assumptions, had actually done a reasonably accurate job. The errors he did make were mostly random, and the skulls he consistently inflated were Egyptian, people he would have classified as Negro. Ironically, Gould's findings on cranial capacity were actually closer to the assumptions he presumed Morton made than were Morton's own findings. The 2011 study concluded that Gould's criticisms of Morton were at best poorly substantiated and at worst false. Morton's study did include errors, and he apparently held views that typified the racism of the time, but the 2011 researchers concluded, "Biased scientists are inevitable, biased results are not." A Nature editorial the following week observed, "Of course, Lewis and his colleagues have their own motivations. Several in the group have an association with the University of Pennsylvania, and have an interest in seeing the valuable but understudied skull collection freed from the stigma of bias (although, as for many 19th-century museum collections, its ethically dubious assembly will remain an issue)."


Year: 1854
Scientists: Josiah Nott and George Gliddon
Originally published in: Types of Mankind
Now available at: Types of Mankind (
Fondly dedicated to the memory of craniometry founder Samuel Morton, Nott and Gliddon's book promoted polygenism — the idea that human races had been created separately, were unrelated to each other and were emphatically unequal. Nott and Gliddon devoted a considerable chunk of their 700+-page book to arguing that African slaves deserved their lowly position. Naturally the book was a big hit in the antebellum South. Opposed to both shared ancestry of all humans and (presumably) the Emancipation Proclamation, Nott and Gliddon wrote, "To one living in, or conversant with, the Slave-States of North America, it need not be told, that the Negroes, in ten generations, have not made the slightest physical approach either towards our aboriginal population, or to any other race. As a mnemonic, we here subjoin, sketched by a friend, the likenesses of two Negroes (Figs. 179, 180) who ply their avocations every day in the streets of Mobile where anybody could in a single morning collect a hundred other quite as strongly marked. . . . Mr. Lyell, in common with tourists less eminent, but in this question not less misinformed, has somewhere stated, that the Negroes in America are undergoing a manifest improvement in this physical type. He has no doubt that they will, in time, show a development in skull and intellect quite equal to the whites. This unscientific assertion is disproved by the cranial measurements of Dr. Morton." And how could Nott and Gliddon be sure that sub-Saharan Africans were unchanging? Because of biblical chronology. "The authors confidently trust, that the antiquity of Negro races, no less than the permanence of Negro types, during the (1853+2348) 4201 years that have just elapsed since Usher's Flood, are questions now satisfactorily set at rest in the minds of lettered and scientific readers." Furthermore, ancient Egyptians had enslaved sub-Saharan Africans, which justified continuing the practice, Nott and Gliddon argued. And slaves didn't have it so bad. "For the sake of illustrating that, even in Ancient Egypt, African slavery was not altogether unmitigated by moments of congenial enjoyment; not always inseparable from the lash and the hand-cuff; we submit a copy of some Negroes 'Dancing in the streets of Thebes', by way of archaeological evidence that, 8400 years ago; (or before the Exodus of Israel, B.C. 1822), 'de same ole Nigger' of our Southern plantations could spend his Nilotic sabbaths in saltatory recreations, and 'Turn about, and wheel about, and jump Jim Crow!'" Wow.


Year: 1857
Scientist: George R. Gliddon
Originally published in: Indigenous Races of the Earth
Now appears in: "The Moral Discourse of Climate: Historical Considerations on Race, Place and Virtue" by David Livingstone in Journal of Historical Geography
Gliddon was a practitioner of anthropometric cartography, and he argued that climate drove character. This image is part of a diagram he included in his book, "Chart illustrative of the geographical distribution of monkeys in their relation to that of some inferior types of men." Besides arguing that no civilization had ever arisen where black people lived, he went on to say, "the most superior types of Monkeys are found to be indigenous exactly where we encounter races of some of the most inferior types of Men." Many of Gliddon's contemporaries agreed with him (Alexander von Humboldt being a notable exception). The reasoning went like this: People living in temperate climates were fashioned by nature to be smart, hardworking, upright citizens. People who lived in the tropics were slackers, and pretty loose slackers at that. You would think, considering the presumed relationship between cold and character, that people living in or near the Arctic would be overachievers, but no. Somehow they were slackers, too. As for whether the races shared a common origin, convictions varied. Gliddon believed in multiple origins, but others argued that we all arose from common stock, only some races improved over time, and the races that headed south (or too far north) degenerated.

