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- On Some Fossil Remains of Man - 1/7 -


by Thomas H. Huxley

I HAVE endeavoured to show, in the preceding Essay, that the ANTHROPINI, or Man Family, form a very well defined group of the Primates, between which and the immediately following Family, the CATARHINI, there is, in the existing world, the same entire absence of any transitional form or connecting link, as between the CATARHINI and PLATYRHINI.

It is a commonly received doctrine, however, that the structural intervals between the various existing modifications of organic beings may be diminished, or even obliterated, if we take into account the long and varied succession of animals and plants which have preceded those now living and which are known to us only by their fossilized remains. How far this doctrine is well based, how far, on the other hand, as our knowledge at present stands, it is an overstatement of the real facts of the case, and an exaggeration of the conclusions fairly deducible from them, are points of grave importance, but into the discussion of which I do not, at present, propose to enter. It is enough that such a view of the relations of extinct to living beings has been propounded, to lead us to inquire, with anxiety, how far the recent discoveries of human remains in a fossil state bear out, or oppose, that view.

I shall confine myself, in discussing this question, to those fragmentary Human skulls from the caves of Engis in the valley of the Meuse, in Belgium, and of the Neanderthal near Dusseldorf, the geological relations of which have been examined with so much care by Sir Charles Lyell; upon whose high authority I shall take it for granted, that the Engis skull belonged to a contemporary of the Mammoth ('Elephas primigenius') and of the woolly Rhinoceros ('Rhinoceros tichorhinus'), with the bones of which it was found associated; and that the Neanderthal skull is of great, though uncertain, antiquity. Whatever be the geological age of the latter skull, I conceive it is quite safe (on the ordinary principles of paleontological reasoning) to assume that the former takes us to, at least, the further side of the vague biological limit, which separates the present geological epoch from that which immediately preceded it. And there can be no doubt that the physical geography of Europe has changed wonderfully, since the bones of Men and Mammoths, Hyaenas and Rhinoceroses were washed pell-mell into the cave of Engis.

The skull from the cave of Engis was originally discovered by Professor Schmerling, and was described by him, together with other human remains disinterred at the same time, in his valuable work, 'Recherches sur les ossemens fossiles decouverts dans les cavernes de la Province de Liege', published in 1833 (p. 59, 'et seq.'), from which the following paragraphs are extracted, the precise expressions of the author being, as far as possible, preserved.

"In the first place, I must remark that these human remains, which are in my possession, are characterized like thousands of bones which I have lately been disinterring, by the extent of the decomposition which they have undergone, which is precisely the same as that of the extinct species: all, with a few exceptions, are broken; some few are rounded, as is frequently found to be the case in fossil remains of other species. The fractures are vertical or oblique; none of them are eroded; their colour does not differ from that of other fossil bones, and varies from whitish yellow to blackish. All are lighter than recent bones, with the exception of those which have a calcareous incrustation, and the cavities of which are filled with such matter.

"The cranium which I have caused to be figured, Plate I., Figs. 1, 2, is that of an old person. The sutures are beginning to be effaced: all the facial bones are wanting, and of the temporal bones only a fragment of that of the right side is preserved.

"The face and the base of the cranium had been detached before the skull was deposited in the cave, for we were unable to find those parts, though the whole cavern was regularly searched. The cranium was met with at a depth of a metre and a half [five feet nearly], hidden under an osseous breccia, composed of the remains of small animals, and containing one rhinoceros tusk, with several teeth of horses and of ruminants. This breccia, which has been spoken of above (p. 30), was a metre [3 1/4 feet about] wide, and rose to the height of a metre and a half above the floor of the cavern, to the walls of which it adhered strongly.

"The earth which contained this human skull exhibited no trace of disturbance: teeth of rhinoceros, horse, hyaena, and bear, surrounded it on all sides.

FIG. 22.--The skull from the cave of Engis--viewed from the right side. 'a' glabella, 'b' occipital protuberance, ('a' to 'b' glabello-occipital line), 'c' auditory foramen.

"The famous Blumenbach* has directed attention to the differences presented by the form and the dimensions of human crania of different races. This important work would have assisted us greatly, if the face, a part essential for the determination of race, with more or less accuracy, had not been wanting in our fossil cranium.

[footnote] *Decas Collectionis suae craniorum diversarum gentium illustrata. Gottingae, 1790-1820.

