Page images
PDF
EPUB

and by river-side. And it is generally in such situations that their flint implements are found associated with the bones and tusks and horns of these extinct mammalia. But these implements (like those of Abbeville, &c.) are often found at great depths, and at altitudes above the levels of existing rivers, that prove the occurrence of great physical changes in these regions; and this, taken in conjunction with the extinction of the mammalia and the evident amelioration in climate, bespeaks a vast antiquity compared with the shell-mounds and pile-dwellings of the preceding races. A vast antiquity! but whether ten, twelve, or twenty thousand years, we have in the mean time no mode of precisely determining.

Physical changes proceed at rates too uncertain to constitute a scale of chronology, and we know too little of the law of vital development to found upon the duration and extinction of species. But if we may judge from existing operations, and if we may estimate from the specific changes in life now going on around us (and this with all the interfering influences imposed by man), then the time must be vast indeed since these primitive races were the inhabitants of Southern and Western Europe. We do not contend, like some, for thousands of centuries; but we argue for triple or quadruple the amount that has hitherto been assigned to human chronology. Let us look fairly at the facts: the river-drifts, cave-earths, and lake-silts are, no doubt, very ancient, but there is nothing connected therewith that may not (computing by existing operations) have been accomplished in ten or twelve thousand years. Again, the mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, cave-lion, cave-bear, and cave-hyaena, are but species of existing genera; and so little do they vary in general character from those still living, that their appearance at the present day would excite no marvel. The whole aspects and surroundings of these extinctmaromalia are in truth geologically recent; and when we further consider the fresh condition in which some of them occur in the ice-gravels of Siberia, we are compelled to withhold from them an unlimited antiquity. It is a sound maxim in palaeontology, that the greater the divergence of any species from existing species, the greater its antiquity; and founding on this rule, the mammoth, mastodon, and their huge congeners, cannot lay claim to the vast antiquity which many geologists have been so anxious to assign to them. Still, with all these facts and allowances, it must ever be remembered that the occurrence of hairy elephants and woolly rhinoceroses in Western Europe bespeaks a much colder climate than the present; and as changes in climate can only arise from great physical changes, great alterations must have taken place in the external conditions of our continent. Such changes are ever slow and gradual, and thus we are compelled to admit a high antiquity to the fashioners of these flint implements and their contemporaries, the mammoth and mastodon.

Indeed, the existence of a boreal climate necessitating shaggy coverings for the elephant and rhinoceros, would seem to carry us back to times immediately post-glacial— that is, to the time when the last traces of the glacial epoch were gradually being effaced by the advent of a more genial and equable climate. Were this the case, the appearance of man in Europe would be coeval with the earlier Post-tertiaries, and his antiquity much higher than the majority of geologists are yet prepared to admit. But his occurrence in Europe does not settle the question of his first appearance on the globe. On the contrary, the human race, in one or other of its varieties, may have existed for ages in Asia or Africa before it found its way to Western Europe, and, indeed, all that we know of language and ethnology seems to point to this conclusion. Before we can arrive at the absolute antiquity of man, or of his real place in the Geological Eecord, we must know more of the Asiatic and African Post-tertiaries, and more of the correlation of these to the Posttertiary accumulations of Europe. We must also learn to deal with man as with other fossil genera, and instead of seeking for mere variations in skull and facial angle, we must be prepared to admit variations that amount to true specific distinctions. All animals in the history of the past, if they have existed long enough, break into varieties and species; and it will be a proof of man's comparative recentness, if we can discover no wider difference than mere varieties; but, on the contrary, it will be evidence of his higher antiquity, if zoologists can show that any variation, past or existing, is so great as to entitle it to be ranked as a specific distinction. Man may be the sole species of a single genus, but in this particular zoologists have departed from the true Baconian method, and dealt with man as if he did not belong to the same category of vitality with which it is the duty of their science to deal; and not till they have learned to treat him from a natural-history point of view, can we hope to receive from them anything like truly philosophical opinion.

