illustrations of stone tools, female hunter and ancient drawings
Archaeological evidence from a Peruvian burial site — including drawings, tools and other objects — contributed to the artist’s portrayal of a female warrior. (Randy Haas and Matt Verdolivo/UC Davis)

How to Illustrate a 9,000-Year-Old Female Hunter?

Researching clothing, natural dyes, tools, drawings was a team effort.

Side by side photos of UC Davis anthropologist and illustrator
Randy Haas (left) and Matt Verdolivo

In a remarkable pairing of science and art, Randy Haas, assistant professor of anthropology, and Matt Verdolivo, senior artist at Academic Technology Services, or ATS, collaborated to produce illustrations showcasing new archaeological discoveries.

The flurry of international recognition received by the artwork and research highlights the power of combining artistic expertise with scientific discoveries, said Margaret Merrill, senior instructional design consultant for ATS, in a recent post on The Wheel: The Instructional Technology Blog of ATS at UC Davis.

Variety of stone tools, numbered
This illustration from the study shows tools recovered from the burial pit floor including projectile points (1-7), unmodified flakes (8-10), retouched flakes (11-13), a possible backed knife (14), thumbnail scrapers (15-16), scrapers/choppers (17-19), burnishing stones (17 and 20-21) and red ocher nodules (22-24). (Randy Haas/UC Davis)

Following the discovery of hunting artifacts with a young female skeleton in an archaeological dig in Peru, Haas reached out to ATS to have an artist create depictions of this young hunter to go with his research. Haas’ discovery upends the long-held belief that men were the primary hunters in primitive societies.

Verdolivo dug into the research about the artifacts and the hunters’ prey, allowing him to create a depiction of this young hunter based on the currently available knowledge about her, her tools and her environment.

“Our team anchored the design choices in archaeological and ethnographic observations as much as possible,” Haas said.

Photo of round rock
Red ocher staining on groundstone artifact.

“The color of the clothing in the illustration was chosen to match the color of the red ocher nodules found in the hunter’s toolkit.” — Randy Haas

Red ocher, he said, is a mineral pigment that is commonly used by hunter-gatherer societies in tanning animal hides. “Thus her outfit is ocher-colored in the artwork, closely matching that of the ocher that we found in her toolkit. The style of clothing and hair is based on rock art imagery and the contents of the hunter’s toolkit, which indicates tailored leather clothing. We also know that tailored leather clothing was critical to life in cold environments where she lived.”

Photo of dig site
Workers at an excavation site. (Greg Wada and Randy Haas/UC Davis)

Haas’ ground-breaking research was accompanied by the art, in most cases, and was featured in a number of cover illustrations for magazines and the journal in which it was published, Science Advances. The story and illustration appeared in nearly 1,000 publications, ranging from The New York Times to National Geographic, to a publication targeted at children, and many in between. The research was featured in both scholarly and popular media outlets, as well as blogs. Science Friday and other audio productions used the illustration on their sites, too, in reporting the story this fall and winter.

Later, multiple media organizations, including Voice of America, cited the research as one of the top 10 scientific research discoveries of the year.

ATS team member Jeremy Poulos, a senior producer/director, worked with Haas and Verdolivo to create a video about this important work. 

“This project exemplifies how well-done art can illustrate advancements in science, and how ATS experts stand ready to support the work of faculty in their research as well as their teaching,” Merrill wrote.

She said faculty should feel free to contact for their own consultation with artists, videographers or instructional designers.

— Karen Nikos-Rose, UC Davis News & Media Relations, wrote this story for UC Davis News & Information, using content from Margaret Merrill’s Feb. 10, 2021 post on The Wheel blog


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