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Exhibitions > underworld by John Jackson 210511

Origins in the fourth dimension


Origins in the fourth dimension

Origins of the Fourth Dimension was inspired by the book entitled “Your Inner Fish” written by Neil Schubin (published in 2009). Neil Schubin is Professor of Anatomy at the University of Chicago but he is also a famous paleontologist. In addition to the inspiration from this book, the author was also inspired by his doctorate of philosophy work in Devonian conodonts.  Conodonts are the prehistoric teeth of jawless fish that lived from 500 to 200 million years ago. The first conodonts were discovered in the 1830s by the Russian biologist Christian Pander.  For the next 150 years the search was on to find the animal these teeth belonged to.  In 1980 a Scottish professor of paleontology at the University of Edinburgh discovered that these teeth belonged to a soft bodied, jawless fish. Neil Schubin wrote, “The key to tooth development is that an interaction between two layers of tissue an outer-sheet of cells, and an inner loose layer of cells, causes the tissue to fold and make both layers secrete the molecules that build the organ. It turns out that exactly the same process underlies the development of all the structures that develop within the skin: scales, hair, feathers, sweat glands, even mammary glands.”


The artwork from bottom to top depicts the evolution from teeth to scales, through hair to feathers and finally, the nipple.

It attempts to visualize a mythical fossil representing by 500 million years of evolution. This mythical fossil is displayed after having been discovered in red-brown mudstones made from the sediments of time.


As Neil Schubin says, “We would never have scales, feathers or breasts if we didn’t have teeth in the first place.”  It is now clear that teeth, scales, hair, feathers and breasts are inextricably linked by history.  In this painting the origins of these five crucial elements of our being are represented in the fourth dimension: time.

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