Art and science. Paleoart is the scientific reconstruction of extinct life. Complementing the study of the fossil record, paleoart has become a major contribution of deep scientific knowledge combined with the author’s artistic insight. It was a great pleasure for me to meet John Bavaro, who has great knowledge and passion in the Human Evolution field. I hope you will enjoy this interview with John for Nutcracker Man, including several examples of his very up-to-date work…
Can you describe the process to reconstruct the appearance of hominins? In particular, how do you combine the fossil evidence together with other sources to provide them movement and life?
Paleoart by John Bavaro. Figure 1. Turkana Boy
I try to apply my own understanding to the anatomy to the model before I look at other artists so then I have a fresh perspective. But my niche is in digital art which I teach at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.
I look at Kennis Brothers, John Gurche, Elisabeth Daynès, Viktor Deak, giants in the field who do reconstructions and I’m in awe.
We are a visual species. And I for one want to explore the possibilities. Perhaps that’s what sets us apart. Art follows science and vice versa. For instance, the Lucy skeleton or the Turkana boy skeleton totally “rewrote” history. In the case of Lucy we now know that she was hybrid tree climber AND a walker. In the case of Turkana Boy there’s clues about gait and the posture etc. It’s a puzzle that constantly revealing itself. So art follows science in the tendency for equivocation and I’m not being insulting to science when I say that. In fact, every discovery that comes out now days “rewrites” the understanding of the “mythical textbooks”. Now with the internet we’re getting more impatient. I for one, think that’s lazy clickbait. A teaser, hubristic or both If I read something that says that “new discovery which changes the way we look at things” I say, “Yeah, until the next time which is probably at this pace, a month away.” I know that science is continuingly changing, which is counter to the current understanding (in popular culture) of it which that it is static. Those in the field know about this, but modern society holds it up as basically like religion. “Well, Science says…….” But scientists know that it is ever-changing process. In this era, changes happen at dizzying pace that I can’t keep up with them quickly enough. It’s like same way that T-Rex was pictured just 50 or 60 years ago with the tail down instead of up.
Your work is very up to date with all recent finds in human evolution. Let’s discuss three examples: Jebel Irhoud, Homo naledi and Denisovans.
You have created an illustration of the human from Jebel Irhoud, dated to 300 Ka and recently proposed as the earliest Homo sapiens known so far. However this has been contested because of the primitive traits of this specimens which are different from other skulls like Omo or Herto dated to 200 Ka. To what extend did you consider the Jebel Irhoud as ‘modern’ in your illustration?
Paleoart by John Bavaro. Figures 2, 3, 4, 5. Jebel Irhoud