Man in the Making (Anthropology)

The Ancient History of Man

One of the riddles that perennially charms and challenges us, is the origin of mankind on this earth, for the farther back we go the more vague is our knowledge about man. As a matter of fact it would be much easier to collect data about the iniquity of man than about his antiquity, because then we would have no lack of material for our discourse.

The subject of the antiquity of man must always remain more or less shrouded in mystery. The reality of human antiquity, however, even in the absence of specific details, is beyond question.

Twenty years ago Professor Walter drew the following personal illustration. “The writer was born sometime in the nineteenth century. In the eyes of children of the twentieth century he must seem to be quite ancient. He can remember when there was not a single automobile in existence. He has lived through the entire Golden Age of the Bicycle and participated in its rise and fall. He recalls when there was no radio, no telephone, no phonograph, no electric lights, no X-rays, no typewriters, no motion pictures, and when Darius Green and his Flying Machine, by John T. Trowbridge, represented the final word in aviation. He remembers his grandparents as very old people, associated with ox teams and candlelight, for they were babes in arms when the war of 1812 was being fought. Their grandparents in turn lived before the Revolutionary War and even traditions about them are now vague and hazy. Back of them there must have been many other generations, but they lived so long ago that the present day has entirely lost sight of them.” Beyond this personal survey, it is possible to resort to pages of history, going back in imagination to hoary landmarks of time such as the discovery of America, the Norman Invasion, the dramatic beginnings of the Christian Era, and far beyond these milestones to remote semi-mythical days when the Ten Thousand beat their famous retreat, or the Children of Israel passed dry-shod through the Red Sea, or when Tutankhamen was living flesh and blood instead of a celebrated mummy.

The palaeontologist laughs in his sleeve at anyone who pauses to consider such contemporary events as these, while the astronomer, dreaming of the majestic march of worlds other than ours, pities the short-sighted palaeontologist who is content to dwell on fragments of time as slight as Geologic Ages.

How far back into the shadowy past can the flickering torch of humanity be followed? What are the facts about the antiquity of man? Was there ever a time so remote that man was not man but something else? The sciences of Anthropology, and Prehistoric Archaeology are concerned with questions such as these. To confine ourselves to the events of our own day and generation, absorbing though they be, is like trying to breathe in a small, closed, stuffy room.

Tradition and Evidence

Various traditions of human origins are a part of the folklore of every racial stock. One legend of the sudden inorganic origin of mankind is that of Deucalion and Pyrrha who, at the suggestion of Jupiter, peopled the earth by simply throwing stones over their shoulders, the stones becoming full-grown men and women according to which one of the celestial pair did the throwing. If these wonder-workers had operated upon a glacial hillside of New England, instead of the summit of Mount Parnassus where stones are rather scarce, no doubt the overpopulation problem would have become acute much earlier.

The Greek and Roman classics are full of naive tales of dryads born of trees, and of Galateas coming to life from cold marble or lifeless ivory. Such stories and traditions, however, are in no sense evidences of the actual origin and antiquity of mankind on the earth. These evidences must be sought for in less romantic records of written history, in human fossils, and in persisting works of vanished hands, or indirect testimony of various kinds from other sources.

In America historical records of man practically date from the discovery by the whites only a few centuries ago, although there are abundant architectural remains in Mexico, Central America, and South America, that mark the presence of earlier, highly advanced civilizations, now vanished.

In Europe man was in a condition of illiterate savagery long after he had attained a high degree of development elsewhere. Recorded human history goes back with undoubted assurance only about 5000 years, continuing in Egypt and Mesopotamia with halting steps for perhaps 2000 years more, after which the historical record fades, and it becomes necessary in tracing the antiquity of man to resort to the unwritten evidences of prehistory.

The prehistoric evidences of human antiquity may be grouped in five categories, as follows:

1. Indirect evidence from the length of time during which the earth has been habitable by man;
2. Indirect evidence from the amount of time which must have elapsed in order to allow mankind to reach his present degree of development;
3. Indirect evidence from telltale fragments of extinct animals found associated with human remains;
4. Direct evidence from actual prehistoric human bones;
5. Direct evidence from the enduring handiwork of man.

Some brief explanation and elaboration of these different lines of evidence is necessary to make their content clear.

The Habitable Earth

Astronomers, physicists, and geologists all testify to an unthinkably remote period of time since the stage has been set for human life upon the earth. It does not necessarily follow that man appeared as soon as the earth was ready for human occupancy, but this testimony definitely removes any objections on the score of possible geological unpreparedness with regard to his abiding place.