Shootout with gorilla

Year: 1895
Scientist: Paul Du Chaillu
Originally published in: Stories of the Gorilla Country
Now appears in: "Race, Sex and the Trials of a Young Explorer" by Richard Conniff in The New York Times (
In the mid-19th century, an intrepid young explorer named Paul Du Chaillu ventured into the jungles of Gabon. In the four years he spent there, he encountered gorillas, and brought back some 20 specimens. They arrived on the scientific scene about the time that Darwin and Wallace introduced the theory of natural selection. Gorillas are certainly big and strong, but Du Chaillu depicted the gorilla as a "hellish dream creature." In writing about his African expedition, he also embellished accounts of his travels, and may even have plagiarized the works of others. Yet Du Chaillu's reputation tanked not so much for what he wrote about Africa as for his alleged relationship to it. Whispers circulated that amateur naturalist wasn't entirely white. The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia sponsored Du Chaillu's trip, and science historian Richard Conniff argues that the same academy might have kicked Du Chaillu out in 1860 at least in part because an academy officer named George Ord fretted over the shape of the naturalist's head and facial features. In short, Ord wrote, he discerned "evidence of spurious origin." Du Chaillu's father was a slave owner and his mother was probably mixed race — something Ord blamed for Du Chaillu's overly dramatic accounts of his travels. "If it be a fact that he is a mongrel, or a mustee, as the mixed races are termed in the West Indies, then we may account for his wondrous narratives; for I have observed that it is a characteristic of the negro race, and their admixtures, to be affected to habits of romance."


Year: 1794
Scientist/artist: Pieter Camper
Originally published in: The Works of the Late Professor Camper
Now appears in: Science: A Four Thousand Year History by Patricia Fara
It's far from obvious, but this image was actually intended to show that differences between races were superficial. Dutch anatomist Camper was an abolitionist. The faces appear along a spectrum that measures the angle at which the face slopes backward — from apes to Apollo. Although the grid lines lend an air of mathematical finality, the scale is really one of aesthetics, with the unlikely pinnacle of a Greek god. Although aimed at minimizing the perceived differences between races, this diagram apparently had the opposite effect.


Year: 1795
Scientist/artist: J.F. Blumenbach
Originally published in: De generis humani varietate nativa
Now appears in: I Have Landed by Stephen Jay Gould
Pieter Camper wasn't the only well-intentioned 18th-century naturalist whose work had the opposite effect of what he hoped. Although he probably assumed (as did everyone he knew) that Europeans outshone everybody else, Blumenbach was an abolitionist who maintained that slaves' morality often surpassed that of their masters. (He especially admired the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, a Boston slave.) Moreover, Blumenbach argued forcefully that humans comprised a single species — hardly a view shared by many of his peers. But Blumenbach made a blunder with long-lasting effects. Whereas his role model Linnaeus had classified human races based on geography, Blumenbach classified them based on a purely subjective judgment: beauty. Blumenbach concluded that mankind arose — and the most beautiful people on earth continued to live — in the Caucasus (hence Caucasian). He figured that other races diverged from their ancestral types as they adapted to different environments. This illustration shows the "ideal" Caucasian skull in the middle. Moving toward the left are American Indian and Mongolian skulls. On the right are Malay and African skulls. Blumenbach's personal preference became, for many people, just more evidence of intellectual and moral superiority.

Kirkdale Cave

Year: 1822
Scientist/artist: William Buckland
Originally published in: Goat Hole Cave, Paviland
Now appears in: Homo Britannicus by Chris Stringer
William Buckland completed one of the first, if not the very first, reconstructions of living habits when he examined fossil hyena remains in Kirkdale Cave. About the same time, he discovered an ancient human skeleton: a Cro-Magnon fossil at Goat Hole Cave. Buckland produced detailed diagrams of the cave and noted that the skeleton was covered with red ochre, possibly the result of a burial ceremony. Buckland probably had no way of knowing how ancient or significant his find was. He also had no great means of determining the individual's gender. He described the ancient human (perhaps jokingly) as a witch, then gave the more palatable name of "Red Lady of Paviland." The ochre-covered human was less-than-average height for a Cro-Magnon male fossil, at least compared to other finds, and that might explain why Buckland misinterpreted the male fossil as female. Still, for such an early find, it wasn't a bad effort.
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Human variations

Year: 1493
Originally published in: Nuremberg Chronicle
Now appears in: Amazing Rare Things by Attenborough, Owens, Clayton and Alexandratos
Europeans imagined all sorts of odd "people" lived elsewhere in the world: people with horns, with giant floppy ears, with giant single feet, to name a few. This late 15th-century publication shows a few of the odd humans assumed to live elsewhere. The bottom picture shows a human whose face appears on his or her torso. The middle picture is of a cyclops. The top picture is apparently of a werewolf crossed with a cheesy lounge singer.

Woodcut of monstrous races

Year: 1475
Scientist/artist: Konrad von Megenberg
Originally published in: Book of Nature
Now appears in: "Marvels of the East: A Study in the History of Monsters" by Rudolf Wittkower in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 1942
The notion that faraway lands — India in particular — held monstrous human races arose in Antiquity, when some Greek scholars spread fabulous accounts. The Greeks had their share of skeptics who challenged such stories, but while the skeptics' criticisms were lost to medieval Europeans, the fantastic tales lived on, thanks to the uncritical writings of Pliny and others. For all their belief in monstrous races, Europeans in the Middle Ages adopted a pretty generous stance about them, insisting that even the monstrous races were God's children. Monsters as portents of divine punishment may have been more common during the sectarian tensions of the Reformation.

