Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man/Chapter 10


CHAPTER X.

CAVERN DEPOSITS, AND PLACE OF SEPULTURE OF THE POST-PLIOCENE PERIOD.

FLINT IMPLEMENTS IN CAVE CONTAINING HYÆNA AND OTHER EXTINCT MAMMALIA IN SOMERSETSHIRE—CAVES OF THE GOWER PENINSULA IN SOUTH WALES—RHINOCEROS HEMITŒCHUS—OSSIFEROUS CAVES NEAR PALERMO—SICILY ONCE PART OF AFRICA—RISE OF BED OF THE MEDITERRANEAN TO THE HEIGHT OF THREE HUNDRED FEET IN THE HUMAN PERIOD IN SARDINIA—BURIAL PLACE OF POST-PLIOCENE DATE OF AURIGNAC IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE—RHINOCEROS TICHORHINUS EATEN BY MAN—M. LARTET ON EXTINCT MAMMALIA AND WORKS OF ART FOUND IN THE AURIGNAC CAVE—RELATIVE ANTIQUITY OF THE SAME, CONSIDERED.

Works of Art associated with extinct Mammalia in a Cavern in Somersetshire.

THE only British cave from which implements resembling those of Amiens have been obtained, since the attention of geologists has been awakened to the importance of minutely observing the position of such relics relatively to the associated fossil mammalia, is that recently opened near Wells in Somersetshire. It occurs near the cave of Wokey Hole, from the mouth of which the river Axe issues on the southern flanks of the Mendips. No one had suspected that on the left side of the ravine, through which the river flows after escaping from its subterranean channel, there were other caves and fissures concealed beneath the green sward of the steep sloping bank. About ten years ago, a canal was made, several hundred yards in length, for the purpose of leading the waters of the Axe to a paper-mill, now occupying the middle of the ravine. In carrying out this work, about twelve feet of the left bank was cut away, and a cavernous fissure, choked up to the roof with ossiferous loam, was then, for the first time, exposed to view. This great cavity, originally nine feet high and thirty-six wide, traversed the dolomitic conglomerate; and fragments of that rock, some angular and others water-worn, were scattered through the red mud of the cave, in which fossil remains were abundant. For an account of them and the position they occupied we are indebted to Mr. Dawkins, F.G.S., who, in company with Mr. Williamson, explored the cavern in 1859, and obtained from it the bones of the Hyæna spelæa in such numbers as to lead him to conclude that the cavern had for a long time been a hyæna's den. Among the accompanying animals found fossil in the same bone-earth, were observed Elephas primigenius, Rhinoceros tichorhinus, Ursus spelæus, Bos primigenius, Megaceros hybernicus, Cervus Tarandus (and other species of Cervus), Ursus spelæus, Felis spelæa, Canis Lupus, Canis Vulpes, and teeth and bones of the genus Equus in great numbers.

Intermixed with the above fossil bones were some arrowheads, made of bone, and many chipped flints, and chipped pieces of chert, a white or bleached flint weapon of the spear-head Amiens type, which was taken out of the undisturbed matrix by Mr. Williamson himself, together with a hyæna's tooth, showing that man had either been contemporaneous with or had preceded the extinct fauna. After penetrating thirty-four feet from the entrance, Mr. Dawkins found the cave bifurcating into two branches, one of which was vertical. By this rent, perhaps, some part of the contents of the cave may have been introduced.[1]

When I examined the spot in 1860, after I had been shown some remains of the hyæna collected there, I felt convinced that a complete revolution must have taken place in the topography of the district since the time of the extinct quadrupeds. I was not aware at the time that flint tools had been met with in the same bone-deposit.

Caves of Gower in Glamorganshire, South Wales.

The ossiferous caves of the peninsula of Gower in Glamorganshire have been diligently explored of late years by Dr. Falconer and Lieutenant-Colonel E. R. Wood, the latter of whom has discovered and thoroughly investigated the contents of many which were previously unknown. Among their contents have been found the remains of almost every quadruped elsewhere found fossil in British caves: in some places the Elephas primigenius, accompanied by its usual companion the Rhinoceros tichorhinus, in others Elephas antiquus associated with Rhinoceros hemitœchus Falconer; the extinct animals being often embedded, as in the Belgian caves, in the same matrix with species now living in Europe, such as the common badger (Melee taxus), the common wolf, and the fox.

In a cavernous fissure called the Raven's cliff, teeth of several individuals of Hippopotamus major, both young and old, were found; and this in a district where there is now scarce a rill of running water, much less a river in which such quadrupeds could swim. In one of the caves, called Spritsail Tor, both of the elephants above named were observed, with a great many other quadrupeds of recent and extinct species.

From one fissure, called Bosco's Den, no less than one thousand antlers of the rein-deer, chiefly of the variety called Cervus Guettardi, were extracted by the persevering exertions of Colonel Wood, who estimated that several hundred more still remained in the bone-earth of the same rent.