Scientists have made various estimates of the age of the earth, using for their calculations such yardsticks as the rate of radioactive transformations, the rate of heat loss from the cooling earth, the time required for the weathering of rocks and their subsequent deposition as sedimentary strata, or the time necessary to allow for the leaching out by water of the earth s crust enough to make the oceans as salty as they are today. The most recent estimates, based upon radioactivity, place the age oi the earth at near 2000 million years. Hurst says: “One of the most remarkable features of modern science is the rapid expansion in recent years of the scientific estimates of the age of man, life, the earth, and the universe.”

The Time Required

Anatomically the human body is a collection of parts, assembled in varying degrees of perfection. There is every indication that the process of adaptation and modification is still going on, and that the human body as we see it today is the result of repeated changes which have taken place in the past.

There is no structural detail in the human body not foreshadowed in the lower animals. The tracing out of resemblances and sequences in structure and organization between different animals and man is the peculiar province of Comparative Anatomy, and the mass of facts which constitutes the working basis of this biological science furnishes undeniable evidence bearing upon the antiquity of man. Just as a modern ocean liner, with its luxurious appointments and efficient intricate machinery, gives evidence of years of invention and experimentation with preliminary boats of a lesser order of elaboration, so the four-chambered heart, the larynx, or the brain of man, to anyone who knows something of the detail and complexity of these organs, tells a long story of preparatory variation and adaptation that must have required an enormous length of time for its accomplishment.

The science of Chorology, or the geographical distribution of animals and plants over the face of the earth, furnishes abundant evidence, of an undeniable kind, of the antiquity of man. The spread of human beings to the uttermost corners of the earth, which we recognize as an accomplished fact, could never have occurred by any series of migrations from common centers of origin without involving considerable lapses of time.

Two other fields of science, Ethnology and Philology, also prove the necessity of postulating an extended period of past time for the existence of man, in order to account for the present development of customs and languages.

Ethnology deals with the customs and institutions of the various races of man, while philology is concerned with human language and its evolution. In both of these fields man has attained a high degree of specialization. When one attempts to disentangle the various steps that must have preceded it, he is carried back so far that there can be no doubt about the antiquity of man. Moreover, as Physical Anthropology shows, the great race divisions of mankind into those dressed in integumental uniforms of black, brown, yellow, and white are of no recent growth but were already distinct long before the beginning of the historic period.

As for language which makes possible the oral transfer of experience, Linguistic Palaeontology shows that each of the branches of the so-called Aryan group of primitive languages, Persian, Indian, Semitic, Romance, Hellenic, Slavonic, Teutonic, and Keltic, has its roots buried in antiquity. The Hebrew and Arabic tongues are both ancient languages and neither the original of the other, and, therefore they are derived from still more remote ancestral sources.

Archaeological Chronometers

In some instances the handiwork of man has survived for a longer time than his own bones. The enduring touch of the vanished hand is particularly apparent in the case of the “indestructible flint” tools and weapons which he fashioned. The more important evidences of human antiquity that fall within the field of Prehistoric Archaeology are kitchen middens, pile dwellings, painted grottoes, monuments of various kinds, and fashioned flints.

Kitchen Middens

Kitchen middens are ancient garbage dumps where prehistoric man evidently congregated and feasted. Attention was first called to them by Thomsen in 1836 who described them from Denmark. Since then they have been noted in many other localities as widely separated as Japan, Spain, Brazil, Oregon, California, Maine, Denmark, the Aleutian Islands, Terra del Fuego, the north coast of Africa, and the shores of the Baltic Sea.

Kitchen middens consist principally of enormous masses of shells that could not have been collected together by any natural agency. They usually occur near the seashore, or where the seashore once was, because there primitive man had easy access to a natural food supply of shellfish. Mingled with shellfish remains are significant archaeological treasures of various kinds such as teeth, scales, bones of animals eaten, fragments of crude pottery, anvil stones, hammers, implements, and ornaments of different sorts made out of stone, obsidian, and flint, while pieces of charred wood and flat stones blackened with fire indicate, even to an amateur archaeological Sherlock Holmes, the use of fire by the people who left these extensive piles of refuse.

Some shell heaps, like those on the coast of Maine, for example, do not bear the earmarks of great antiquity, probably dating no further back than precolonial Indian days. Other kitchen middens, however, as those of the Baltic region, contain internal evidence of great age, for they consist largely of shells of salt-water mollusks, which cannot grow in brackish or fresh waters that characterize the Baltic Sea today, but must have flourished long ago when there was an open communication between the Baltic Sea and the salt ocean.

