Gift Giving Ideas for Archaeology and Anthropology

There are a lot of gift giving opportunities throughout a typical year.  First you have the big one, Christmas, then you have birthdays, graduations, promotions, weddings, other various holidays and commemorative occasions.  Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the right gift.  When gift giving you would like to be able to give a gift that is appreciated.

We all know gifts reflecting a person’s interests show thoughtfulness on the part of the gift giver.

hand painted skull on ceramic plate gift

Anthropology, Archaeology and Paleontology can seem like esoteric pursuits to some people.  However, the discoveries they make generate a tremendous amount of interest for everyone. The study of human evolution is as fascinating to the general population as it is to those who work in the field.  After all worldwide headlines are made all the time with the latest Anthropological and Paleontological discoveries. 

Finding a unique gift for the person with a passion for Anthropology, Archaeology, Fossils and Human Evolution is not that easy. 

anthropology gift t shirt

It is common to spend years or even a whole career in the field looking for a signature artifact.  When someone does unearth a treasured artifact, nothing can compare with the joy of that discovery.  I am not going to say that opening a gift can compare to that level of fulfillment but then again there is always anticipation of what you will unwrap might be something more desirable than a new pair of socks.

The Study of Man doesn’t offer socks but we do offer you ideal gifts that are unique. 

skull coffee cup gift

All the skull illustrations and artwork designs are original and found nowhere else.  The hand painted ceramic plates and tiles I create and fire with the kiln in my own studio.  The designs on the t shirts, coffee cups and posters are my own copyrighted artwork too, you won’t find them anywhere else.  

Fossils have given us the history of Life on Earth.

My main interest in Anthropology and Archaeology is with the study of human evolution utilizing fossils and artifacts from our human legacy.  This study falls in the field of Paleoanthropology and is made possible by the gift of fossils.  Without fossils we would have no knowledge of the history of life on earth. The study of fossils has given us a bounty of knowledge and understanding we could not have gotten in any other way.

Fossils are formed in ways other than with skeletal remains but fossilized bones are the most common fossils associated with the human legacy.  Not all bones from a hominin (human lineage) fossilize equally well.  Teeth and jaw bones seem to be the best candidates for fossilization.  Skull caps fossilize well too, but even so complete skulls from ancient hominins are rare.

In fact, hominin skulls are the most rare and celebrated fossils in the world.

When we look back to 7 million years ago at the start of the hominin line there have been 21 species identified and because of classification there might be as many as 27 species of hominins.  Of those 21 species, excluding modern man, only six of them have had discovered what could be considered a full skull.  There are several complete Neanderthal skulls and if you put those aside there are only 5 complete skulls total from the remaining 15 species.

So, you can see just how rare complete hominin fossil skulls are.  Extremely rare.

What happens with the cranial pieces found for the various species is that they can be pieced together and the pieces that are missing can be faked and filled in to give a good representation of what a complete skull would look like.  Many of the hominin species discovered have had quite a bit of the skull recovered but lack the lower jaw.  The lower jaw is not connected to the skull itself and tends to get separated thru time and lost.  And the reverse is also true that there are several species where we have only found the lower jaw and not any parts of the rest of the skull.

For reference on the skull illustrations I have created on Gallery of Skulls I used the best ‘reconstructed skulls’ for each particular species that have not had a complete skull discovered yet.  With H. floresiensis and H. naledi, they do not have a complete skull for either but with all the pieces they have it’s really close to being a complete skull.

The photo below is of the skull pieces for Homo naledi.

skull pieces from Homo naledi

I did not use a complete skull for the H. heidelbergensis illustration preferring to use the most complete one found, it lacks the lower jaw. 

For the illustrations of A. africanus, H. erectus, H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens there have been good fossil discoveries of complete skulls to go by.

The illustrations on the ceramic plates are hand painted on.  I use a large, heavyweight, 12 inches in diameter plate so I can get the actual size of the skulls on there. 

A first reaction be might be that a Skull is an odd gift to give someone.  But the truth is these skull illustrations are accurate, to scale depictions of the most precious hominin fossils found.  Anyone with an interest in Fossils or Archaeology and Anthropology would immediately recognize the value of owning them.

Here are the steps I use creating the hand painted ceramic plates.

Homo erectus skull painted on a ceramic plate

I start with a bisque fired plate.  That means the clay plate has been fired once in the kiln to make it hard.  The clay body used gives me a white plate to start with.

Then I create the background color on the back of the plate using ceramic underglazes and let that dry and once dried turn the plate over and create the same treatment on the front of the plate.  I want them to look like parchment so I use a sand khaki color to create the parchment look I am after.

