Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

The church and science online

. (page 20 of 38)
Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 20 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of iron, perhaps made in a very similar manner to that of
copper. The Early Iron Age, as it is called, is comparatively
speaking, a thing of yesterday : indeed we are ourselves
living, if not actually in the Iron Age at least in that Age
of Steel which is nothing more than a development from it.
In the passage from bronze to iron we can again see the
overlap of materials which was alluded to above, for there
are examples of implements — swords, for example — whose
blades are of iron and whose handles are of bronze.

There was, as we have seen, in all parts of the world a
stone age not necessarily — indeed in many of them cer-
tainly not actually — synchronous. Not all parts of the world


went through a Copper Age, nor did every part of the world
go through a Bronze Age. The former fact is easily explic-
able by supposing that some tribe unacquainted with any-
thing in the shape of metals had their ignorance dispelled
by some visitor who was acquainted with the excellences
of bronze and could show his hosts how to obtain the
materials for making it and did not trouble to put them
through a preliminary training in copper.

As a matter of fact, this is exactly what we know to
have happened in connection with the Modern Stone Age
peoples when they came in contact with men acquainted
with metals. When Australia was discovered by white
men they found the inhabitants still in the Stone Age.
So far as they taught them anything except a love of
strong drink and a wholesome fear of white men and
their arms, they certainly did not trouble to put them
through a Bronze Age. What these unfortunate savages
learnt, or perhaps we had better say " picked up," from
the whites was a knowledge of iron, so that they may be
said to have passed directly from the non-metallic to the
iron or even to the steel period.

Though the subject is replete with interest it is not
necessary or even advisable to treat of the numerous im-
plements which belong to the various periods which have
thus been briefly reviewed ; full information can be found
concerning them in the text -books of Prehistoric Archaeology.
What it is important for us to understand is that in the
general stream of human progress there were these various
" reaches." As to certain difficulties in connection with
the matter and more especially as to the question of the
relation of "time" to these periods, more will be said in
succeeding chapters.



OF course, where we have them, the actual skeletal
remains of man are of priceless value : yet, as will be
seen shortly, it is often a matter of incredible difficulty to
assign them definitely to their proper archaeological horizon ;
thus the conclusions which can be founded upon them be-
come a matter of uncertainty.

With this preliminary remark we may for a moment
leave the question of the earliest skeletal remains which
are open to observation at present. For it will be necessary
first of all to review the various causes of uncertainty which
have to be disposed of before any definite conclusion can
be arrived at concerning a given group of objects — still more
before any water-tight theory can be founded upon them.

In any given case a series of questions have to be put
and answered, and these we may now consider in the order
in which they usually arise.

I. Are the objects in question human or of human manu-
facture ?

It might be thought that as regards skeletal remains
at any rate this was not a difficult question to answer, nor
is it in the vast majority of cases. In the example of the
Chapelle-aux-Saints, for instance, where we have an entire
skeleton which was definitely and purposely interred where
it was found, in spite of its great antiquity no shadow of a
doubt can be entertained as to its being the skeleton of a
human being. But there are cases, and those just the cases
in which one would like to feel quite certain about all the
facts, in which matters are much more complicated than in
this case.



Where, for example, a few perhaps considerably mutilated
bones are found in a bed of gravel at some distance from
one another, apart from the other questions which arise
for consideration we have to decide (a) whether any or
all of the bones are really human and (b) in the latter
case whether they belong to the same individual. If the
bones had not been interred but had actually been, let
us say, washed down into their present situation, there is
certainly nothing to negative the supposition that they
belong to more than one individual and have been
washed down together with the bones of an animal or

Save under very exceptional circumstances it is impos-
sible to be certain that the scattered bones with which
we are dealing were all once the property of the same in-
dividual ; indeed it is somewhat doubtful, in such cases,
whether one can ever rise higher than a conclusion of prob-
ability on this point. In the great majority of cases we must
admit that it is absolutely impossible to prove that all the
bones belonged to the same body, even if no doubt is enter-
tained as to their all being human. This, it may at once
be admitted, is not a matter of overwhelming importance,
for each bone can be considered on its own merits. But
the question may assume a position of commanding interest
if it be doubtful whether all the bones belonged to a human
being. For example, in one of the cases which will be more
fully dealt with on a later page, a very obviously human
skull, of even modern type, was found in the same gravel
with a lower jaw of rather monkey-like type. It was and
is assumed still by many that these two objects belonged
to each other because they were found at no great distance
from one another in the same stratum. It is clear that this
may be true, but on the other hand, it is equally clear that
it may not be, in which case those who have spent much
time in trying to explain the apparent anomaly which exists
have been troubling themselves to no account. Let us put
the matter in this way : if in the interment so often alluded
to, if in any interment of any kind, the skull and
the lower jaw in question had been found together, and
in their natural relations, no one could then have doubted


that they belonged to one another. In that case a strong
presumption would have been created that a second doubt-
ful pair like those alluded to might also be parts of the same
body. If, further, we were to find quite a series of similar
pairs we should then entertain little or no doubt that our
original find was also a pair. Again, if both skull and lower
jaw were quite complete, so that they could be fitted together
and it could be seen that the joint was perfect, one bone
exactly fitting into another and each tooth meeting its
antagonist of the other jaw with perfect regularity, then
there could be no doubt left on the matter. As things are,
with the imperfect fragments which are usually all that
come to hand, and with the isolated character of the finds,
judgement must clearly be suspended and no final and
definite opinion can be entertained.