Pile Dwellings

The Greek historian Herodotus gives a detailed account of Thracian aborigines who dwelt in rude huts built upon piles out in the waters of Lake Prasias in the land that is now modern Rumelia. The most interesting exponents of this style of semi-aquatic architecture are the still older lake dwellers who lived and died probably some 6000 years B.C., or just beyond the outer halo of written history. They represent a primitive type of vanished civilization that came to flower particularly in the general region centering in Switzerland, where they erected their pile dwellings along the margins of numerous Alpine lakes. During a year of great drouth and low water in 1854, the submerged ruins of some of these curious pile dwellings came to light on the shores of Lake Zurich, and subsequently a large number of sunken remains of pile-built settlements have been discovered, while from the surrounding mud a great number and variety of relics have been recovered that make possible a fairly complete picture of the kind of life these ancient lake dwellers lived. The sites of over 200 of these prehistoric villages have now been located in the Swiss lakes alone.

The pile-dwellers represent a decided advance over the precarious nomadic life of the cave dwellers who preceded them. Building together upon piles out over the water enabled them to establish a haven of comparative safety from the assaults of hostile marauders and ferocious beasts, at the same time furnishing the security and leisure necessary in taking initial steps in invention, the arts of peace, and of organized warfare.

The pile dwellers made dugout canoes and crude pottery. Primitive agriculture and food storage were no doubt stimulated when pottery containers were invented. The ancestral fig-leaf had long since been replaced by furry skins and bark clothing on the part of the shivering cave dwellers of the icy Pleistocene times, but the pile dwellers went further and supplemented their wardrobes by fashioning coarse textiles, fragments of which were preserved buried in the mud. These may be seen in the Antiquarisches Museum in Zurich together with many other specimens of the prehistoric handiwork of the vanished race of lake dwellers. Living over the water doubtless insured some degree of primitive sanitation unknown, or at least unlikely, among those who pitched their camps in caves and forests on land. It cannot be doubted that the consequences following in the wake of ignorance of sanitation must have been quite as inevitable then as in these latter days when the bacteria of disease have been discovered and domesticated by modern man.

Painted Grottoes

About the time of the reindeer and wild horse occupation of what is now France and northern Spain, there flourished a remarkable period of prehistoric art, represented chiefly by crude drawings and paintings limned upon the protected walls and ceilings of caverns. There have been catalogued from such troglodytic art galleries nearly 3000 different pictures in outline, monochrome and polychrome. In the Dordogne region of France, one single cavern, the “Combarelles,” is a veritable prehistoric Louvre, which contains 109 wall pictures covering an area of over 2000 square feet.

The pictures are mostly outlines of animals, such as bison, reindeer, mammoths, wild horses, woolly rhinoceroses, and others, that were contemporary in Europe with the cave-dwelling, flint-using folk who drew them. Usually they are well enough done to be unmistakable. The most ancient of them, apparently the work of the Aurignacian wild horse hunters, are bare outlines roughly engraved on the cavern walls by means of flint tools, and probably by the light of flickering torches.

The best of these old animal pictures, as well as the majority of them, were evidently made later by the Cro-Magnon reindeer-hunting people, and are for the most part flat surfaces chipped into the solid rock and colored with various substances such as chalk, charcoal, red and yellow ochre, and other mineral pigments. The famous polychrome frescoes of the Altimira caverns in northwest Spain near Santander, which would be a credit to artists of a much later time, mark the highest point of excellence in glyptic art.

A prehistoric sketch from a cavern in Dordogne, France, showing a hairy mammoth

It is quite likely that the painted grottoes were not decorated as an expression of “art for art’s sake,” but as part of a magic ritual to aid the hunters in successful pursuit of their prey. Since the grotto artists or necromancers drew what they saw, a study of their pictures throws considerable light upon the state of affairs in their part of the world some 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. As a single example, the skyline of the hairy mammoth is represented with a depression in the neck region (Fig. 81) which is absent from all modern proboscideans and is not evident on the fossil mammoth skeletons that have been assembled. This means that the living mammoth had a fat lump, not to be seen in the skeleton, posterior to the notch of the neck. The fat lump indicates storage of food which enabled these great beasts to live through seasons of scarcity. The outline of the hairy mammoth as depicted by the Cro-Magnon artists in this way informs us that the painted grottoes were decorated when France had an arctic climate.

The approximate age of the painted grottoes is also determined in part by the kind of bones and flint implements found in the rubbish that filled the caverns, thus protecting the pictures throughout thousands of years from exposure and destruction. Certain other time marks, such as paintings of different ages superimposed one above the other, tell the story of different hands that wrought them. All in all these early attempts at artistic expression are direct evidences of the great antiquity of man, for of all creatures only man could have left such signs of the times.

Large Stone Monuments

The ancient Egyptians who built pyramids, sphinxes, and obelisks in the attempt to outwit the devastating tooth of time, were not the first to leave some enduring memorial of themselves to succeeding generations. Prehistory, as well as written history, bears witness to the same human desire for impressing posterity. This desire has found expression not only in the form of mounds or earthworks of unmistakable human workmanship, but also of large stones, or megaliths, arranged and set up in various unnatural ways.