As the matter stands at present, we have evidence of man's occupancy in Europe during the formation of the earlier Post-tertiaries, and during the period when the reindeer, musk-ox, hairy elephant, and woolly rhinoceros roamed over its surface. The existence of these animals in Western Europe betokens a somewhat boreal climate, and in all likelihood man gradually took possession of the continent as the climate began to improve on the gradual recession of the glacial epoch. Arranging the Post-tertiary system, as has been proposed, into Mammothian, Reindeer, and Bovine stages, we find man occurring at least during a portion of the Mammothian stage, and thus bespeaking for him a vast and venerable antiquity—unexpressed in years, no doubt, but not on that account the less certain in its existence and duration. But while man's place in the geological record belongs to the earlier Posttertiaries in Europe, older varieties of his race may have existed for untold ages in the regions of Asia and Africa, from which in all likelihood the European branches were descended.* On the advent of the glacial epoch over the latitudes of Europe, the pre-glacial animals seem to have receded to southern and more genial climates, and again on its departure they appear, in some of their species, to have returned to the old areas. It was during this post-glacial return that man seems to have made his first appearance in Europe—a fisher and hunter, forming rude stone implements, and, so far as geology.has discovered, very low in the scale of civilisation. But while Mammothian man was struggling along the river-banks of Europe for a scanty subsistence, other families of his race were in all proba

* "It is not under the hard conditions of the glacial epoch in Europe," says Dr Falconer, "that the earliest relics of the human race upon ths globe are to be sought. Like the Esquimaux, Tchukche, and Samoyeds on the shores of the Icy Sea at the present day, man must have been then and there an emigrant placed under circumstances of rigorous and uncertain existence, unfavourable to the struggle of life and to the maintenance and spread of the species. It is rather in the great alluvial valleys of tropical or sub-tropical rivers, like the Ganges, the Irrawaddy, and the Nile, where we may expect to detect the vestiges of his earliest abode. It is there where the necessaries of life are produced by nature in the greatest variety and profusion, and obtained with the smallest effort — there where climate exacts the least protection against the vicissitudes of the weather—and there where the lower animals which approach man nearest now exist, and where fossil remains turn up in greatest variety and abundance. The earliest date to which man has as yet been traced back in Europe, is probably but as yesterday in comparison with the epoch at which he made his appearance in more favoured regions."—Oft the asserted occurrence of human bones in the ancient fluviatile deposits of the Nile and Qanges—Quarterly Journal of Geology, 1865.

bility—we may almost say were undoubtedly—enjoying a higher civilisation in the sub-tropical and higher tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Were these Asiatic races of the same variety of our species as the Abbeville flintformers, or did they, though enjoying a higher degree of civilisation, belong to some older but inferior variety 1 Much, indeed, in the matter of man's antiquity will depend upon how this question is answered by subsequent discovery. If they belong to the same race, and there be no indication of any inferior species of our kind, in accordance with the great law of animal development, then, geologically speaking, man is of comparatively recent origin, and the question is narrowed to one or other of his existing varieties. Our own opinion is that, granting a law of development, the higher animals pass through fewer intermediate stages than the lower, and that, in man's case, species more closely related to the Quadrumana are scarcely to be expected. But while this may be true, it is equally certain that if there be any truth in geological development at all, the higher varieties must be more recent than the lower; and thus the white variety of man more recent than either the Eed Indian, the Negro, the Malay, or the Mongol. And it is equally certain, according to any law of development, that the older and lower varieties must first pass away—a fact in wonderful accordance with the gradual disappearance of the coloured varieties before the spread of the white variety of our kind. Here, then, we have a twofold argument that may avail us in our researches—viz., the earlier appearance, and, conversely, the earlier disappearance, of the lower varieties of a species; and applying this to man, the coloured varieties, which are evidently inferior (whatever may be said to the contrary), must have long preceded the white, just as now they are passing away before it.

« PreviousContinue »