No more remarkable instance of how opinion may slowly
ripen with regard to a given example can be imagined than
that of the so-called Neanderthal skull. For years con-
troversy raged round this fragment, which was regarded
by different observers as human and not human ; as the
skull of an idiot ; as belonging to one or other of widely
different races. Yet it is now regarded as but one example
of quite a number of others of the remains of a race of
human beings of a very early period. The moral of all this
is that the general reader should not be alarmed nor carried
away by the extreme statements of scientific men on one
side or the other, still less by the picturesque accounts
which he finds in the columns of the press. It takes, in
many cases, a very long time before scientific opinion can
or does settle down to such a state of equilibrium as it now
seems to have arrived at concerning the Neanderthal

So much for some of the preliminary difficulties with
regard to skeletal remains, but such remains are rare, whilst
finds of implements are relatively common. We must now
turn our attention to them in connection with our first
question and endeavour to see how it is to be met. Most
that need be said about it has already been said in Chap.
XVIII, p. 192. We may at once dismiss all implements of
what is called the Mousterian period and a fortiori all of a


later date as above suspicion : no one doubts that they are
artefacts — that is to say, no one doubts that the great mass
of them belong to that class, for of course there may be diffi-
culties and doubts about a particular specimen. It is with
regard to supposed earlier implements that the difficulty
arises, and here something must be said concerning some
of these objects. Before doing so it must be once more
insisted upon that we should expect to find the earliest
recognisable objects so like natural objects as to be almost
indistinguishable from them.

Now in 1867 the Abbe Bourgeois discovered at Thenay,
near Orleans, broken flints which he believed to be,
and put forward as, implements of human manufacture.
They were found in a geological stratum (Upper Oligo-
cene) in which no human remains had then been found nor,
it may be added, have since been found. This would not,
of course, disprove their human origin and, in fact, a dis-
tinguished anthropologist, de Mortillet, was so sure of the
human character of the implements that he invented a
semi-human manufacturer for them by the name of Homo-
simius Bourgeoisii, a creature for whom there was not the
slightest evidence, osteological or otherwise, save and except
these disputed fragments of stone. Ten years later J. B.
Rames found a number of flints at Puy Courny in Upper
Miocene beds in Auvergne, which he claimed to be of human
manufacture. De Mortillet was once more convinced and
produced another hypothetical half-human manufacturer,
named Homosimius Ramesii — this time, again without any
kind of osteological or other evidence beyond the stones.
In both cases scientific opinion has gradually settled down
to the view that these flints, like those of Thenay, were
shaped by natural agencies, such as water, earth-pressure,
perhaps even lightning, and were not the work of man's
hands. With this conclusion disappear also the two Homo-
simii, Bourgeoisii and Ramesii, whom we may, however,
usefully bear in mind as examples of the saying that it is
better not to prophesy until you know.

We may pass over some other less important cases and
come to the Eolith controversy, which cannot yet be said
to be at an end.


These eoliths, which have attracted much attention both
in England and on the Continent of Europe, are found, in
some cases at least, in gravels of great antiquity not belong-
ing to the modern river systems. If, therefore, these things
really are human implements, they must belong to much
more distant ages than any other implements known to us.
It is, of course, merely a question of fact as to their character.
Up to a comparatively recent period, there was undoubtedly
a fairly strong body of opinion which was favourable to their
being artefacts, but it must be admitted that recent observa-
tions have rendered that position much more precarious.
That such implements, or rather stones shaped like them,
can be produced by cart wheels from flints lately laid upon
the road for its repair does not seem to prove that all eoliths
are natural productions, since, after all, the cart wheel is
not a force of nature but a kind of human tool even if un-
intentionally employed. Very much the same may be said
as to the discovery that stones identical with the so-called
eoliths could be made, and actually were made, by the
evolutions of a kind of iron rake, in a mixture of water,
chalk, flints, and clay in the process of making cement
at Mantes. No doubt both of these observations weakened
the case for the eoliths, but cannot exactly be said to have
destroyed it . A crushing piece of evidence brought forward
by the learned archaeologist, the Abbe Breuil, has, however,
convinced many, it might even be said the vast majority of,
prehistoric archaeologists, that it is unsafe to look upon
eoliths as being artefacts.