Large columnar stones set up on end are called menhirs. Of these over 700 have been located in Brittany alone. Primitive man must have exercised a good deal of engineering skill, probably by digging pits, building temporary inclined planes, and using pulleys of some sort, in order to jockey these huge stones into position. Their size and shape preclude the possibility of their placement by any natural agency.

Frequently menhirs were set up in parallel rows, termed alignments, or in circular arrangement, designated as cromlechs. A flat stone resting upon two uprights is called a trilith, but when several uprights support a top stone, like a rude table or altar, the structure is called a dolmen. Nearly 5000 dolmens have been found in France, while at Stonehenge and Avebury (Fig. 82) in England there are two very famous and much described collections of megaliths, arranged as alignments, cromlechs, dolmens, and single menhirs. The collection of megaliths at Avebury is more extensive than that at Stonehenge, but it is not as well preserved because many of the stones were removed to build the modern village of Avebury by people not interested in antiquities.

Megaliths of Stonehenge

One cromlech 1200 feet in diameter, and made up of 100 separate stones each seventeen to twenty feet high, forms a part of the Avebury collection.

Some of the most curious and mysterious evidences of ancient human activities are the stone images of Easter Island. On this isolated island in the south Pacific, 2000 miles west of South America, there are over 600 stone statues, hewn out of volcanic tufa and weighing up to thirty tons each. They are all patterned alike, regardless of size, and represent a half-length human figure with hands placed across the front of the body. Most of the statues when discovered were found overthrown and the present scanty inhabitants of Easter Island have no traditions concerning how the statues came to be there. Their origin is one of the most puzzling of archaeological enigmas.

In addition to megalithic witnesses of the distant past there are mounds, tumuli, and earthworks of various sorts, that tell the same story of the antiquity of man. Some of these structures were no doubt connected with ancient burial customs or religious ceremonies, while others were probably once places of refuge, or fortresses, the ruins of which remain to remind us of the gray days during which our distant ancestors kept alive on the earth the precious spark of humanity.

Tools and Weapons

Man, of all animals, is the only one fitted to grasp tools and weapons. The tools and weapons of other animals, such as horns, teeth, tails, claws, and hoofs, are a part of the permanent equipment of their possessors, built into the body, and may be improved or substituted for other tools only in the slow age-long workshop of adaptive evolution. After all it is the brain that makes the grasping of tools or weapons effective. Apes pound a stone with a nut, but man discovered that he got better results if he pounded the nut with a stone.

Some of the earliest tools and implements fashioned by man furnish direct evidence of human antiquity that antedates his oldest fossil remains. This kind of evidence is far more accurate and reliable than anv historical chronicle whatsoever that has been colored by human judgment on the part of the historian. Sir W. R. Wilde has emphasized this point by saying, “Men are liars, stones are not.”

The materials employed in outfitting the grasping hand of man have been principally flint, which is composed of the finely crystallized remains of silicious sponges and other marine organisms, dissolved and redeposited in the form of irregular lumps. Quartz, and obsidian or 'Volcanic glass,” which like flint fractures in flakes from cores by pressure or by percussion, were also employed, as well as horn, bone, shells, ivory, wood, and later on, metals. Of these various materials wood is the least enduring and so furnishes very little evidence today of the uses to which in all probability it was formerly put by prehistoric man.

Of the metals, copper occurs in comparatively free form in nature and was the first metal utilized by man. Malleable bronze, which is an alloy of copper and tin, was discovered or invented long before iron, “the great lever of civilization,” was successfully smelted from the ore, beginning probably about 1300 B.C., on the shores of the Black Sea.

Archaeologists speak of successive stages of human culture based upon the materials employed in the manufacture of tools and weapons. They are the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Copper Age, and Iron Age. To them might be added a fifth, the Steel Age, in which we live today.

These ages are not uniform in origin or duration in different parts of the world. Egypt, for example, had already reached a high point in the Bronze Age at the time when Europe still lingered in the Stone Age of culture (Fig. 83), while in North America and Australia the Stone Age was in full swing when these countries were discovered by white men in recent historical times. Some races of man still living today, that have been isolated from contact with other races, such as the Hottentots of Africa, Veddahs of Ceylon, Botacudos of Brazil, Andaman Islanders, Fuegans, and Eskimos, are still in a very primitive stage of tool culture.

A chart to show that cultural ages, while following the same sequence in different regions, were not equal duration

The Stone Age, before iron was applied to the follies of war or the arts of peace, offers a most fascinating field for study, since it furnishes the earliest direct evidence of human activity upon the earth. It is a field that has attracted many scholars. As late as 1938 there was opened in the Ohio State Museum at Columbus, a “Lithic Laboratory” in which to specialize in types of stone tools, showing the materials used, and the technics employed in making them.

