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Academic & Professional Books  History & Other Humanities  Anthropology  Physical Anthropology

Lost Anatomies The Evolution of the Human Form

Art / Photobook
By: John Gurche(Illustrator), David R Begun(Contributor), Trenton W Holliday(Contributor), Rick Potts(Contributor), Carol B Ward(Contributor), Meave G Leakey(Foreword By)
208 pages, 125 colour & b/w illustrations
Publisher: Abrams
Lost Anatomies contains an extraordinary body of beautiful drawings of human ancestors that combines science and artistry.
Lost Anatomies
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  • Lost Anatomies ISBN: 9781419734489 Hardback Mar 2019 In stock
Price: £28.99
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About this book

Renowned palaeoartist John Gurche brings the traditional techniques of figure drawing and anatomical art to the portrayal of our hominin ancestors. The result is a visual record of the evolving human form that feels alive in a way no scientific illustration could match. While science provides an underpinning to Gurche's art, his work's primary purpose is to forge an aesthetic connection to the hominins that preceded us on Earth, capturing their humanity. With essays by leading authorities, Lost Anatomies carries the story of human evolution from apes and early hominins; to Australopithecus; to archaic Homo sapiens, including Homo erectus; to derived Homo sapiens, including Neanderthals and other species that are our most recent ancestors.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Extraordinary collection of beautiful drawings
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 21 Mar 2019 Written for Hardback

    Are science and art strange bedfellows? The answer to this tricky question will hinge on your definition of art. Science and illustration certainly are not. American palaeoartist John Gurche has spent three decades studying ape and human anatomy and making reconstructions of early humans. Amidst all this professional work, he has been quietly building a private portfolio of more artistic images as a creative outlet. After 27 years, this body of work is gathered here in Lost Anatomies. It is an exceptional and beautiful collection of palaeoart that occasionally ventures into slightly psychedelic territory, without ever losing sight of the underlying science.

    If the name Gurche is not immediately familiar, then his artwork certainly is. His images and sculptures have been on display in the American Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum, and the Smithsonian. His artwork has featured in National Geographic, including on four covers, and it has graced four US Postal Service stamps. To top it off, he has been a consultant for the movie Jurassic Park. Looking at his website, I recognised dinosaur illustrations that were pinned to my bedroom wall as a child.

    His previous book, Shaping Humanity, was a platform to discuss all the debates, brainstorming, and interpretations that went into the fifteen sculptures of early humans he made for the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins, which opened in 2010. You will not find much discussion of that kind in Lost Anatomies, nor does the book go into how to make palaeoartwork (for that, see my review of The Palaeoartist's Handbook). Instead, this book lets the art do the talking.

    Organised roughly chronologically, the four sections of this book are each introduced by short essays from a different contributor (more on them below). But the bulk of the book is dedicated to the jaw-dropping drawings of Gurche. These range from full-body images reminiscent of studio portraits to studies of individual anatomical details such as skulls, or the musculature of arms, feet, and faces. There are some truly memorable images in this book – I was particularly taken with the mid-stride reconstruction of the Australopithecus afarensis skeleton nicknamed Lucy, which provides a unique perspective. The many portraits of early hominins are especially powerful as they look at the reader across the vast chasm of time.

    For these drawings, Gurche has predominantly worked with pen and ink, graphite, and sometimes chalk and acrylic. The resulting body of work is fairly earthy and dark in tone. Beyond his choice of subjects and sometimes unusual perspective, what adds to the artistry of his work are the media he works on: coloured paper, boards washed or splattered with acrylics, or xeroxed transfers. Other illustrations show a progression of design stages, have written notes overlain, or have been further digitally manipulated or coloured. Gurche has let his creative juices flow for these drawings, with sometimes almost psychedelic results. Some still lifes of skulls look like gigantic hovering spaceships.

    Gurche approached five scientists for contributions. Maeve Leakey, of the famous Leakey family who do anthropological fieldwork in Kenya, provides the foreword. Paleoanthropologist David R. Begun has written the first essay on the oldest hominins. He is best known for his outspoken ideas that the oldest human ancestors developed in Europe before invading Africa, from whence they came out of Africa millions of years later (see The Real Planet of the Apes). Director of anatomical sciences at the University of Missouri School of Medicine Carol Ward writes about what makes the Australopiths significant, as they were the first ancestors to really shift to a bipedal lifestyle.

    Probably the most amusing essay comes from Rick Potts, curator of the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian for which Gurche made the models. He shortly discusses the early members of the genus Homo, and marvels at the diminutive H. floresiensis (nicknamed the Hobbit), asking: “How did this one get to join our taxonomic club?” Finally, anthropologist Trenton W. Holliday talks about the more recent Homo members such as H. neanderthalensis and H. heidelbergensis.

    The essays are fairly short, some of them reflecting on the author’s link to Gurche’s work, while others are more personal reflections on fieldwork. Not intended as exhaustive overviews of the state of the science, they nevertheless give the lay of the land, acknowledging for example findings from ancient DNA about interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans (see Neanderthal Man, and my reviews of Who We Are and How We Got Here and Ancestors in Our Genome).

    Ultimately, Gurche’s extraordinary artwork is the main draw of this book. I found myself absorbed and amazed at the details, the level of realism, and the sheer atmosphere with which many of these drawings are imbued. Each new page made me want to get up and share it with whoever was in the room (“just look at this, this is amazing!”) This material is worthy of an art gallery. To circle back to the question with which I opened this review, and with which Gurche opens the introduction to his book: are science and art strange bedfellows? I think not. If you enjoyed Katrina Van Grouw’s work in The Unfeathered Bird or Unnatural Selection (it’s the same size, incidentally), or if you are interested in human evolution or anthropology, you will most certainly want this book.
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John Gurche is one of the world's best-known artist-anatomists reconstructing early hominids. His work has appeared in the National Museum of Natural History, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum, as well as National Geographic magazine, Natural History Magazine, and The Scientific American. He lives in Trumansburg, New York.

David R. Begun is a paleoanthropologist working on questions of ape and human origins for over thirty-five years. He has directed excavations in Spain and Hungary, discovered some of the most complete fossil apes, and published influential theories of great ape evolution. His research spans the fossil records of Europe, Asia and Africa over a time period from 20 to 7 million years ago.

Trenton W. Holliday is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he has been employed since 1998. An expert on Neandertals and modern human origins, he earned his Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico in 1995 and is author or co-author on over fifty peer-reviewed contributions on human evolution.

Rick Potts is a paleoanthropologist and director of the Human Origins Program, based at the U.S. National Museum of Natural History. He is the curator of the Smithsonian Institution's Hall of Human Origins and author of its companion book What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Carol Ward is director of anatomical sciences at the University of Missouri School of Medicine.

Meave Leakey is a research professor in paleoanthropology at Stony Brook University and director of field research at the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya. She is the fourth member of her distinguished family to win the Hubbard Medal of the National Geographic Society.

Art / Photobook
By: John Gurche(Illustrator), David R Begun(Contributor), Trenton W Holliday(Contributor), Rick Potts(Contributor), Carol B Ward(Contributor), Meave G Leakey(Foreword By)
208 pages, 125 colour & b/w illustrations
Publisher: Abrams
Lost Anatomies contains an extraordinary body of beautiful drawings of human ancestors that combines science and artistry.
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