Cover image for Ancestral images : the iconography of human origins
Ancestral images : the iconography of human origins
Moser, Stephanie.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 200 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm
The artist's eye and the mind of science -- Mythological visions of human creation -- Religious and secular visions of human creation -- Historical visions of national origins -- The scientific vision of prehistory -- Popular presentations -- Conclusions.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN746 .M67 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
GN746 .M67 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Pictorial reconstructions of ancient human ancestors have twin purposes: to make sense of shared ancestry and to bring prehistory to life. Stephanie Moser analyzes the close relationship between representations of the past and theories about human evolution, showing how this relationship existed even before a scientific understanding of human origins developed. How did mythological, religious, and historically inspired visions of the past, in existence for centuries, shape this understanding? Moser treats images as primary documents, and her book is lavishly illustrated with engravings, paintings, photographs, and reconstructions.

In surveying the iconography of prehistory, Moser explores visions of human creation from their origins in classical, early Christian, and medieval periods through traditions of representation initiated in the Renaissance. She looks closely at the first scientific reconstructions of the nineteenth century, which dramatized and made comprehensible the Darwinian theory of human descent from apes. She considers, as well, the impact of reconstructions on popular literature in Europe and North America, showing that early visualizations of prehistory retained a firm hold on the imagination--a hold that archaeologists and anthropologists have found difficult to shake.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Moser argues that the iconography used for depicting prehistoric humans has deep historical roots and that, despite new data and changing interpretive frames, a number of iconic elements and narrative schemes have endured for centuries. Starting with mythical visions of the classical era, Moser notes the early appearance of such key iconic elements as clubs, hairiness, and the use of animal skins to signal primitiveness and distant past. Two opposing explanatory schemes are also found early on: a nostalgic, "primitivist" view of an idyllic existence in the distant past and a progressive, "anti-primitivist" narrative of technological advances and progress. Moser then discusses early Christian and medieval thinkers and their biblical and secular depictions of human history, antiquarian scholars' artistic explorations of national origins, 18th- and 19th-century efforts to visually account for geological and fossil findings, and 19th- and 20th-century attempts by artists/scientists to create images for museums and school texts. While images do reflect changes in contemporary scholarship and social goals of depiction, Moser makes a strong argument for the enduring nature of long-held visual icons in the depiction of early humans. Recommended for undergraduate and graduate collections. C. Hendrickson; Marlboro College