Early Humans in Pop Culture

  • By Evan Hadingham
  • Posted 10.26.09
  • NOVA

In popular culture, our ancient ancestors are usually depicted either as noble savages or savage brutes—with Neanderthals often featuring as the brutes. In this slide show, take a look at portraits from the 1870s to today, and see how over the past century, despite advances in the scientific understanding of early humans, the image of the shaggy caveman endures.

Launch Interactive

For 150 years, pop culture has offered distorted images of our ancestors.

Evan Hadingham is NOVA's Senior Science Editor.



(L'Homme Primitif)
Courtesy Evan Hadingham
(caveman sketch from Harper's Weekly)
© Bettmann/CORBIS
(sketch from The Illustrated London News)
© Chris Hellier/CORBIS
(Neanderthal boy)
© Bettmann/CORBIS
(Field Museum display)
© Bettmann/CORBIS
("Nature's Evolutionary Design in Noses")
© Photolibrary
(Buster Keaton)
© Bettmann/CORBIS
("The Neanderthal Man" movie poster)
from movieposterdb.com
(Neanderthal painting)
© Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
(Ron Perlman)
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
(Geico caveman)
© Joshua Gates Weisberg/epa/Corbis

Related Links

  • Becoming Human Part 1

    First Steps: Six million years ago, what set our ancestors on the path from ape to human?

  • Neanderthals Defy Stereotypes

    A type of manufactured glue found on stone tools suggests Neanderthals were more advanced than previously thought.

  • Neanderthals: Expert Q&A

    The leader of the team that proved we share DNA with Neanderthals answered questions about our closest relatives.

  • Depicting Our Ancestors

    In this audio slide show, filmmaker Graham Townsley describes what it takes to bring ancient hominids to life.


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