Wonders of Creation

Century: 13th
Scientist/artist: Zakariya ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud Abu Yahya al-Qazwini
Originally published in: Aja'ib al-Makhluqat
Now appears in: Science in Medieval Islam by Howard R. Turner
Just as Europeans had outlandish ideas of odd people who might live far away, Muslim scholars entertained equally fanciful notions. Published in what is today Iraq, this encyclopedia of the "Wonders of Creation" covered a range of topics, mixing fact and fiction about geography and biology.


Year: 1851
Scientist/artist: Robert Knox
Originally published in: The Races of Men
Now appears in: Making Modern Science by Bowler and Morus
If the work of Robert Knox was any indication, not much improved in race relations between the beginning and the middle of the 19th century. To Victorian minds, a sloping forehead implied and tiny brain, and Knox sure wanted his readers to get his point about people of color.


Year: 1758
Scientist/artist: Carolus Linnaeus
Originally published in: Systema Naturae
Now appears in: Human Origins: The Search for Our Beginnings by Herbert Thomas
It's impossible to overestimate the contribution Linnaeus made to science — he developed the system for classifying all living organisms that is still in use today. Yet his uncertainty about how to classify apes and humans is obvious from some of his depictions. He even developed terms such as "day man" and "night man," and admitted that he couldn't find a characteristic to differentiate humans from apes.


Year: 1658
Scientist: Edward Topsell
Originally published in: Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes
Now appears at: Topsell's Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes at the University of Houston Digital Library
This 17th-century depiction of a full-bodied beast with long claws and a human face might have looked like a human-hybrid monster to the people who read Topsell's book. It was then known as Arctopithecus (the bear-ape), a New World animal utterly foreign to Europeans. Today it seems a little more benign. It's a three-toed sloth.


Year: 1812
Scientist/artist: F. Jacob
Originally published in: Histoire Naturelle des Singes
Now appears in: Human Origins: The Search for Our Beginnings by Herbert Thomas
Jacob showed the fetus of a monkey and a human side by side to illustrate their similarities, maintaining that the only thing the monkey lacked was a soul.


Year: 1868
Scientist: Ernst Haeckel
Originally published in: Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte
Now appears in: Human Origins: The Search for Our Beginnings by Herbert Thomas and Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree by J. David Archibald
Haeckel divided humanity into no less than 12 distinct species, based upon hair type, skull shape, skin color and eye color. Although he believed humanity now comprised 12 species, he maintained that they had all arisen from a single ancestral type that once lived on a continent now submerged beneath the Indian Ocean. Archibald notes that this image really consists of an ancestry tree superimposed upon a map, perhaps the first published graphic of that kind.

Human and ape heads

Year: 1868
Scientist: Ernst Haeckel
Artist: Gustav Müller
Originally published in: Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (1st edition)
Now appears in: "Pictures of Evolution and Charges of Fraud" by Nick Hopwood in Isis June 2006 issue
Reminiscent of Charles White's 1799 diagram, this illustration pointed out the affinity between the "lowest humans" and "highest apes." The heads pictured here were supposed to represent — from best to worst, so to speak — Indo-German, Chinese, Fuegian, Australian Negro, African Negro, Tasmanian, gorilla, chimpanzee, orang, gibbon, proboscis monkey, and mandrill. An interesting shift from White's diagram was that the best of the best was no longer Grecian but German. In fairness to Haeckel, he didn't like this illustration much (his publisher apparently did), but an expanded version appeared in the second edition of his book. Haeckel was, to say the least, confident of the superiority of the white race, as were many of his contemporaries. But at least one scientist, Michael Foster described the illustration in Haeckel's second book as "at once absurdly horrible and theatrically grotesque, without any redeeming feature either artistic or scientific."
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Human and ape heads

Year: 1870
Scientist: Ernst Haeckel
Originally published in: Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte (2nd edition)
Now appears in: The Tragic Sense of Life by Robert J. Richards
For the second edition of Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, Haeckel drafted new pictures. As in the first version, the pinnacle of humanity was the Greek ideal, but this time, the Greek sported a beard. So, by pure coincidence, did Haeckel.
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African with apes

