Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins [Full Teaser]

  • from Yale University Press

“Watch the evolution of our species in under two minutes. Learn how paleoartist John Gurche draws on fossil discoveries and forensic techniques to create transfixing reconstructions of long-lost human ancestors. 

Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins, Yale University Press, November 2013.”

(Source: Yale University)

Allosaurus and Brachiosaurus, John Gurche

It was the juvenile they wanted. It tantalized them, trotting nervously behind a forest of crushing pendulums. Around the young one, the adults’ heavy feet swung inches above the dusty earth, then planted themselves, the pads of their feet compressing and bulging under the mass, the tremor of the weight-shift rippling up their tree-like limbs, the meat of their cathedral bodies quivering with each step. An allosaur would crack like an egg under their feet, guts spilling and brains spattering like so much yolk and glair. They’d seen it happen—their sister’s death was instantaneous under a mountain of bone and sinew. She didn’t live long enough to even leak out a yelp.

A door seemed to open between the fence of legs, and the younger Allosaurus moved for it, but it was gone in an instant, another great shank blocking the path. The titans seemed unaware of the predators, and yet they barricaded their bleating morsel so well that chinks in the living wall lasted mere seconds. Were they teasing the predators? Another chance came and went. And another, each lasting just long enough for the theropods to realize an opportunity had been missed.

Frustrated, the two brutes jogged away. Near the edge of the clearing, they circled a feeding Camptosaurus. There was no bone-crushing fence surrounding it. The little dinosaur ran blindly from one Allosaurus to the other—stupid—and that was that. Its carcass was merely half the size of just one of them, but it would be enough for now. As they bolted down the hot meat, the allosaur sisters watched the Brachiosaurus herd merge with the forest beyond the clearing, legs blending with tree trunks, heads bobbing above the canopy.

Artist John Gurche used the latest forensic techniques, fossil discoveries, and 20 years of experience to create the lifelike reconstructions of early humans on display in the Hall of Human Origins. The painstaking process required a detailed knowledge of human and ape anatomy. It took Gurche 2½ years to complete these busts.

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