After both sides are dry I create a gradient around the outside perimeter of the plate both on the front and back.  I use a dark brown color for this and start at the outside of the plate working inward.  Typically, the back is done first then the front.

 After the dark brown gradient is dry on both sides I can now paint in the fossil skull.  I do this using a variety of techniques.  Once the skull is finished to my satisfaction I sign each plate on the back.

neanderthal skull

The next step is to cover the front and back completely with a solid thick coating of a clear gloss dinnerware safe glaze.  Again, one side at a time is worked on.

Once the clear gloss glaze has dried the plate is ready to fire in the kiln.  The temperature of the firing is close to 2,000 degrees and the process of firing the plates takes 24 hours.  This makes the plates microwave and dishwasher safe.

Homo heidelbergensis skull

The same procedure is used in creating the ceramic tiles.

Because each ceramic skull plate is done one at a time by hand there are individual variations from plate to plate but they are small.  Also, handmade pottery is not like mass produced factory ceramics.  These plates have ‘charm’.  The charm which is imbedded in each plate comes in the form of the idiosyncrasies and minor imperfections each plate will have.

The seven different hominin skulls I have illustrated for gifts are in order of age:

Australopithecus africanus 3.3 to 2.1 million years BCE
Homo naledi  2 million to 250,000 years BCE
Homo floresiensis   700,000 to 50,000 years BCE
Homo erectus   1.9 million to 70,000 years BCE
Homo heidelbergensis   800,000 to 200,000 years BCE
Homo neanderthalensis  500,000 to 28,000 years BCE
Homo sapiens  350,000 to present

Let me talk briefly about each skull and why I chose it.

Australopithecus africanus

In scientific nomenclature species are given two names.  The Genus comes first and it is always capitalized, then the species name comes next and it is not capitalized. 

So… Genus: Australopithecus,  species: africanus or Australopithecus africanus.

Australopithecus are commonly called Australopithecines when referred to as the whole genus or even more pointedly called Australopiths.   The most famous australopith is Lucy.  Most people with even a causal interest in human evolution have heard of Lucy.  She is an australopith that lived 3.2 million years ago.  Lucy’s species is A. afarensis and their lifespan is considered to be between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago.  The Lucy find yielded several hundred bone fragments that when reconstructed resulted in a skeleton 40% complete.  Even so the reconstruction did not give us much of a skull.

The australopith skull I have chosen to illustrate is nicknamed Mrs. Ples.   She is a member of the A. africanus species.  Mrs. Ples is one of the most perfect pre-human skulls ever discovered.  She got her name because when first found the fossils were given the scientific designation Plesianthropus transvaalensis.  This was later corrected but the press had already started to call her Mrs. Ples.

Australopithecus africanus skull

Australopithecus africanus was first discovered in 1924 by miners in South Africa.  In 1925 the skull was given the name Australopithecus africanus and designated a new species by Raymond Dart.  The significance of this find was twofold.   First it established that Africa was the birthplace of mankind and second it established that australopiths walked upright or were bipedal.

Australopithecus africanus skull

A signature trait of being human is bipedalism, walking upright on two feet.  There are species that came before the australopiths in the hominin line.  However, there is not enough fossil evidence to establish they were fully bipedal.  They most certainly were bipedal but it’s hard to establish if that was their exclusive mode of locomotion.

So, with the australopiths you have the first general consensus fully bipedal hominin and they are currently thought to have evolved 4 to 4.5  million years ago. 

When I first thought of creating the skull gifts I wanted to start as early in the hominin line as I could.  Mrs. Ples is really a good choice for the first skull illustration. 

Homo naledi

This is one interesting species here.  First off, Homo naledi is the latest entry into the human legacy.  He was discovered in September of 2013 by cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker in the Rising Star cave system of South Africa. They took photographs and the photos were given to Lee Berger a paleoanthropologist with the University of the Witwatersrand. 

Homo naledi skull

You might have seen the two hour National Geographic special on this find and the exciting excavation of the fossils.  If you have not seen it please watch it as it is totally fascinating.  Also, Lee Berger has written a book about this find and his other major hominin find Australopithecus sediba.  The book is titled “Almost Human” and a must read.

No skull collection would be complete without this species.  Luckily an almost a complete naledi skull was part of the find and it’s a great reference to create the skull illustration.

Homo floresiensis

How can I not include a Hobbit into this lineup of illustrated skulls.  This species was discovered in 2003 on the Indonesian island of Flores.  Because of its small stature it has been named ‘The Hobbit’.  The great thing about the Hobbit is a complete skull has been recovered along with bone fragments constituting partial skeletal remains from nine individuals.