Year: 1874
Scientist: Ernst Haeckel
Originally published in: Anthropogenie; oder, Entwickelungsgeschichte des Menschen
Now appears in: Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree by J. David Archibald
Paleontologist and science historian J. David Archibald notes that Haeckel claimed all humans arose from a single ancestor, but the English translation of Haeckel's text suggests otherwise. It reads, "Both the African Manlike Apes [gorillas and chimpanzees] are black in color, and like their countrymen, the Negroes, have the head long from back to front (dolichocephalic). The Asiatic Manlike Apes are, on the contrary mostly of a brown, or yellowish brown color, and have the head short from back to front (brachycephalic), like their countrymen, the Malays and Mongols." Haeckel placed the African man in what appeared to be his rightful place, among the apes. The label for this figure, Neger, is a German term which apparently has a meaning just like the similar-sounding English term. Archibald writes that Haeckel "saw no problems couching racist views under the aegis of science."
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Year: 1909
Scientist: Marcellin Boule
Artist: Frantisek Kupka
Originally published in: The Illustrated London News
Now appears in: Life by Richard Fortey, God — or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age by Constance Areson Clark and "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" by Marianne Sommer in Social Studies of Science (Also discussed in Java Man by Swisher, Curtis and Lewin)
The first fairly complete Neanderthal skeleton was discovered in 1908 by Amadee and Jean Bouyssonie and L. Bardon. The "Old Man of La Chapelle" showed indications of intentional burial, a topic that would be debated for decades. But in the early 20th century, scientists tussled over myriad issues, including the basic question of how long ago the Neanderthal lived. Today the La Chapelle skeleton is estimated at roughly 60,000 years old, but when the skeleton was first found, scientists had few means of figuring out its exact age. Marcellin Boule estimated the skeleton's age at just 20,000 years. Another basic question dealt with how different Neanderthals were from us. Earlier hypotheses about the first recognized Neanderthal fossil, found in the 1850s, suggested that that individual suffered from rickets, hence the bowed legs, and that the pain from the condition caused the sufferer to habitually furrow his brow, producing prominent brow ridges. (In fact, extensive use of muscles can cause bone buildup where those muscles attach, but they can't make a modern human skull look Neanderthal.) Boule worked with the artist Frantisek Kupka, who rendered this Neanderthal as very different from modern humans: hairy, savage, blank-faced, wielding a club. The Illustrated London News quickly reproduced Kupka's illustration. How much Boule approved of this particular image isn't entirely clear.

Neanderthal skull views

Year: 1911
Scientist: Marcellin Boule
Originally published in: L'Homme Fossile de La Chapelle-aux-Saints
Now appears in: Neanderthals in 3D by Lydia Pyne in Public Domain Review
After his earliest interpretations of Neanderthal, Marcellin Boule continued his research of the ancient human species, and in 1911, completed an in-depth monograph. He included with the monograph several images of the fossil human's skull produced with a stereoscope, an optical tool capable of giving a two-dimensional object a three-dimensional appearance. The stereoscope had already proven useful to anatomists studying modern bodies, so its employment in paleoanthropology made sense. But the stereoscope caused a certain problem. To acquire a three-dimensional view of the skull, Boule had to prop it up on a stand. Pyne writes, "Although the props would have been necessary to precisely line up the two images, they introduce a subtle laboratory rhetoric to the Neanderthal plates and L'Homme writ large." Perhaps unconsciously, Boule picked a reclined angle for this prehistoric skull, with the lower jaw jutting far out ahead of the forehead. He probably would not have propped up a modern European skull in quite the same way. Pyne continues, "In the decades after Boule's publication of the La Chapelle Neanderthal, his interpretation of Neanderthals was quickly co-opted into the popular caricature of a slouchy, barbaric troglodyte. The Neanderthal, according to Boule, was a sad specimen of nature — an evolutionary dead-end, to put it most kindly."

Modern human and Neanderthal

Year: 1911
Scientist: Arthur Keith
Artist: Amédée Forestier
Originally published in: The Illustrated London News
Now appears in: "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" by Marianne Sommer in Social Studies of Science
In sharp contrast to French paleontologist Marcellin Boule (above), British anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith believed that humans had acquired more or less modern anatomy very long ago. (He also believed that humans originated in Europe, and he has been named as the possible culprit behind the Piltdown Hoax.) The picture of the spear-wielding specimen on the left was titled, "Modern Man, the Mammoth-Slayer: The Briton of 170,000 Years Ago." This was based on the Galley Hill Man, considered to be a modern human. Only slightly less impressive was the specimen on the right, the Neanderthal known as the Old Man of La Chapelle, and this vignette was titled, "Not in the 'Gorilla' Stage: The Man of 500,000 Years Ago." Boule's estimate of the La Chapelle Neanderthal age was off from modern estimates by some 40,000 years, but his guess was much closer than Keith's. By modern estimates, Neanderthals did not evolve until about 200,000 years ago. Anatomically modern humans — and that term is less straightforward than you might think since it's based on an overall tendency toward modern features — evolved at about the same time, but they first evolved in Africa, not Europe. So Keith substantially overestimated the age of both the mammoth-hunting Briton and the Neanderthal. But the rendition of this noble Neanderthal is arguably closer to modern interpretations than Boule's brute.