The stone instruments of primitive man were fitted to a variety of uses. They include arrow-points, lance-heads, knives, axes, hammers, saws, choppers, borers, etchers, scrapers, punches, polishers, spark-producers, and ornaments. Their evolution tells the story of human progress through many centuries of time. The interpretation and significance of this story got its initial start when M. Boucher de Perthes in 1838 discovered the first known authentic flint hatchet in a sand bed near Abbeville, France, together with rhinoceros and mammoth bones. Since then in the last century a very great number of flint tools and implements of different degrees of perfection in workmanship have been found and carefully studied. France has been particularly fortunate, not only in unearthing these records of early man, but also in having distinguished scholars who have collected and described them.

According to prescientific interpretations the relics of the Stone Age, chiefly flints, were described variously under the name of “fairy darts” and “thunderbolts,” and their origin assigned to the Druids, Romans, or the Devil, a convenient trinity which has been made responsible for other strange things as well.

Flints, representing three periods of the Stone Age

Wherever fashioned flints have been found, even in such diverse regions as the Nile Valley, Algeria, Europe, England, Somaliland, and America, they exhibit the same universal sequence of patterns, and a parallel succession of evolutionary differences or degrees of refinement. It is thus possible to subdivide the Stone Age into four unequal successive divisions of workmanship, representing stages of human culture, namely, Eolithic, Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. See Figure 84. Experts have further arranged the successive cultures of the Stone Age into subdivisions, the names of which for the most part are derived from localities in France near which the typical characteristic flints were first discovered. Reading downward from the most ancient to the most recent, they are as follows:

I. Eolithic Period
II. Palaeolithic Period
 A. Lower Palaeolithic
  1. Abbevillian (Chellean)
  2. Acheulian
  3. Mousterian
 B. Upper Palaeolithic
  1. Aurignacian
  2. Solutrean
  3. Magdelenian
III. Mesolithic Period
 1. Azilian
 2. Tardenoisian
IV. Neolithic Period

Stone implements of the oldest type, representing the eolithic culture, are terms eoliths (Fig. 84). They mark the “great extent of time that has elapsed between the picking up of the first stones with an intelligent purpose, and the acquirement of sufficient knowledge to shape them into the crudest form of palaeoliths” (Wilder). Eoliths, nowhere abundant, are always more or less problematical objects, since they are not undeniable artifacts in the sense of purposeful manufacture, but are merely pieces of stone of convenient size and shape to fit the hand and lend persuasive weight to the fist. They are distinguishable by showing the effects of use. The uncertainty connected with them depends upon whether they were bruised and fashioned by man or nature. Professor G. F. Scott-Elliot says of them, “Surely if there is little to prove that eoliths were made by man, there is even less to convince us that they were formed in any other way.”

The flints of the Palaeolithic Period, as contrasted with eoliths that were perhaps accidentally scarred, are unmistakably the result of human manipulation. They are all definitely chipped and fashioned (Fig. 84), exhibiting an evolution of workmanship from crude lower palaeolithic forms, imperfectly worked, to exquisitely fashioned tools and weapons of later time in the “golden age” of the grotto painters.

The Abbevillian flints are almost exclusively the cores of nodules rather than flakes or fragments that have been chipped off. These flints are mostly oval hand-axes (“coup-de-poing” of the French), coarsely chipped. The idea of fastening the ax to any sort of a handle was yet to come.

Characteristic Acheulian tools were hand-axes more carefully sharpened and with straighter cutting edges than those of the Abbevillian. In both of these cultures hearths are occasionally found, indicating the use of fire by these early Palaeolithic men.

The flints of the Mousterian, chipped on one side only, were of considerably better workmanship than anything that had gone before. For example, flakes from stone nodules were used as scrapers, knives, and with notched edges as saws, while the cores of the nodules were made into crude fist-axes.

The three subdivisions just enumerated make up the Lower Palaeolithic Group, as contrasted with the three following subdivisions, or Upper Palaeolithic Group, which brought in a “new kit of tools,” showing the highest development of flint work.

The Aurignacians, preceding the Cro-Magnons, lasted some 7000 to 8000 years in Europe, and added bone and ivory harpoons to their equipment. Among other things they also invented needles, or slender splinters of bone with a hole in one end so that thongs of sinew could be threaded through and skins sewed together by means of them. One of the greatest of human inventions is the needle. No animal, even an ape with busy exploring fingers, ever conceived such an idea, much less put it into effect.

The most beautifully chipped of all flints are the thin “laurel-leaf” lance-heads of the Solutrean culture. From this time on the art of fashioning flints declined.

The Magdeleman subdivision is characterized more by the use of bone, horn, and ivory, and by polychrome paintings in caverns.

