March 13, 2005 in Nation/World

Skeleton suggests a portly Neanderthal

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
 

ST. LOUIS – The Neanderthal waistline keeps growing and growing.

The human cousins – who scientists think died out about 30,000 years ago – make modern waists look wasp-like, according to anthropologist Gary Sawyer, the chief technician at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and Blaine Maley, a former sculptor who is now a Washington University doctoral student in anthropology.

Sawyer and Maley have assembled the first full Neanderthal skeleton, a burly amalgam of bones with a flaring ribcage and pelvis. The model could alter the belief that Neanderthals, from neck to thigh, were shaped like barrels. Sawyer and Maley think they were shaped like bells – even beefier around the middle than previously thought.

An article detailing the skeleton project results was published Friday in the online version of the journal The New Anatomist.

The skeleton, completed two years ago, was equal parts scientific jigsaw puzzle and sculptural artistry. For two years, Sawyer and Maley worked nights in a lab at Maxilla & Mandible, a bone emporium across the street from the natural history museum.

Where Dr. Frankenstein stitched a monster from human parts, Sawyer and Maley worked with bits from seven Neanderthal fossils.

Plaster, dental stone or hard plastic casts of the bones and fragments arrived from the museums around the world that owned the fossils. Sawyer and Maley cut and ground the casts with diamond-tipped burrs and blades.

Occasionally, when a good boney fit could not be found, they resorted to casts of human bones, clay, or epoxy paste.

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