Year: 1922
Originally published in: Illustrated London News
Scientists: Henry Fairfield Osborn and Grafton Elliot Smith
Now appears in: God — or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age by Constance Areson Clark
The year 1922 found the American Museum of Natural History's Henry Fairfield Osborn clashing with ardent anti-evolutionist William Jennings Bryan, the "Scopes Monkey Trial" being just a few years away. When Nebraska paleontologist Harold Cook found a fossil tooth that might belong to a primate, Osborn saw his opportunity. How deliciously ironic that an early human tooth might come from Bryan's own home state! Well, the tooth did come from Nebraska. It also came from a pig. Bryan and generations of creationists delighted in pointing out Osborn's gaffe. Fewer have been anxious to acknowledge that the definitive debunking of Hesperopithecus (Nebraska Man) came from William King Gregory — an evolutionist and Osborn's own former student.
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Ascent of man diagram

Year: 1927
Appears in: "Recent Discoveries Relating to the Origin and Antiquity of Man" in Science
Scientist: Henry Fairfield Osborn
In a single paper in Science, Osborn slammed Darwin, Haeckel and Huxley for missing or ignoring "the profound cleft between ape and man;" asserted that "the home of primitive man should be looked for in the same kind of country in which the primitive horse flourished" (that would be Asia); asserted that Neanderthals didn't have to work hard to find food or survive in their environment; insisted that the ancestors of the "higher races of man" could not occur "south of the Neanderthal Eurasiatic belt, because to the south conditions of life were less rigorous;" and described the brain capacity of Homo erectus as "not far inferior to that of the native Indian Veddahs." And he backed up his assertions with the evidence of Piltdown Man and Nebraska Man. Piltdown Man hadn't yet been exposed as a hoax, and Nebraska Man's tooth hadn't yet been identified as that of a pig. This unwelcome bit of dental news would arrive — also in Science — several months later.
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Human family tree

Year: 1931
Originally published in: The Mongol in Our Midst: A Study of Man and His Three Faces
Scientist: Francis Crookshank
Now appears in: "Welcome to the Twilight Zone: A Forgotten Early Phase of Human Evolutionary Studies" by Richard G. Delisle in Endeavour
British physician Crookshank laid out his view of human ancestry in 1931. He believed in polyphyletism, i.e., that humankind had derived from multiple ancestral lines that were isolated from each other. He further linked the different human races with what he believed to be their closest simian relatives. Crookshank wasn't the first polyphyletist but luckily he was one of the last.


Year: 1836
Scientist: George Combe (based on earlier work by Johann Caspar Spurzheim)
Originally published in: Outlines of Phrenology
Now appears in: Victorian Sensation by James A. Secord (Also discussed in Postcards from the Brain Museum by Brian Burrell, and Making Modern Science by Bowler and Morus)
Although modern science has tied certain functions to various regions of the brain, we realize there's still so much we don't know. Nineteenth-century phrenologists were a lot more confident — and convinced that they could tell a patient's mental abilities from the shape of his or her skull. "Phrenological organs" of the brain named in this work included (among many others) destructiveness, secretiveness, veneration, hope, wonder, wit and individuality. Spurzheim, the popularizer of phrenology, took many of his ideas from Franz Josef Gall. Gall and Spurzheim started out as colleagues but later had a philosophical split. Though he got wrapped up in the silly notion of skull shapes, Gall was onto something regarding localization of certain brain functions.

Husband-selection guidelines

Year: 1902
Scientist: L.A. Vaught
Originally published in: Vaught's Practical Character Reader
Now appears in: Phrenology Diagrams in Public Domain Review
Popular confidence in phrenology lasted through the 19th century and into the 20th. At the dawn of the 20th century, Vaught sought to offer practical advice for people wanting to understand human nature, no matter the country. "More than a million observations have been made to confirm the examinations," the author boasted. This pair of illustrations aimed to help women choose good husbands. For the picture on the left, Vaught advised, "Young ladies, indelibly fix this shape of head in your memories. Any man who will make a natural, kind and true husband will have a head in outline from a side view like this." For the picture on the right, Vaught cautioned, "The reason this man is an unreliable husband is because his is very weak in Conjugality and Parental Love and exceedingly strong in Amativeness. Young ladies, beware of such men as husbands." Among that man's likely sins were bigamy and polygamy.


Year: 1744
Scientist: William Smith (not the 19th-century geologist)
Now appears in: Man's Place in Nature by T.H. Huxley
Huxley discredited this image in 1863, and suggested that it really represented a chimpanzee. By the time Huxley wrote, human understanding of the great apes had substantially improved. He quoted from a paper published in 1852 by a new researcher: "opportunities for receiving a knowledge of the [gorilla] have not been wanting; traders having for one hundred years frequented [the Congo region of Africa], and specimens, such as have been brought here within a year, could not have been exhibited without having attracted the attention of the most stupid."


