The Predecessors


A number of sites of Paleolithic humans (Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons and others) with tools and bone fossils were discovered in the late 1800s. This prompted the researchers to look for ways of reconstructing the appearance of ancient people.

In 1877, a German anatomist Hermann Schaaffhausen made the first attempt to reconstruct the appearance of humans from crania of the Paleolithic and the Early Bronze Age.


A few years later, a Swiss researcher Julius Kollmann together with a sculptor W. Bü с hli elaborated a special reconstruction method using cranial data. They did not strive to achieve resemblance with the actual person, doubting that this was possible.
An interesting reconstruction of a head of a woman of the lacustrine epoch from Auvergne was published by them in 1899. The reconstruction seems to be quite true-to-life. A year later a French anatomist Merkle, using a similar method, reconstructed two heads from crania of the early Saxon age.

A head of a woman of the lacustrine epoch from Auvergne (reconstructed by Kollmann and   Büchli )

A scheme showing the facial reconstruction of a woman of the lacustrine epoch (by Kollman and     Büchli). The inaccuracy of the reconstruction has been shown by Gerasimov (dotted line). Corrections are based on the analysis of radiographs of faces of modern women.


A facial reconstruction of a Neanderthal from Le Moustier was made by an anatomist Solger in 1910.  The reconstructed face hardly resembled the prototype since it was motivated by a tendentious idea of the “primitive man’s” allegedly brutal appearance. 

For decades, these sculptural images of Neanderthals were exhibited at a Chicago museum, manifesting erroneous views of archaic humans and misinforming specialists and lay people alike.


In 1913, an anatomist Martin made a very unfortunate reconstruction of a Neanderthal from the skull of an old man from La Chapelle-aux-Saints. The reconstructed head revealed a striking disagreement with general characteristics of the cranium.

In the same year, Eggeling, a professor at Jena University, set up standards of thickness of the facial tissues. Based on these standards, a sculptor made a facial reconstruction from the same skull, without considering the peculiar characteristics of the Neanderthal skull or the poise typical of those hominids. The image of the Neanderthal man was thereby heavily distorted.


Finally, in 1915-18, an American anatomist McGregor made reconstructions of “Pithecanthropus”, “Eoanthropus”, Neanderthal, and Cro-Magnon man, which became widely popular. However, he abandoned the attempts to endow the portraits with individuality, which resulted in conventional abstract images.

Cro-Magnon man (reconstructed by McGregor)


Works by Eggeling, Kollmann, Merkle , McGregor and others triggered numerous critical publications, whose authors claimed that reconstructing a face from a cranium was impossible. In one of the widely cited instances, two sculptors made facial reconstructions using measurements of the same cranium. The resulting sculptures revealed total lack of similarity either with each other or with the original. After that, all attempts at making facial reconstructions were virtually terminated, and were not resumed by anyone over many years.

How different faces can be tailored from a single skull


While an interest in anthropology had showed in Russia already in the early 1800s, the problem of reconstructing the appearance of fossil man was not addressed. Only in 1934-35 were the heads of two archaic humans – a Pithecanthropus and a Neanderthal – reconstructed under a direct supervision of an anatomist A.P. Bystrov. McGregor’s method was used, but with significant corrections, which made the images more realistic. The sculpture of Pithecanthropus, although made by a sculptor V.A. Vatagin under a direct supervision of anthropologists, may not be considered a reconstruction on a cranial basis. This sculpture does not fully agree with the fossils available at present. It should rather be viewed as an abstract representation of the “ape-man”’s possible appearance.

Pithecanthropus. Reconstruction by V.A. Vatagin. Moscow University Museum of Anthropology.


Why, one might ask, did Gerasimov embark on his project?

Was he familiar with publications claiming that facial reconstruction from a cranium was impossible?

In his own words, such publications were unknown to him at that time.

1. Cranium of a Neanderthal child from Teshik-Tash cave, southern Uzbekistan
2. Cranium from Ngandong, Java (by
F . Weidenreich)
3. Cranium from Kabwe (Broken Hill), Zambia

Mikhail Gerasimov’s Career
Mikhail Gerasimov as an Archaeologist
Reconstruction of the Face from the Cranium
The Predecessors
Elaboration of the method
Stages in the reconstruction process
Fields of application
Further development of the method
“Sinanthropus” (Member of the Species Homo Erectus)
Homo Neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man)
Neanderthal Child from Teshik-Tash
People of the Upper Paleolithic
People of the Mesolithic
People of the Early Iron Age
Drawings by M.M. Gerasimov