Review and images by bmathison1972; edited by Suspsy
Prehistoric and primitive hominids are not rare in the animal toy market, but evolutionary sets of them are. The first, and probably the most popular, was called Evolution of Man, produced by Bullyland in 1999. The set featured Dryopithecus, Australopithecus, and four species of Homo: H. erectus, H. habilis, H. neanderthalensis, and Paleolithic H. sapiens. In 2014, Safari Ltd. would produce their own set in the Safariology line, featuring the same species as Bullyland, minus the Dryopithecus (if I remember correctly, Safari got some backlash from some of their conservative retailers for that set, which is why I suspected they released that ‘white toast’ Family TOOB in 2015 . . . but, I digress). Today we will be looking at a hominid evolution set produced in late 2023 by a Japanese company called Tama-Kyu. I have to be honest, I had never heard of this company prior to the release of this set. The set features five hominids. Each figure comes with a flat black base; a small peg on the base inserts into one of the feet of the figure for stability (which is nice, it means the figure can be displayed off the base, without a peg under its feet). Each figure also comes with a small placard with its Japanese name. Unfortunately, there is no way to secure the placard to the base, which means it can easily fall off and get misplaced. Lastly, each base comes with a joiner, so the five bases can be interconnected (see first pic below).
Our first figure was simply marketed as ‘Ape.’ I looked at lots of hominid phylogenetic trees trying to come up with a good possibility for what this ape might represent. Some of the possibilities included Sahelanthropus, Kenyanthropus, Ouranopithecus, and Orrorin. It could even represent Dryopithecus (but I didn’t want to favor that since I already have the Bullyland version). For my personal collection, I finally settled on Orrorin tugenensis, from the Miocene of present-day Kenya, but really, it’s up to the collector themselves. In its current posture, the figure stands about 4.0 cm tall. Fossils of Orrorin are incomplete, but the primate is believed to have stood 1.1-1.2 meters tall, at the minimum. Using femur length as a metric (~1.3 cm), the figure would scale at about 1:22 for a young individual of O. tugenensis.
Next up is the hominid Ardipithecus, an australopithecine from the Early Pliocene of present-day Ethiopia. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first figure of this species as a toy or model. It is believed Ardipithecus behaved similarly to modern chimpanzees and spent time both in trees and on the ground and could walk using bipedal locomotion. It is not known to have had specific tool use but may have used rocks and sticks in ways similar to modern chimps. The figure stands approximately 5.0 cm tall for a scale of 1:23.4-1:24.8.
For the third figure, we jump forward in history to the Pleistocene with Homo erectus, commonly known as ‘Erect Man.’ In addition to the aforementioned sets by Safari and Bullyland, this species was produced by Starlux in the early 1980s. Homo erectus did not have a written language, but did show signs of early artistic capabilities and collected natural pigments such as ochre. It is unknown whether or not H. erectus used clothing. Tool use included stone flakes fashioned as axes, picks, knives, and cleavers; H. erectus is credited with initiating the Acheulean stone tool industry. Homo erectus is considered the first hominid to have used fire. The figure is sculpted in a gentle stride carrying a club. It stands approximately 5.7 cm tall for a scale of 1:25.6-1:32 in scale.
Next up is Homo neanderthalensis. The Neanderthal is the go-to ‘caveman’ figure for companies to produce, having been released by Bullyland (multiple times), CollectA, Safari Ltd. (multiple times), K&M International, Starlux, and Kaiyodo (as a skull). The Neanderthal is probably our closest extinct relative, having occurred from the Middle-Late Pleistocene of Eurasia. Neanderthals were responsible for the Mousterian stone-tool industry and produced beech tar and were able to construct spears and other weapons for hunting with stone. They sometimes lived in simple structures and stored food. Neanderthals could control fire and engaged in several cooking techniques, including roasting, boiling, and possibly smoking. They wore simple clothing and are believed to have had the ability to weave. They used ochre and may have worn jewelry, such as pendants. It is believed Neanderthals could make simple reed boats and sailed in parts of the Mediterranean. They probably had a simple spoken language, but not written language. On at least some occasions, they buried their dead, but it is unknown if it is related to specific cultural or even religious practices. The ultimate cause of the extinction of the Neanderthals is still unknown, and although they were replaced by H. sapiens during the late Pleistocene, there is genetic evidence that there was at least some interbreeding between the two species. The figure, armed with a spear, stands approximately 6.0 cm tall for a scale of 1:27-1:28.
Lastly, we have, well, us! Homo sapiens. However, unlike past sets which featured Paleolithic H. sapiens, this figure appears to represent a modern version of the species, even down to the well-kept blond hair. With the Barbie craze of 2023, one could almost call this figure a Ken doll. I am not going to go into too much information about the species itself, as there isn’t a lot to be said, at least in the context of the Dinosaur Toy Blog. It stands approximately 6.1 cm for a scale of 1:30 for a 6-foot-tall modern man.
Overall, this is a fun little set for collectors of sets. It also offers one, potentially two new species for collectors of taxa (depending on what one assigns the ‘Ape’). A couple of the figures even scale close to 1:32 for scale-conscious collectors. Interesting how each ‘Evolution’ set, the figures get shorter. Bullyland’s were the tallest, followed by Safari, and then these. But these are, as expected, more inline with other gashapon-style figures. Probably the best chance of getting this set is via eBay or Japanese sites.