Year: 1915
Scientist: William Diller Matthew
Originally published in: "Climate and Evolution" in Annals N.Y. Acad. Sci.
Now appears in: Man Rises to Parnassus by Henry Fairfield Osborn
Following up a lecture he delivered in 1911, William Diller Matthew published this map showing his hypothesis about the origin and dispersal of human races. From Asia, "Mongols" headed north and into the Americas, "Caucasians" headed into southern and western Europe, "Malays" went eastward and morphed into Australian Aborigines, and "Negroids" aimed for Africa. "Negritos" probably referred to the Khoi-San of southern Africa. Nobody much liked the idea now commonly accepted today: African ancestry for all modern humans.


Year: 1927
Scientist: Henry Fairfield Osborn
Originally published in: Man Rises to Parnassus
After praising Linnaeus for designating humans as Homo sapiens, Osborn quickly corrected the 18th-century naturalist. "Through anatomical researches among the Asiatics and Africans, we now subdivide Homo sapiens into three or more absolutely distinct stocks, which in zoology would be given the rank of species, if not of genera; these stocks are popularly known as the Caucasian, the Mongolian, and the Negroid." He elaborated, "The spiritual, intellectual, moral, and physical characters which separate these three great human stocks are very profound and ancient. In the author's opinion these three primary stocks diverged from each other during the Age of Mammals, even before the beginning of the Pleistocene or Ice Age. The Negroid stock is even more ancient than the Caucasian and Mongolian, a may be proved by an examination not only of the brain . . ." Like others before him, Osborn argued that early humans arose in Asia. The caption for this map read, "Theory of Central Asiatic Origin and Dispersal of Mankind. After W.K. Gregory, 1924. Leidy, Matthew, Osborn and Gregory are among those who have favored the theory of an upland or plateau region as the original homeland of man." Two years before Osborn's Parnassus book was published, Raymond Dart had found Australopithecus africanus, a human ancestor in Africa, but few people were taking the find seriously.
As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Eighty-seven years after Osborn argued for ancient and profound divisions between "the Caucasian, the Mongolian, and the Negroid" in Man Rises to Parnassus, Nicholas Wade claimed in his new book, A Troublesome Inheritance, that human evolution over the past 50,000 years has produced sharp divides between races, with white Europeans best suited genetically to the political and economic institutions now dominating the world. About all Wade's book lacked was evidence which, he insisted, didn't exist purely because academia's thought police had scared scientists away from such "career-destroying" research. In fact, scientists kept investigating genes, race and intelligence in all those years separating Osborn's and Wade's books. What such investigations have found is that the greatest variation in humans exists not between African and other populations but within African populations.
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Year: 1927
Scientist: Henry Fairfield Osborn
Artist: James Howard McGregor
Originally published in: Man Rises to Parnassus
Titled "The Rise of Character in the Human Face," this collection of busts shows Osborn's conception of human ancestry. Although debate continues about the possible contribution of Neanderthal DNA to that of modern humans, Neanderthals are no longer regarded as direct ancestors. Yet Osborn's inclusion of the Neanderthal as a direct ancestor is dwarfed by another gaffe: the inclusion of Piltdown Man.

Eugenics triangle of life

Year: c. 1930
Originally appeared in: Traveling exhibit on eugenics
Now appears in: Better for All the World by Harry Bruinius
If people could breed better pigs, chickens and cows, they could certainly breed better children. Traveling exhibits in the first half of the 20th century showed the simple logic of heritage trumping education and environment. Ironically, some of the main thinkers behind the eugenics movement had troubles of their own. Harry Laughlin, who vigorously campaigned for the sterilization of the unfit, kept secret his own epilepsy. Of course, epilepsy in no way diminishes one's worth as a human being (unless, unfortunately, one is a eugenicist). Another thinker behind the movement, Charles Davenport, confidently predicted that his daughter would — like himself — respect the values of Protestant America, manage expenses responsibly, and prefer nature to art. His daughter turned out to be a bohemian spendthrift. Even worse, she was a bohemian spendthrift who defied her daddy and married a Jew.

Heredity chart

Year: 1911
Scientist: Charles Davenport
Originally published in: Heredity in Relation to Eugenics
Now appears in: Davenport's Dream edited by Witkowski and Inglis
Eugenicist Charles Davenport believed that practically everything came down to inheritance: intelligence, artistic ability, wanderlust and good (or bad) morals. To support his argument, he published an abundance of inheritance diagrams showing the relationships between various defects. His caption for this one reads, "This mating illustrates the principle that migraine (M) and paralysis frequently indicate the presence of defective germ cells, as well as normal. In the central mating the paralytic father has an insane brother, an insane niece and 3 feeble-minded grandnephews, besides a grandniece, who died in convulsions." Besides M for migraine, Davenport employed these abbreviations: N for normal, A for alcoholic, E for epileptic, F for feeble-minded, I for insane, D inf. for died in infancy. Also written next to some boxes are apparently less serious traits: "neurotic" and "peculiar." When he produced these diagrams, Davenport likely didn't know that his trusted colleague, Harry Laughlin, suffered from epilepsy, a condition he tried to hide for many years. Eugenicists frequently found the condition grounds for forced sterilization.
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Eugenics logo

