Letters to the Editors; May 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)
A picture is worth at least a thousand words, but sometimes an unintended interpretation emerges. Such was the case for the illustrations in "Once We Were Not Alone," by Ian Tattersall [January]. Numerous readers questioned the absence of females in the pictures. "Out of six portraits representing various hominid species, all six feature males," observes Giovanni Dall'Orto of Milan, Italy. "This apparently male-only reality made me wonder how our ancestors reproduced." Other correspondents wondered why only Homo sapiens was portrayed as having light skin. "If Neandertals coexisted with moderns in Europe, wouldn't they have been blond, too?" asks Sandy Campbell of New York City.
In response, we note that to make meaningful comparisons among the different species in the available space, artist Jay Matternes had to depict members of one sex or the other, and he chose males. Moreover, females are included in the opening image and in the painting of Cro Magnons in the Tuc D'Audoubert cave. As for Neandertal skin color, there isn't any scientific consensus on this matter, but they may well have been fair, as rendered in Kate Wong's recent piece "Who Were the Neandertals?" [April]. Additional comments on Tattersall's article and others in the January issue are featured above.