The Azilian and Tardenoisian subdivisions of the transitional Mesolithic Period, which followed the last glaciation, witnessed a further decline of the art of working flint, although it is apparent that handles were employed for ax-heads and arrow- or spear-points were bound by thongs to wooden shafts at that period. These two latter subdivisions are distinguished from each other by the fact that the Tardenoisian subdivision was characterized by the occurrence of painted pebbles of unknown use, not present in the Azilian culture.

The comparatively short Neolithic Period is distinguished from the Palaeolithic subdivisions not only because neolithic tools and weapons were fashioned into a larger variety of definite shapes for obvious uses, but also for the reason that they were polished smooth (Fig. 84). All evidence thus far gained shows that flints were chipped for thousands of years before man learned to polish them. The most important features of this period are, however, the beginning of the manufacture of pottery and the development of agriculture and domestication of animals.

Many flint instruments, particularly those of the neolithic type, continued to be manufactured and used long after metals were employed in the Bronze and Iron Ages, just as modern means of locomotion, such as ox-carts, horses, bicycles, automobiles, and airplanes, while tending to supersede what has gone before, still persist long after they have lost their dominance.

Human Fossils

The actual bones of prehistoric man furnish the best direct evidence of human antiquity, but unfortunately they are very scarce. This is due in part to the arboreal life of human ancestors whose dead bodies, left without burial, were liable to be devoured on the spot or subjected to immediate decay and disintegration.

Moreover, a large part of the earth, including many localities where human remains might have been overwhelmed and fossilized, has not as yet been thoroughly explored by competent scientists. Evidence of human antiquity from fossils has been acquired only within the last century. As late as 1852 the eminent French palaeontologist Cuvier, gave the famous opinion, backed by his extensive knowledge of what was known in his day, “L’homme fossile n’existe pas.” All the supposed discoveries of prehistoric human remains up to that time were shown to be of comparatively recent origin or not human at all. One often cited case is that of Scheuchzer, who found and described in 1732 what he called a fossil man, to which he gave the name Homo diluvii testis, or “man, witness of the flood,” with the pious comment, “Rare relic of the accursed race of the primitive world. Melancholy sinner preserved to convert the hearts of modern reprobates!” This famous specimen, which now reposes in a museum in Haarlem, turned out, however, to be not a human skeleton at all but the bones of a giant salamander.

Java “Ape-Man”

Pleistocene deposits have yielded not only tools and weapons but many human fossils, the oldest of which bear resemblances to the early Pleistocene and Pliocene apes. Klaatsch, who speaks from a profound knowledge of comparative anatomy, describes apes as “unsuccessful attempts to compass the road to mankind from prehuman stock.”

The German zoologist Haeckel was so confident that species intermediate between apes and man once lived that in 1866, before many discoveries of human fossils had been made, he assigned the tentative name of Pithecanthropus (ape-man) to the unknown, and prophesied its future discovery.

In 1891, however, Dubois, then an officer in the Dutch army stationed in Java, found fossil remains after extended search on one of the banks of the Solo River near Trinil, thus fulfilling Haeckel’s prophecy. These remains were a skullcap, or calvarium, and a molar tooth, to which were added from the same locality later a left thigh bone and two other teeth, together with a fragment of a lower jaw. These fragments of the “ape-man” were recovered some twenty yards apart, making the likelihood of intrusive burial improbable and casting doubt on the probability that the several bones did come from one individual.

Companion bones of various animals were unearthed that filled 400 packing cases. This material was brought back to Holland and subjected to painstaking study. The specimens included bones of the extinct proboscidian, Stenodon; the ungulates Leptobos and Hippopotamus; and the giant pangolin, species no longer inhabitants of that part of the world, as well as tapirs now found only in South America on the other side of the globe. Altogether 24 species of Pleistocene animals under 45 feet of undisturbed stratified deposits have been identified among these remains, fixing the time when Pithecanthropus lived as approximately 500,000 years ago (Fig. 85).

Diagrammatic cross section through the fossilferous strata in Java where the Pithecanthropus bones were found

Despite attempts of others to obtain additional specimens of the Java “ape man,” none was found until von Koenigswald, between 1936 and 1939, unearthed portions of three skulls and a lower jaw, also in the Solo River valley but near Sangiran, above Trinil. From the combined evidence of all available material it has been determined that Pithecanthropus had a somewhat apelike brain case with low forehead and heavy supraorbital ridges but with a capacity of slightly more than 900 cubic centimeters (Fig. 86). The brain would therefore be intermediate in size between that of the great apes, which ordinarily do not exceed 600 cubic centimeters, and modern man whose cranial capacity varies between 1200 and 1500. Although no tools have been discovered with any of the skeletal remains, primitive stone instruments have been found in Java in the same strata as those to which the specimens of ape man belonged.