Year: 1921
Originally published by: The Second International Eugenics Congress
Now appears in: Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree by J. David Archibald
Convening at the American Museum of Natural History, the Second International Eugenics Congress boasted an artfully designed logo. Even now, the Art Nouveau design holds a certain appeal, though the text is a little horrifying. Architects of the eugenics movement felt confident they could distinguish those worthy of breeding from the unfit. Eugenicists such as Charles Davenport imagined that a single gene might be responsible for intelligence. Nearly a century later, scientists aren't so sure. In September 2014, Nature News reported ( ) on a new study exploring the link between genes and intelligence, saying, "One of the largest, most rigorous genetic studies of human cognition has turned up inconclusive findings, and experts concede that they will probably need to scour the genomes of more than 1 million people to confidently identify even a small genetic influence on intelligence and other behavioural traits." Nature went on to explain that the authors of the newly published study had identified 69 genetic variants associated with education level, but found "those variants have about one-twentieth the influence on intelligence as do gene variants linked to other complex traits such as height." In other words, nearly a century of additional research left scientists less sure, not more sure, of which genes affect intelligence and behavior. As for the "harmonious entity" of the 1921 eugenics tree, the artist omitted a few ingredients from its sturdy roots, namely big doses of racial, ethnic, religious, and class biases.
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Genius skulls

Year: 1896
Scientist: Cesare Lombroso
Originally published in: The Man of Genius
Italian anthropologist Cesare Lombroso gained fame for, among other things, alleging that genius was a form of retrograde evolution, and that madness was how biology coped with that genius. Lombroso also asserted that some people are born delinquent, and society should save itself from these hopeless cases by any means necessary. (Lombroso tried convincing Leo Tolstoy of this. Nonplussed, Tolstoy wrote Resurrection to refute the notion.) Besides believing in genius-madness links and born criminals, Lombroso was sure mental attributes could be determined from the appearance of the brain and even the skull. Here he showed some skulls of geniuses, including Volta and Foscolo (inordinately tall) and Kant (exceptional cranial capacity). Given the chance to examine the brain of a contemporary, Carlo Giacomini (who had collected evidence contradicting Lombroso's theory), Lombroso declared victory when he found Giacomini's preserved brain sported a rare feature, a double Rolando sulcus.

Female criminal skulls

Year: 1897
Scientist: Cesare Lombroso
Originally published in: L'uomo delinquente in rapporto all'antropologia, alla giurisprudenza ed alla psichiatria
Image provided by: El Bibliomata (some rights reserved)
Lombroso didn't consider the fairer sex too fair for scrutiny when it came to delinquency. He was sure the female skull could shed as much light on criminal behavior as the male skull. This image, titled "Cranii di donne delinquenti italiane," presented a collection of skulls of female criminals whose deviance Lombroso believed he could identify in skull shape. Interestingly, the skulls shown in profile are all tilted backward rather than shown upright as they would be at the top of a living woman's neck. Maybe the skulls were portrayed this way simply because it was easier to rest them on a flat, level surface, but it was a practice frequently (if unconsciously) followed when showing the skulls of "savage" races.


Year: 1911
Scientists: Cesare Lombroso and G. Ferrero
Originally published in: "Applications de la nouvelle école au Nord de l'Amérique"
Now appears in: The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould (Lombroso's work also discussed in "Turin's Criminology Museum" by Alison Abbott in Nature Magazine, January 21, 2010 issue)
Lombroso teamed up with colleague Ferrero to illustrate some unprepossessing facial features that identify born criminals. Unfortunately for many accused, the stigmata he described became "evidence" in their criminal trials. While he pushed for capital punishment for the worst "born criminals," Lombroso believed that other deviants had only some or only slightly troubling criminal characteristics — big ears, little heads, protruding brows — and they should simply be placed in asylums. His genetic-throwback explanation of criminality, genius and deviance was known as atavism.


Year: 1586
Scientist: Giambattista Della Porta
Originally published in: De Humana Physiognomia
Now appears in: Astrology, Magic, and Alchemy in Art by Matilde Battistini, translated by Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia
Della Porta was a respected naturalist and glittering playwright. Unfortunately, his reputation gave his misguided ideas a long life, including the notion that one's character could be inferred from one's face. He apparently considered this example obstinate.