"We are convinced that even if the skull had been complete, it would not have been possible to pronounce, with certainty, upon a single specimen; for individual variations are so numerous in the crania of one and the same race, that one cannot, without laying oneself open to large chances of error, draw any inference from a single fragment of a cranium to the general form of the head to which it belonged.

"Nevertheless, in order to neglect no point respecting the form of this fossil skull, we may observe that, from the first, the elongated and narrow form of the forehead attracted our attention.

"In fact, the slight elevation of the frontal, its narrowness, and the form of the orbit, approximate it more nearly to the cranium of an Ethiopian than to that of an European: the elongated form and the produced occiput are also characters which we believe to be observable in our fossil cranium; but to remove all doubt upon that subject I have caused the contours of the cranium of an European and of an Ethiopian to be drawn and the foreheads represented. Plate II., Figs. 1 and 2, and, in the same plate, Figs. 3 and 4, will render the differences easily distinguishable; and a single glance at the figures will be more instructive than a long and wearisome description.

"At whatever conclusion we may arrive as to the origin of the man from whence this fossil skull proceeded, we may express an opinion without exposing ourselves to a fruitless controversy. Each may adopt the hypothesis which seems to him most probable: for my own part, I hold it to be demonstrated that this cranium has belonged to a person of limited intellectual faculties, and we conclude thence that it belonged to a man of a low degree of civilization: a deduction which is borne out by contrasting the capacity of the frontal with that of the occipital region.

"Another cranium of a young individual was discovered in the floor of the cavern beside the tooth of an elephant; the skull was entire when found, but the moment it was lifted it fell into pieces, which I have not, as yet, been able to put together again. But I have represented the bones of the upper jaw, Plate I., Fig. 5. The state of the alveoli and the teeth, shows that the molars had not yet pierced the gum. Detached milk molars and some fragments of a human skull proceed from this same place. The Figure 3 represents a human superior incisor tooth, the size of which is truly remarkable.*

[footnote] *In a subsequent passage, Schmerling remarks upon the occurrence of an incisor tooth 'of enormous size' from the caverns of Engihoul. The tooth figured is somewhat long, but its dimensions do not appear to me to be otherwise remarkable.

"Figure 4 is a fragment of a superior maxillary bone, the molar teeth of which are worn down to the roots.

"I possess two vertebrae, a first and last dorsal.

"A clavicle of the left side (see Plate III., Fig. 1); although it belonged to a young individual, this bone shows that he must have been of great stature.*

[footnote] *The figure of this clavicle measures 5 inches from end to end in a straight line--so that the bone is rather a small than a large one.

"Two fragments of the radius, badly preserved, do not indicate that the height of the man, to whom they belonged, exceeded five feet and a half.

"As to the remains of the upper extremities, those which are in my possession consist merely of a fragment of an ulna and of a radius (Plate III., Figs. 5 and 6).

"Figure 2, Plate IV., represents a metacarpal bone, contained in the breccia, of which we have spoken; it was found in the lower part above the cranium: add to this some metacarpal bones, found at very different distances, half-a-dozen metatarsals, three phalanges of the hand, and one of the foot.

"This is a brief enumeration of the remains of human bones collected in the cavern of Engis, which has preserved for us the remains of three individuals, surrounded by those of the Elephant, of the Rhinoceros, and of Carnivora of species unknown in the present creation."

From the cave of Engihoul, opposite that of Engis, on the right bank of the Meuse, Schmerling obtained the remains of three other individuals of Man, among which were only two fragments of parietal bones, but many bones of the extremities. In one case a broken fragment of an ulna was soldered to a like fragment of a radius by stalagmite, a condition frequently observed among the bones of the Cave Bear ('Ursus spelaeus'), found in the Belgian caverns.

It was in the cavern of Engis that Professor Schmerling found, incrusted with stalagmite and joined to a stone, the pointed bone implement, which he has figured in Fig. 7 of his Plate XXXVI., and worked flints were found by him in all those Belgian caves, which contained an abundance of fossil bones.

A short letter from M. Geoffroy St. Hilaire, published in the 'Comptes Rendus' of the Academy of Sciences of Paris, for July 2nd, 1838, speaks of a visit (and apparently a very hasty one) paid to the collection of Professor 'Schermidt' (which is presumably a misprint for Schmerling) at Liege. The writer briefly criticises the drawings which illustrate Schmerling's work, and affirms that the "human cranium is a little longer than it is represented" in Schmerling's figure. The only other

On Some Fossil Remains of Man - 1/7

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