A comparsion of the skull capacities of various primates

From all of the evidence now available it is clear that Pithecanthropus was an erect-walking primate with the ability to use tools, and with features of the skull and brain which are more human than simian. He may have been a stage in the evolution of man or of at least a portion of the human race. As he apparently had European contemporaries it is quite possible that he represents but one branch of a human stock which had originated earlier.

Peking Man

At Choukoutien, some thirty miles southwest of Peiping, China, the investigation of a group of caves revealed middle Pleistocene deposits which included a number of skeletal remains of various animals. Dr. Davidson Black, of Peking Union Medical College, becoming interested in two teeth which were found, supervised further excavations which uncovered a third tooth, a lower molar, in 1927. He was so certain that the new find came from a primitive man that he established the new genus Sinanthropus for it. That he was justified was shown by the discovery, in 1929, of an almost complete brain case embedded in limestone under 110 feet of cave deposits. After Black’s death, Dr. Franz Weidenreich continued the work and by 1938 nearly 40 Sinanthropus individuals were represented in the collection of teeth, jaw fragments, portions of skulls and a few parts of the appendicular skeleton.

Sinanthropus resembled Pithecanthropus in such features as a receding chin, large supraorbital ridges, and low forehead, but had a somewhat larger cranial capacity, the average of the capacities reported being 1075 cubic centimeters. Several other details indicate that Java man was slightly more primitive than Peking man who may have been an intermediate stage between Java man and Neanderthal man.

With the skeletal remains there have been discovered palaeolithic tools and hearths, good evidence that Peking man was a fire-user. As all of the skulls had the bases smashed in, it is believed that he was a cannibal who ate the brains and probably other parts of the body, even as Homo of recent years has been wont to do.

Heidelberg Man

The “Heidelberg man,” Homo heidelbergensis, lived among animals that characterized the first interglacial period of perhaps 450,000 years ago. He was therefore an European contemporary of Pithecanthropus. This race is represented only by a lower jaw (Fig. 87), found in 1907 buried in a gravel pit near the mouth of the Neckar River valley about six miles from Heidelberg, Germany. Over eighty feet of undisturbed sand and sedimentary rock had been deposited over this interesting ancestor. For subsequent centuries the slow eroding action of the Neckar river carved out the valley, before this famous human fragment was eventually exposed to modern view (Fig. 88).

Outline of the Heidelberg jaw, contrasted with that of chimpanzee and man

The jaw is heavy, massive, and chinless. It is apelike in character but the teeth are comparatively small and have the shortened roots and dilated crowns that distinguish human teeth. With our knowledge limited to these interesting features of the lower jaw it is difficult to tell what may have been Heidelberg man’s position with relation to other fossil men.

Diagram of the sand pit where the Hedelberg jaw was discovered

Piltdown Man

Skull fragments, found by Charles Dawson in 1908 and 1911 near Piltdown Common, Sussex, England, so interested Sir Arthur Smith-Woodward that he joined in the search for human fossils in that area. In 1912 these workers discovered a larger piece of a skull, and in 1915, about two miles from the first discoveries, part of a second skull. To this type of primitive man Smith-Woodward gave the name Eoanthropus dawsoni (“Dawson’s dawn-man”). Early Pleistocene animal skeletons found in these same Piltdown gravel beds show that this man was probably a first interglacial contemporary of Heidelberg and Pithecanthropus.

The lower jaw of Eoanthropus is almost completely apelike but the brain case is of a quite advanced type. The supraorbital ridges are reduced, the forehead high, and the cranial capacity near 1350 cubic centimeters. Except for the fact that the bones are about twice as thick as those of modem man, in this respect resembling Pithecanthropus, the brain case is quite modern.

Further evidence of primitive man in England was discovered by A. T. Marston in 1935 and 1936 at Swanscombe in the lower Thames valley. In the same stratum with Acheulian implements and middle Pleistocene fauna an occipital bone and then a parietal bone were uncovered. They closely resemble corresponding parts of the Piltdown skulls and indicate a cranial capacity of somewhat over 1300 cubic centimeters but apparently belong to a later period, probably the second interglacial. Sir Arthur Keith, who has been cited as “perhaps the greatest authority on fossil man,” believes these parts belonged to a later member of the Piltdown group.

Neanderthal Man

In 1856, not far from the time that Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) appeared, throwing both the scientific and the theological worlds into intellectual convulsions, there came to light the original Neanderthal man, the first primitive fossil man to be discovered. This is an incomplete human skeleton unearthed by workmen in a detritus-filled cavern near Diisseldorf, Germany, high up on the precipitous side of a ravine about 60 feet above a stream and 100 feet below the top of a cliff. Together with the skeleton were found, embedded in hard loam, the bones of animals long extinct, the cave bear, woolly rhinoceros, mammoth, cave hyena, and other Arctic forms. Man is known by the company he keeps, and these bones with superimposed detritus covered over by undisturbed strata of sedimentary rock, put the seal of unquestionable antiquity upon the Neanderthaler.