Facial comparisons

Year: 1586
Scientist: Giambattista Della Porta
Originally published in: De Humana Physiognomia
Now appears at: Historical Anatomies on the Web (
In his De Humana Physiognomia Libri IIII, Della Porta produced plenty of examples of human-animal similarities, some less noble than others. Della Porta also believed in the doctrine of signatures, that plants resembling certain body parts could cure what ailed them.
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Facial comparisons

Year: 1586
Scientist: Giambattista Della Porta
Originally published in: De Humana Physiognomia
Now appears at: Giambattista della Porta's De Humana Physiognomia Libri IIII in Public Domain Review
Here are two more examples of Della Porta's physiognomy — facial features shedding light on character — with animal counterparts. The human shown on the bottom might have been realistic, but the the human up top is surely an exaggeration. The belief that a person's facial features and body shape could illuminate his or her character goes back to the time of Ancient Greece. By Della Porta's day, physiognomy had become entwined with another popular pseudoscience: astrology. Some of the greatest astronomers of the Renaissance cast horoscopes for powerful patrons.

Four temperaments

Century: Early 19th
Scientist: W. Johnson
Now appears in: Blood and Guts by Roy Porter
For centuries, doctors maintained that health and personality were determined by one's balance of four key bodily fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. (Blech.) If you were sanguine, you were ruddy, lively, energetic and hard working, but maybe impulsive and something less than an intellectual giant. If you were phlegmatic, you were chubby and lazy. If you were choleric (with an excess of yellow bile), you might be thin, jaundiced, mean and stingy. If you were melancholic (with an excess of black bile) you were depressed. Paracelsus scorned this mind set in the 16th century, but it persisted anyway. This engraving showed examples of the different temperaments.
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Old evolutionary tree

Year: 1945
Scientists: Franz Weidenreich and Roy Chapman Andrews
Artist: T.W. Voter
Originally published in: Meet Your Ancestors by Roy Chapman Andrews
In the mid-1940s, Roy Chapman Andrews wrote a book about paleoanthropology aimed at a popular audience, with "The Family Tree of Man" (only part of which appears here) on the inside cover. The book reflected the views of scientists Andrews truly admired, including Henry Fairfield Osborn and (especially) Franz Weidenreich. (Weidenreich's work led to the multiregional theory of human origins, arguing that modern human races evolved independently from Homo erectus with some gene flow in between.) To his credit, Andrews mentioned Africa's possible role as the cradle of humankind, and he expressed reservations about the Piltdown fossils. New finds in science, however, still couldn't override old feelings about race. Andrews summed up the issue with the example of radishes growing at different rates in different types of soil. So, he stated, "the progress of the different races was unequal." It shouldn't take much effort to guess which race Andrews considered the winner. The "giants" Andrews described belonged to the now-discredited genus of Meganthropus and Gigantopithecus. Gigantopithecus is still considered a valid genus, and modern paleontologists surmise that it may actually have been as much as 10 feet tall, though it's not considered a human ancestor.


Year: 1926
Scientist: Henry Fairfield Osborn
Originally published in: Evolution and Religion in Education
Now appears in: God — or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age by Constance Areson Clark
In his biography published in 1940, W.E.B. Du Bois remarked, "I remember once in a museum, coming face to face with a demonstration: a series of skeletons arranged from a little monkey to a tall well-developed white man, with a Negro barely outranking a chimpanzee." Henry Fairfield Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History wielded enormous influence, not just at AMNH, but in other museums and in textbooks, which adapted AMNH material. A self-described opponent of "miscegenation," Osborn didn't think twice about which race was the very best. Notice the "Ascent of Increasing Intelligence."


Century: Early 20th
Appeared at: American Museum of Natural History
Now appears in: Darwin's Universe: Evolution from A to Z by Richard Milner
For many years, the American Museum of Natural History managed to combine the ladder-like view of evolution with obvious racism. Of course, humans belonged at the top of the ladder — just not all humans. In this assemblage of busts, the tippy-top spot is occupied by nothing less than a Greek god. Below the god, and below all people of European descent, is the sub-Saharan African. Milner writes, "By the 1960s, the outmoded embarrassment was trashed." Good riddance.
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Dust jacket

Year: 1929
Scientist: William King Gregory
Originally published in: Our Face from Fish to Man
Now appears in: God — or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age by Constance Areson Clark
To see the ladder of evolution from fish to humans, you didn't have to visit the American Museum of Natural History; the same racism in a lab coat appeared on book covers, too. William King Gregory criticized his old mentor, Henry Fairfield Osborn, for "pithecophobia" — a fear of apes and monkeys in the human family tree. But Gregory (like many people) shared Osborn's views of race. This dust jacket includes six stylized faces and one real one. The Tasmanian face, apparently not quite human in Gregory's view, is from a 19th-century photograph of a woman who may have been the last remaining member of Tasmania's native population. Her name was Trucanini, and at the time her picture was taken, she was one of just five survivors in what could be termed an internment camp, established by the British. All of her companions were so ill that they would soon die. Trucanini died in 1876.

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