Homo Londonensis: The London Skull or Lloyd’s Skull

The history of paleoanthropology is chockfull of extinct, abandoned, and forsaken species names. 

From Homo delawarensis (found in the Delaware Valley of the United States in the nineteenth century) to Homo krapinensis (fossils from Croatia, discovered in 1899), the names of fossils and fossil species are a window into the history of science.  The names of older fossil species that are no longer used show how fossils move from the sites of their discoveries to the world of published scientific literature.  Some names of fossils quickly become proper, formalized taxa thanks to the rules set forward through the tradition of zoological nomenclature – other names, however, are simply informal ones, slung around publications, but never meant to really offer any sort of evolutionary argument or show a relationship between fossils writ large.

Young, Matthew. “The London Skull.” Biometrika 29, no. 3/4 (1938): 277–321. doi:10.2307/2332007.

Young, Matthew. “The London Skull.” Biometrika 29, no. 3/4 (1938): 277–321. doi:10.2307/2332007.

Consequently, the names of fossils often tell us more about their discoverers than they do about the nitty-gritty of human evolution.  As names for fossil species come in and out of scientific nomenclature, they reflect broader debates (lumping vs. splitting of species, for example) as well as paying homage to the geographic region where the fossil was found or the fossil’s discoverer.  The abandoned names of fossil species offer a way to track the history of specific fossils and how their evolutionary story has changed over time. 

Young, Matthew. “The London Skull.” Biometrika 29, no. 3/4 (1938): 277–321. doi:10.2307/2332007.

Young, Matthew. “The London Skull.” Biometrika 29, no. 3/4 (1938): 277–321. doi:10.2307/2332007.

In 1924-1925, the Corporation of Lloyd’s of London was in the process of establishing a new building near Leadenhall Street, Lime Street, and Leadenhall Place – at the same site where the East India House originally stood.  The work for the new building progressed nicely, with mechanical, steam-powered excavators, but parts of the foundation had to be dug out with shovels and laborers.  With the slower, manual excavations, workers occasionally came across fossils in the different London sediments – a mammoth molar and femur bone, a rhinoceros ulna, and limb-bones from red deer, to name a few.  For early twentieth-century anthropologists, however, the most interesting fossil to come out of the newly excavated foundation for Lloyd’s were parts of a human skull.

This skull quickly became known, informally, as “Lloyd’s” or “Lloyd’s skull” in anthropological circles and to twenty-first century paleoanthro aficionados, it seems like everyone who was anyone of research consequence had an opportunity to study the specimen.  In fact, it generated so much controversy (particularly in regards to the site’s age, and, thus, how old the skull was) that the prominent Sir Grafton Elliot Smith had Miss Dorothy A. E. Garrod settle the question of the fossil’s relative age later that year, in 1925.  Sir Elliot Smith and Sir Arthur Keith examined the specimen’s anatomical features and published their findings that same year, in Nature, concluding that the Lloyd’s skull was a fantastic example of “very early Pleistocene man” in Britain that shared some characteristics with skulls from Gibraltar, Swanscombe, Cheddar, and Piltdown.  It was christened “Homo londonensis” although never formalized in the taxonomic literature as such. 

Over the next two decades, Homo londonensis continued to be an important source of data and measurements for Pleistocene research.  However, in the ensuing years, the pseudo-Latin term was phased out, especially as subsequent studies came to understand the skull as an example of early Homo sapiens in Britain.  The name, however, remains a quick cultural shorthand for the specimen in question.

REFERENCES:

Young, Matthew. “The London Skull.” Biometrika 29, no. 3/4 (1938): 277–321. doi:10.2307/2332007.

Paint By Number: From Leonardo da Vinci to “Space Age Technology”

Paint-by-number traces its history to the vision of the artist, Dan Robbins, and the entrepreneurial prowess of Max Klein, who, together, came up with idea of self-contained art kits as early as 1949.  As President of the then-Palmer Paint Co. – the corporate predecessor to Master Craft – Klein was ever-interested in widening the potential marketability of paints sold by Palmer.  In the late 1940s, Klein saw that the hobbyist painting market was wide open and hired Dan Robbins to develop products that could be marketed to that niche.  Some of Palmer Paints’ first forays into the hobbyist market came in the form of Lil’ Abner figurine painting kits as well as washable paint boards that could be painted, rinsed off, and then painted again. 