Homo floresiensis

Older than at first thought H. floresiensis could have evolved from H. habilis or even an older species like H. naledi which would make him over 2 million years old.  However, using an earlier date like 2 million years ago is premature at this point for H. floresiensis. 

A well known process process, called "island dwarfism," is considered responsible for the small size of H. floresiensis.  With island dwarfism some species have been known to shrink as much as six times in the process of adapting to an environment with fewer resources. 

Homo erectus

Java man and Peking Man, are the names first given to this species.  Charles Darwin published his landmark book, “On The Origin Of Species” in 1859.  This book introduced the concept of evolution.  Many people took it to mean there was a ‘missing link’ between monkeys and modern man.  In 1886 Eugene Dubois went to Asia to find the missing link.  In 1891 his team found the first Homo erectus and it was dubbed ‘Java Man’ and considered to be the missing link.

Homo erectus skull side view

I am particularly fond of H. erectus for several reasons.  Mostly because he is undeniably our ancestor.  There are enough skeleton fossils of erectus to know that he had basically the exact same skeleton as we do.  He even stood as tall as 6 feet 1 inch.  The main difference between the two of us is the skull.  Erectus’ skull is smaller, about 3/4th the size of ours.  H. erectus had quite a long lifespan living from 1.9 million years ago up until 70,000 years ago.

There have been several near complete skulls found and one entirely complete H. erectus skull discovered.  So, I have had plenty of reference material for the skull illustration for this species.

Homo heidelbergensis

Just based on the visual appearance alone this my favorite hominin skull.  In fact I like it so much I have used it as my own picture on the about page.  For some reason I wish I looked like that fossilized skull.  Not really but I still like the way it looks.

human evolution, Heidelberg Man T Shirt

Homo heidelbergensis is also known as Heidelberg Man because he was discovered near Heidelberg, Germany. He evolved from H. erectus and the latest thinking is around 800,000 years ago. However, there are bone fragments found from 1.2 million years ago in Heidelberg man’s range that could well turn out to be him. 

Heidelberg man is also considered to be the father of Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo sapiens. One of the most surprising fun facts of H. heidelbergensis is that in the African part of his range he grew to heights of 7 feet tall. 

Homo neanderthalensis

Neanderthals, everybody has heard of them.   They have come a long way in the last hundred years when they were characterized as slothish brutes.  A characterization that was given from an arthritic and deformed Neanderthal fossil.  It’s has taken a long time to correct that image but we still use the term Neanderthal as a derogatory expression. 

The truth is they were very nearly like us.  Some scientists would even have them classified as a sub-species as in Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. 

Homo neanderthal skull

Most people have no idea of any other species of early hominin other than Neanderthals, the original cave man.  We know quite a bit about them too.  The big mystery for many years is what happened to them.  For the longest time it was assumed that modern man fought with them and killed them off when he moved into their territories.  However, after DNA analysis it is now widely accepted that Neanderthals were assimilated into the tribes of Homo sapiens when they encountered them.  All of the world’s population except for sub-Saharan indigenous peoples) have between 1 and 3% Neanderthal DNA in them. 

Their lifespan was from 500,000 to only 28,000 years ago.  They were contemporary with modern man for much of that time.

Homo sapiens

Modern man has a new and surprising birthday of sorts.  In June of 2017 startling results were reported on the age of Homo sapiens fossils found at Jabel Irhoud in Morocco.  The dating analysis of the bone fragments found indicated dates for the fossils to be 300-350,000 years old.  This shatters a belief that modern man is 200,000 years old.

The new dating opens up a whole range of possibilities and theories concerning the emergence of modern man.

Homo sapiens skull

Homo sapiens are the most successful mammal to have lived on the earth.  Currently there are 7 billion 400 million of us.  We live in every environment on earth and we are the only species to have willing changed the path of earth’s history.  You cannot overestimate the impact of man on the planet.

The seven skulls I have chosen to illustrate make a perfect collection for gift giving.  The collection is available as hand painted ceramic plates, ceramic tiles, t shirts, coffee mugs and posters.  So plenty to choose from for that Anthropologist in your life.

I am continually adding to the skulls here.  I think a great compliment to the hominin skulls would be various animal skulls.  Some animal skulls are not only interesting but very beautiful and I hope the work I have done with them translates that to you.

As well as creating gifts for sale I have also written several papers about Human Evolution.  I hope you will have the time to read thru them.  They are written with the layman in mind so the work is not full of scientific jargon.  The papers are easy to read and written a conversational style.

If you have any special requests for a skull illustration please let me know via the contact page.



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