Species – 2014 to 2016

Plaster, Resin, Timber, Paint and Bronze

Human skulls have often been used in art to illustrate impermanence, the vanity of earthly pursuits and the transient nature of life. The Memento Mori, from the Latin meaning ‘remember death’, has been found in many traditions of art, represented by a human skull. Species shows a complete Neanderthal skull, possibly the only complete Neanderthal skull in existence, a unique original example presented as a relic of our nearest extinct relative. (1)

Evidence suggests that Neanderthals were not a primitive sub-species of Homo sapiens, but a highly evolved group with the capacity for self awareness and abstract thought. It is possible that Neanderthals were the first hominids to create symbolic works of art and to engage in ritualistic rites of passage. While Neanderthals have commonly been classified as a subspecies, DNA mapping has illustrated that the Neanderthal was not a separate species.

Neanderthal skulls were far larger than that of a modern human, with a cavity carrying a significantly larger brain. The average modern adult human brain weighs around 1.5 kg, or 3.3 lbs. Brain sizes can vary substantially from 974.9 to 1398.1 cm3 in women and 1052.9 to 1498.5 cm3 in men. Hominid brain size has changed dramatically over time, with early examples of Homo habilis (living approximately 2.8 to 1.4 million years ago) being around 600 cm3, and Homo neandertalensis (living approximately (400,000 to 40,000 years ago years ago) being around 1600 cm3, the largest brain in the hominid line. (2)

Neanderthals were widespread across Europe and Western Asia from around 400,000 years ago. By 45,000 years ago populations of early Homo sapiens had migrated into Europe, the Near East, South and West Asia. Five thousand years later the Neanderthals was extinct.


1. The most complete Neanderthal skull held in a museum collection is La Ferrassie 1, from a male Neanderthal skeleton estimated to be 70–50,000 years old, in the Musée de l’Homme, Paris. It was discovered at the La Ferrassie site in France by Louis Capitan and Denis Peyrony in 1909. The skull is constructed from dozens of individual bone fragments, with the missing sections pieced together with lead.

2. Brain weight in relation to body weight is relatively large in modern humans, but brain size is not the only deciding factor when it comes to language development or flexible thought, with diet, culture, environmental pressures and usage all affecting the brain’s neuroplasticity.