But it was when Robbins combined these two projects with – as he claims – some inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci that Palmer Paints hit its jackpot.   “I remembered hearing about how Leonardo da Vinci would challenge his own students or apprentices with creative assignments,” Robbins reminisced.  “He would hand out numbered patterns indicating where certain colors should be used in specific projects such as underpainting, preliminary background colors or some lesser works that did not require his immediate attention.”[i]  Take a little bit of the figurine kits, combine it with painting boards, throw in a little da Vinci, and voilà, we meet the paint-by-number concept and kit.  (Art historians largely dismiss Robbins’s claims about da Vinci’s style; what is interesting, however, is that his appeal to da Vinci was a way of legitimizing the paint-by-number style as a “real” genre.)

Although Master Craft cranked out inordinate numbers of paint-by-number kits in the mid-1950s, it also experimented with personalized paint-by-number portraits.  Hobbyists could send in photos and Master Craft would send back a marked-out canvas – all set for the amateur artist to fill in.  By the mid-1970s (long after the company Master Craft had declared bankruptcy), other companies (like Personal Paintings by General Mills) capitalized on the idea of a tailored paint-by-number portrait. 

By 1973, General Mills had developed a way to use what it called “space age technology” to create a paint-by-number portrait from an original color photograph.  A scanner would track and analyze 15,000 points across the photograph on 70mm film, translating each dot to a color – this information was fed into a computer to calculate the paint needed for the project.  At the same time, another computer directed a laser beam over paper (the artist’s “canvas”), stretching the image to fit 16”x20”, and eventually printing the entire thing with the appropriate color numbers on the canvas.  General Mills then mailed the printed image, the paints, and the original photograph back to the artist.

The paint-by-number phenomena took the mid-twentieth century by storm, with enough interest from the hobbyist market to drive it to expand into use of lasers and computers by the early 1970s.  It’s a long way from da Vinci.

[i] Dan Robbins, Whatever Happened to Paint-By-Numbers? : A Humorous Personal Account of What It Took to Make Anyone an “Artist,” First Edition (Delavan, Wis.: Dan Robbins Inc, 1998), pp 17.

Popular Science, 1973

Paint By Numbers & The Space Race

Space Traveler paint-by-number kit, courtesy of the Paint By Number Museum.  Standard Toykraft, 1958. (http://www.paintbynumbermuseum.com/kit-page/7266)

Space Traveler paint-by-number kit, courtesy of the Paint By Number Museum.  Standard Toykraft, 1958. (http://www.paintbynumbermuseum.com/kit-page/7266)

In 1953, toy paints company, Craft Master, was the driving power behind the paint-by-number craze sweeping the mid-century hobbyist market.  The company had 800 employees who produced 50,000 paint-by-number sets a day, grossing more than a million dollars a month.  Not only had the company invented the paint-by-number movement, they had quashed their competition in the process. 

For five years, Craft Master honed the assembly and distribution of their kits, streamlining their manufacture and marketing.  Professional artists on Craft Master’s payroll – 75 artists at the company’s peak in 1954 – devoted considerable time and artistic expertise to developing a plethora of motifs that quickly came to be inexorably associated with the genre – flowers, bullfighters, fishermen, and landscapes, to name a few.  By 1954, Craft Master was credited with manufacturing enough paint-by-number kits to total over $80 million in sales, published 10 million copies of their 64-page product catalog, and could boast lengthy features in Time and Life

"Facts About Space" from the Toykraft Space Traveler Kit, 1958.  Courtesy of Paint By Number Museum.  (http://www.paintbynumbermuseum.com/kit/8154

"Facts About Space" from the Toykraft Space Traveler Kit, 1958.  Courtesy of Paint By Number Museum.  (http://www.paintbynumbermuseum.com/kit/8154

Although the frenzy for paint-by-number died down a bit by the late 1950s, as Craft Master struggled to meet the manufacturing demands of its popularity and declared bankruptcy, the demand for their “filler-in” kits resurged in the 1960s.  The kits continued to sell into the 1970s, taking advantage of advancements in scanning technology that allowed painting enthusiasts to order personalized paint-by-number kits based on their own photographs, digitized by computers.