The observer last mentioned has found in Lower Eocene
sands in Clermont undoubted eoliths with the detached
flakes still in situ. No one has ever suggested that man
existed at this period, and even if he had, that fact would
not alter the importance of the Abbe's demonstration that
these so-called implements can be made by a process of
nature, and that a process which must have been in operation
for long ages, down to the present day — namely, the slow
gradual creeping movements of strata whilst settling down
under the pressure of the soil. This pressure causes the
flints to be squeezed against one another, and flakes to be
removed. By this process is produced that characteristic


" eolith " form which resembles a slice of bread and butter
with a piece bitten out of it.

It has already been pointed out that we cannot definitely
accept any so-called implement as an artefact until we are
assured that it could not possibly have been shaped by
nature's agencies. It has now been shown that eoliths
can be shaped by a definite and perfectly recognisable
natural agency and it cannot, therefore, be assumed that
any of them have ever been manufactured in any other way.

We may pass from eoliths to the Icenian or Rostro-
carinate implements found by Mr. Moir below the base of
the Red Crag of Suffolk and described with great care and
minuteness by Sir Ray Lankester. 1 The geological period
to which the Red Crag belongs is not quite clear, for, though
it has usually been assigned to the Pliocene series, Sir Ray
thinks that this is an error and that its fauna affords a
definite proof that it should be included in the Pleistocene
Age. There is still some doubt, expressed by Professor
Sollas, as to whether these objects are artefacts or not. If
they are, they unquestionably set back the date of man's
appearance on the earth to an even more distant period
than has heretofore seemed to be provable. As in the case
of the Abbeville implements, and perhaps we may even say
of the eoliths, time will tell ; and until further facts have
been accumulated one must suspend one's judgement on
this matter.

As to all later implements at present before the scientific
world, it may be said that their human origin is undis-
puted and that their workmanship is such as to prove that
it was a man in every sense of the word who made them.
No one suggests a Homosimius as their maker.

Further, it may be added that they fall into series which
cannot here be described — series which belong to sub-periods,
and are so capable of recognition that when found in con-
nection with an interment, for example, it is tolerably safe
to place that interment in a definite period by reason of
the evidence afforded by the implements with which it has

1 Breuil's paper appeared in " L' Anthropologic," 1910, Vol. XXI.
p. 385, and Lankester's in the " Philosophical Transactions," Vol. 202 B,
P- 283.


been interred. It will readily be understood how valuable
this is to students of prehistoric subjects.

2. If it is agreed that the objects are human or of human
manufacture, what is their stratigraphical position ?

It is obvious that the reply to this question can only be
arrived at on geological lines where the objects in question
have been discovered at any depth below the surface. A
large number of prehistoric objects — neolithic flints, for
example — are commonly found either on the surface of the
ground or in the surface soil turned up by farming operations,
or even by the digging of moles or rabbits. Concerning these
there is no question. Palaeolithic implements not found in
caves have very commonly been discovered in river gravels,
the so-called " drift " implements. This merely means that
they have been washed down, with gravel of natural origin,
by the river on whose banks they have been discovered — a
fact further made obvious by the worn appearance of the
angles of the implements. A more interesting discovery is
that of implements at the place of their manufacture, and
this is especially the case when those implements are of
the Palaeolithic Period.

Those who desire to read a most interesting account of
the discovery of such a palaeolithic workship can do so in
" Man the Primaeval Savage," 1 where they will also be
able to admire the painstaking way in which the whole
facts of the case were worked out by the discoverer. Put
briefly, what happened was something like this. The manu-
facturers of the tools worked on the muddy flats beside a
pool of water. Leaving, as we may suppose, one evening
their implements made and half-made, together with the
chips and blocks which were their refuse and their raw
material, they returned to find them no more, for prolonged
rain and floods had covered them with a thick coating of
mud before the workmen were able once more to resume
their labours. Ages afterwards, when the mud of this early
day had proved itself of value for the making of bricks,
the floor of the ancient workshop became exposed and its
nature revealed by the objects which lay upon it. These
facts, however interesting and illuminating they may be,

\ By Worthington G. Smith, London, Stanford, 1894.


are not of great importance from our point of view, which is
especially concerned with the question of the antiquity of
man. Where the question of the geological period of
skeletal remains is concerned other points have to be borne
in mind which must be settled before the matter of strati-
graphical position becomes of any special importance.