The bones themselves, which have undergone more expert scrutiny than perhaps any other set of bones, indicate a burly, squat, bow-legged individual, with thick skull, projecting brows, low retreating forehead, and receding chin, characters distinctly unlike those of modern man. That this individual was not a unique prehistoric hermit has been unquestionably demonstrated by subsequent discoveries in various localities in Europe, as well as in Palestine, of about 70 individuals represented by bony fragments of one kind or another, all agreeing essentially with the original find. The existence of this species of human beings, Homo necinderthalensis, whom the late G. Elliot Smith refers to as “weird caricatures of mankind roaming far and wide to satisfy their appetites and avoid extinction,” is now no more in doubt than the existence of ancient Egyptians.

Accompanying Mousterian implements and Arctic, or glacial-period, animals indicate that the Neanderthalers flourished between 150,000 and 115,000 years ago during the difficult last days of the great Pleistocene period. By the latter part of the fourth glaciation, 50,000 to 70,000 years ago, they had disappeared and the caves were being occupied by men of our own species.

Cro-Magnon Man

The fossils thus far considered are conceded to be evidently human, although of species different from our own, Homo sapiens. There is considerable evidence that the men of modern types who superseded the Neanderthalers were probably not their descendants but invaders from other regions, who had progressed to the modern type while Neanderthalers had remained as “palaeontological hang-overs, outmoded survivors of an earlier stage of human evolution,” to use the words of Professor E. A. Hooton.

Ancestral tree of the anthropoid apes and man, according to the conclusions of Osborn

One of the finest races physically that ever existed, of which many fossils have been recovered, was the Cro-Magnon race of reindeer hunters that lived 15,000 to 30,000 years ago near the close of the last ice age. These nomads of frigid days not only left some of their bones behind, that showed them to be tall finely built specimens of humanity with large capacious skulls, but they also left mural pictures of contemporary animals which they painted on the walls of their caverns. The bones of wild horses, wild boars, and reindeer, abundant all over that part of Europe where most of the fossil remains of man have been found, are eloquent witnesses of an ancient regime when man lived in a different world than that of today. In southern France alone there were eighteen species of large animals which were formerly common that have now migrated to more congenial climes. Of these, thirteen, like the reindeer, have gone north, and five, like the chamois and mountain goat, have retreated to cool mountain tops.

Figures 89 and 90 are attempts to indicate the probable relationship of the better known primates.

Phylogenetic tree of the anthropoid apes, primitive man, and modern man

Time Scales

There is no doubt that, to our myopic vision at least, contemporary events of our individual lifetimes are the most interesting part of all human history, but a single lifetime of even “three score years and ten” is only one one-hundredth of the approximate time involved in written history. Historical events that seem very ancient in contrast to the times in which we now live, appear quite recent against the background of the “Cultural Ages” of the archaeologist, while in turn the cultural ages crowd magically forward into what seems like the immediate present when their position in geologic time is considered. It is a good thing occasionally to ignore the fleeting news events of the day and to stretch one’s sense of time by probing into the abysmal past. Man is the only animal who has the capacity to look both ways and to be aware of the past and future.

Table III is an attempt to visualize the reaches of past time.

Time Scale. Based on the unit in which a human lifetime of “three score years and ten” is equal to one minute


The continuing wonder of mankind is man. His achievements are like a rapidly widening wedge, awakening “undiminished interest in every man born into the world” (Huxley). The fascinating theme of the anthropologist and the archaeologist, however, is particularly liable to fall a prey to premature generalizations. Nevertheless certain conclusions from “spade history,” as contrasted with written or legendary history, may be stated with considerable confidence.

1. There are many converging lines of evidence which point unmistakably to the great antiquity of man when measured by any historical time scale.

2. Man appeared in Europe at a remote time when climatic conditions were different from those at present, and when he was the contemporary of many kinds of animals now extinct.

3. In America the evidences of human antiquity, as yet discovered, by no means go back as far as in Europe and Asia, although the recently discovered flint culture of New Mexico, typified by unique fluted so-called “Folsom points,” two of which were discovered embedded in the backbone of an ancestral bison in Texas, indicate the presence of man in America as far back as 15,000 to 25,000 years ago when bisons roamed the western plains.

4. The direct descent of Homo sapiens is not through any species of living primates, but is to be traced back to arboreal ancestors of very remote common ancestry.

5. Man is a part of the general evolutionary scheme that includes all life. As Dr. W. W. Keen once said in pointing out the reasonableness of this conclusion, “The laws of mathematics do not hold up to 1,000,000 and then give way to something else.”