“A modern-day collector of filled-in pictures believes that those numbered spaces tell the whole story,” cultural historian Karal Marling suggests, recalling her own childhood enthusiasm for prefabbed kits. “Paint-by-numbers art, he argues, is ‘a great metaphor for life in the rigid McCarthy America.  You stayed in the lines.’  But if you were an art-mad kid, you were delighted with the chance to use the medium and not mess up the finished picture.”[i]

Space Traveler paint-by-number kit, Toykraft 1958.  Courtesy of Paint By Number Museum (http://www.paintbynumbermuseum.com/kit/8154

Space Traveler paint-by-number kit, Toykraft 1958.  Courtesy of Paint By Number Museum (http://www.paintbynumbermuseum.com/kit/8154

Standard Toykraft was one of the many companies that Craft Master overpowered in the paint-by-number race of the 1950s.  Where Craft Master focused on motifs of animals, landscapes, and bowls of fruit, Standard Toykraft offered a Space Traveler Paint By Number kit, among many others.  Put on the market a mere one year after the launch of Sputnik 1, the Space Traveler set included paints, a brush, canvases, and a "space fact" sheet -- but it also conveyed a cultural connection between science, art, the Space Race, and childhood activities.

 

References

[i] Dan Robbins, Whatever Happened to Paint-By-Numbers? : A Humorous Personal Account of What It Took to Make Anyone an “Artist,” First Edition (Delavan, Wis.: Dan Robbins Inc, 1998), pp. xi.

Suggested Readings

Rebecca Onion, Innocent Experiments: Childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

His Whaleship: How To See A Real Whale in 1881

The Columbus Evening Dispatch, Saturday August 27, 1881, front page.

The Columbus Evening Dispatch, Saturday August 27, 1881, front page.

In the early 1880s, the Great International Menagerie, Aquarium, and Circus touted its exhibit of “A Leviathan Whale, a grand and magnificent specimen, the King of the Deep” as “…the only show in the world that exhibits a WHALE.” 

And by WHALE, the Menagerie meant an actual dead whale that was quasi-taxidermied and carted around from one American town to the next.  (Not to be outdone, the Burr Robbins Circus exhibited a giant paper-mâché whale a few years later.  The two whales dueled their way across the United States fighting for audiences, often picking up on each other’s publicity.)  For decades, this Music Man-like showmanship was how the American public saw real, genuine whales.

The Columbus Evening Dispatch, Tuesday, March 8, 1881, front page.

The Columbus Evening Dispatch, Tuesday, March 8, 1881, front page.

At each town’s stop, the carpenters for Great International Menagerie built a staging area for the whale exposition.  The show, the bustle of activity, the anticipation of the WHALE something so singularly extraordinary, never failed to draw huge crowds.  Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and see for yourself this marine curiosity.  The Menagerie’s King of the Deep arrived in Columbus, Ohio, on 8 March 1881.  The headlines in the Columbus Dispatch screamed, “He is coming! He is coming!  The Monster Whale! The Monarch Supreme of the Ocean! The Giant of the Gigantic Creation of the Universe!  Don’t Fail To Bring The Children!”

When the whale showed up, it was a mob scene.  (“It requires a great deal of elbow room, because his whaleship is sixty feet long in the clear,” the Dispatch reported.)  Although intrigued with something as exotic as the whale, it was the story of how the whale went from a living marine mammal to a dead exhibit traveling through Columbus, that really captivated audiences.  Visitors invariably wanted to know how the exhibit was possible – exactly how the whale’s entrails were removed and replaced with first ice and then chemicals, how the sawdust underneath the whale corpse kept the whale’s leaking in check, how yet more chemicals on the outside the whale kept the skin from decomposing, and how iron hoops within the whale’s body kept His Whaleship from collapsing.  Columbus Dispatch readers were encouraged to attend the show by reports that the exhibit was “free from unpleasant odor.”

For the nineteenth-century Menagerie-goers, seeing the real whale in the flesh – more or less – wasn’t really so much about the actual whale itself, but about how the whale’s keepers had so effectively cheated the decay of death to bring the whale to them. 

 

References:
Fred Pfening, “Moby Dick on Rails,” The Bandwagon, 1987, 14–17