The Enigma of the Neanderthaloid Skull

The Neanderthaloid Skull was introduced to the College collection by David Middleton Grieg. His notes show that the skull was given to him by ‘a medical friend who had inherited it without knowledge of its origin.’

Plate V

The history of this skull has presented a continual conundrum. Grieg showed this skull, along with drawings and millimeter-scaled outlines, to several anatomists. Sir Arthur Keith commented ‘you have a specimen which shows certain cranial features never before seen in a neanthropic man – a perfect torus supraorbitals and a perfect torus occipitals’.  Therefore the low forehead with heavy brow ridge and protrusion at the back of the base of skull described by Keith shows that this skull differs from the modern human skull.  The features are something which Keith describes as ‘found only in the skulls of Neanderthal man’. Due to these characteristics, this specimen became known as the ‘neanderthaloid skull’.

'Fig.3. - millimetre-scale drawing of the skull in norma lateralis dexta'

Greig documents that, a year later, he and Keith were still discussing this skull, this time with reference to the deficiency at the bregma, visible at the top of the skull.

Plate III 'The vertex of the skull, x 2/3, showing the bregmatic defect and the projecting frontal torus' R.W.M. 1931

Keith adding ‘this skull of yours is an enigma : publication may bring others to light : I am sure it is a single development entity and someday the nature of the lesion will be known’. The detailed study of the skull by Greig was published in the Edinburgh Medical Journal, 1933 and reprinted as the bound publication ‘A Neanderthaloid Skull, presenting features of Cleidocranial Dysostosis and other peculiarities’.  The illustrations in this publication contain the colour illustrations of R.W. Mathews, millimeter-scaled outlines and x-rays. Grieg’s conclusion ended with ‘I fail to find in the peculiarities of this skull a single developmental entity albeit with a pathological basis and must content myself with as adequate description and drawings as I can offer’.

Plate II Anteroposterior radiogram of the skull showing the cancellous structure of the frontal torus and the minute unilateral representative of the frontal air-sinuses

Part of the enigma of the neanderthaloid skull was solved during a recent study (2008) by Professor Bryan Sykes. The radiocarbon measurements taken during this research showed the skull to be modern and not Neanderthal, with a high probability of dating from the mid 17th century.

The neanderthaloid skull GC 9413


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