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Reconstructing History

Ever since the first hominid fossil was identified in 1856, scientists have tried to reconstruct the faces of our ancient ancestors. But at first, scientists knew of only a few hominid fossils and had little knowledge of primate anatomy. As such, their reconstructions were largely speculative, though sometimes surprisingly accurate. Today, with an extensive fossil record and vastly improved techniques and technologies, scientists can re-create the faces of the past as never before.

Century-Old Science

This reconstruction of Homo erectus--a hominid species that lived in Asia from about 1.8 million to 40,000 years ago--was made here at the American Museum of Natural History in 1914.

Hair & Skin - Today, scientists can often learn about the environments of our ancient ancestors and, in turn, make informed guesses about skin colors. Homo ergaster, for instance, lived in what were hot, open conditions and almost certainly had relatively dark skin to protect against the sun and may well have had relatively little body hair to help with heat loss.

Nose, Mouth & Jaw - The facial dimensions and features of Homo erectus in this historic reconstruction were based on only a piece of the skull and lower jaw. Today, facial reconstruction experts can draw on a much more complete fossil record.

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© AMNH / Rod Mickens

Homo ergaster reconstruction by Gary Sawyer


Facial Muscles - Heavily used muscles create small ridges on the bone where they attach. Using powerful microscopes to closely examine those markings on fossils, facial reconstruction experts today can more accurately determine the sizes and shapes of ancient muscles.

State of the Art

This reconstruction of Homo ergaster--a hominid species that lived in Africa from about 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago--was made here at the American Museum of Natural History in 2005.

American Museum of Natural History

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