When we look at the sculptures of 2000 years ago, we see the stoic faces, staring off into the world. The net result of the carved faces are due to:
- the cultural expectations surrounding the artists who created them,
- the ability of the artists,
- the malleability of the material, and
- the original, real faces that were the models.
The ancient Egyptian artists maintained their classical style of side-profile viewpoint for many hundreds of years, so when we analyze ancient art we have to remember that style was very rigid for long periods of time, which would mask the true representation of the models.
Facial Muscles Tell a Tale
We have seen how artists can take a skull and flesh it out with clay to recreate a likeness of what the person (in forensics) or hominid (in archeology) looked like in life. What they are doing is following the principle that muscles exert a force that pulls on the bone, and the bone responds by getting more robust, reinforced by calcium. So the reverse is applied: the larger the boney protuberance, the larger the muscle that attached to it.
In day-to-day life, we use our facial muscles to express what we’re feeling and thinking. This amounts to a form of muscle exercising, with the resultant effect of hypertrophy, or enlargement of the muscles that we use the most. The skin covering the muscles is very elastic when we’re young, but as we age we lose the ability to retain water, and so wrinkles and creases result from repeated relaxing or folding of the skin when facial expressions are made. This facial exercising and the eventual wrinkles molds our faces. When we are relaxed our facial conformation gives away what muscles are most frequently used, and therefore what emotions we most commonly express. This would be part of the reason psychologists say that when we meet a new person we exchange hundreds of bits of information about each other in the first ten seconds (which is also a distraction to prevent us from remembering their name).
Sculpture Faces Tell of a Culture
On a side street in Mexico City we find this sculpture over a doorway:
We see that they are European and not like the Mexica, the majority of the people that live in the area. We also see that they are not like the 2000 year old blank faces of the ancient Roman and Greek times. The ancient sculptures were likely stylized to some concept of perfection of form, whereas the man and woman depicted in this Mexican sculpture are probably renditions of models.
Taking all the variables into consideration, there is the possibility that people have changed in the last 2000 years, as portrayed in the human sculptures. Our minds have likely changed the way they work, and so the emotions expressed by our faces will have changed over the years. The brain organ is the focal point of the mind, and so we have to wonder if the actual brain has changed (evolution) or if the way we use the brain has changed (neuroplasiticity). When a big test or stressor is applied across all genetic expressions, then the quiet, steady work of evolution becomes manifest through those who were most adaptable and survived. There hasn’t been a big test yet, to see which type of person, and which type of sculpture, will survive.
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