3. Are the skeletal (and perhaps also other) remains in
their natural position, or is their disposition artificial ?

Here we approach a most difficult matter, yet it is one
which must at least be grasped in outline if readers are to be
able to form an intelligent opinion on the kind of facts con-
stantly laid before them in the pages of newspapers. Let us
take one or two examples. In the first place, we may picture
the lonely death of a man, ages and ages ago. He is drowned,
let us suppose in some lake or pool ; his body is held down
by weeds ; his bones are covered with a thick layer of mud.
Slowly the lake silts up ; there is an elevation of the ground
and the whole area becomes part of what we call the ordinary
dry land. Then it turns out that a use may be made of this
ancient dried-up mud and it is excavated until one fine
morning the bones of the ancient inhabitant are found. The
papers get hold of it and we have captions as to the dis-
covery of an antediluvian and the like. Now let us suppose,
on the other hand, that, instead of the events just described,
the bones had come to rest where they did because a mur-
derer some century ago had dug a deep hole and therein
concealed the body of his victim. The position of the bones
in either case might be identical, yet the difference in age
between them might be measurable only in thousands of
years. If one thinks over the matter one can imagine quite
a number of ways in which a body might have been buried
deep down in the soil, yet quite recently. A landslip might
cover a sleeping tramp with tons of earth and no one be
the wiser. In fact, error may creep in by various paths.

How then are we to find our way out of the diffi-
culty ? The first thing to consider is whether the soil in
which the bones have been found is natural untouched
earth or not, and this point can be settled by a person
conversant with excavations if he gets a proper chance.
Unfortunately this is generally just what he does not do, for


naturally enough, in the enormous majority of cases, the
discovery is accidentally made by a workman who is neither
acquainted with nor interested in the difficulties we have
been considering, and by the time the expert is on the spot
all the conditions for forming an opinion may have been
destroyed. The first thing, then, which one has to ask one-
self when bones have been found under conditions which
may suggest great antiquity for them is this : were they
buried there or not ? But there is another point which will
also claim our attention. In a number of these cases other
objects are found with the bones which we are trying to
date. These objects may be implements made by human
hands or they may be the bones or teeth, or both, of animals
belonging to races extinct or still in existence. In any of
these cases the objects thus found may afford invaluable
evidence as to the date of the body. But the evidence which
they afford may be wholly fallacious, so that the next
question we have to ask is this :

4. Is the collocation of objects significant or not ?

Here again a few instances will show the kind of con-
siderations which arise. Let us suppose, as may quite well
happen, that the skull of a man is found in a mass of river
gravel, together with the teeth of a hippopotamus and some
fragments of Roman pottery ; does this prove that they
were all of the same period ?

Unquestionably it does not, for the hippopotamus and
the pot in any case cannot have been contemporary. Nor
need any of them be, for all may have been washed down
to the same spot, at the same time, by the same flood, but
from quite different places. We can, therefore, attach no
significance to this collocation ; it teaches us nothing.

Let us now suppose that we find in an interment, besides
human bones, some flint implements and a bronze pin,
what may we conclude ? Supposing that it is clear that
none of these things are of later introduction, it at least
proves that the bones belong to an individual of the Metallic
Period. Or again, suppose we find in the case of an inter-
ment that the tooth of an elephant has been placed by the
remains of the dead, we are not, therefore, entitled to claim
that the mammoth and the man in question were con*


temporaries. The tooth may have been a cherished posses-
sion of a man who had never seen or heard of a mammoth.
It may have been a kind of fetish, what we should now call
a " mascot." It may have been buried with him for any one
of these reasons or for some other. Finally, however, when
we find an obvious interment — let us say in a cave like that
of Chapelle-aux-Saints — where the bones are in an undis-
turbed position, where they are surrounded by or resting
on flint implements, then at least we may say that there
is the strongest possible reason for believing that the
remains and the implements are exactly contemporary.
And further, if, as would usually be the case, we can say to
what archaeological period the implements belong, then we
are fairly entitled to say that the bones are those of a man of
that period and that their critical study should enable us
to form a fair idea of the physical characters of the human
beings of that date.

Those who read what has gone before and who are not
in the habit of troubling themselves much about the kind
of things here dealt with, will be apt to think that the whole
matter is not only very dull but that it bristles with captious
questions, and in any case is a fine example of " much ado
about nothing." Well, that is not so. The most acute
controversy of to-day, perhaps, is that which rages round
the question of the age of man upon the earth.

This controversy is concerned with the question of the
remains, physical and otherwise, of the early inhabitants
of the earth — in fact with the subjects dealt with in this
and the preceding chapters. One of the chief aims of
these has been to show in the first place how many matters
have to be taken into consideration before even a tentative
theory can be advanced. In the next place, it has been
necessary to point out how many pitfalls surround the ob-
server and how easily he may make the worst and most
fundamental mistakes. All these things suggest great
caution and reserve, not only in formulating but in accepting
a theory.

In fact it is most unsafe to base any but the most tenta-
tive theory upon any isolated specimen ; the story of the

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 20 of 38)