They were mostly shed horns, and of young animals; and had been washed into the rent with other bones, and with angular fragments of limestone, and all enveloped in the same ochreous mud. Among the other bones, which were not numerous, were those of the cave-bear, wolf, fox, ox, stag, and field-mouse.

But the discovery of most importance, as bearing on the subject of the present work, is the occurrence in a newly-discovered cave, called Long Hole, by Colonel Wood, in 1861, of the remains of two species of rhinoceros, R. tichorhinus and R. hemitœchus Falconer, in an undisturbed deposit, in the lower part of which were some well-shaped flint knives, evidently of human workmanship. It is clear from their position that man was coeval with these two species. We have elsewhere independent proofs of his coexistence with every other species of the cave-fauna of Glamorganshire; but this is the first well-authenticated example of the occurrence of R. hemitœchus in connection with human implements.

In the fossil fauna of the valley of the Thames, Rhinoceros leptorhinus was mentioned as occurring at Gray's Thurrock with Elephas antiquus. Dr. Falconer, in a memoir which he is now preparing for the press on the European pliocene and post-pliocene species of the genus Rhinoceros, has shown that, under the above name of R. leptorhinus, three distinct species have been confounded by Cuvier, Owen, and other palæontologists:—

R. Megarhinus Christol, being the original and typical R. leptorhinus of Cuvier, founded on Cortesi's Monte Zago cranium, and the only pliocene, or post-pliocene European species, that had not a nasal septum.—Gray's Thurrock, &c.

  1. R. hemitœchus Falconer, in which the ossification of the septum dividing the nostrils is incomplete in the middle, besides other cranial and dental characters distinguishing it from R. tichorhinus, accompanies Elephas antiquus in most of the oldest British bone-caves, such as Kirkdale, Cefn, Durdham Down, Minchin Hole, and other Grower caverns—also found at Clacton, in Essex, and in Northamptonshire.

3. R. etruscus Falconer, a comparatively slight and slender form, also with an incomplete bony septum,[2] occurs deep in the Val d'Arno deposits, and in the 'Forest bed,' and superimposed blue clays, with lignite, of the Norfolk coast, but nowhere as yet found in the ossiferous caves in Britain.

Dr. Falconer announced in 1859 his opinion that the filling up of the Gower caves in South Wales took place after the deposition of the marine boulder clay,[3] an opinion in harmony with what we have since learnt from the section of the gravels near Bedford, given above at p. 155, where a fauna corresponding to that of the Welsh caves characterises the ancient alluvium, and is shown to be clearly post-glacial, in the sense of being posterior in date to the submergence of the midland counties beneath the waters of the glacial sea. The Gower caves in general have their floors strewed over with sand, containing marine shells, all of living species; and there are raised beaches on the adjoining coast, and other geological signs of great alteration in the relative level of land and sea, since that country was inhabited by the extinct mammalia, some of which, as we have seen, were certainly coeval with man.

Ossiferous Caves in North of Sicily.

Geologists have long been familiar with the fact that on the northern coast of Sicily, between Termini on the east, and Trapani on the west, there are many caves containing the bones of extinct animals. These caves are situated in rocks of hippurite limestone, a member of the cretaceous series, and some of them may be seen on both sides of the Bay of Palermo. If in the neighbourhood of that city we proceed from the sea inland, ascending a sloping terrace, composed of the marine Newer Pliocene strata, we reach about a mile from the shore, and at the height of about one hundred and eighty feet above it, a precipice of limestone, at the base of which appear the entrances of several caves. In that of San Ciro, on the east side of the bay, we find at the bottom sand with marine shells, forty species of which have been examined, and found almost all to agree specifically with mollusca now inhabiting the Mediterranean. Higher in position, and resting on the sand, is a breccia, composed of pieces of limestone, quartz, and schist in a matrix of brown marl, through which land shells are dispersed, together with bones of two species of hippopotamus, as determined by Dr. Falconer. Certain bones of the skeleton were counted in such numbers as to prove that they must have belonged to several hundred individuals. With these were associated the remains of Elephas antiquus, and bones of the genera Bos, Cervus, Sus, Ursus, Canis, and a large Felis. Some of these bones have been rolled as if partially subjected to the action of water, and may have been introduced by streams through rents in the hippurite limestone; but there is now no running water in the neighbourhood, no river such as the hippopotamus might frequent, not even a small brook, so that the physical geography of the district must have been altogether changed since the time when such remains were swept into fissures, or into the channels of engulfed rivers.

No proofs seem yet to have been found of the existence of man at the period when the hippopotamus and Elephas antiquus flourished at San Ciro. But there is another cave called the Grotto di Maccagnone, which much resembles it in geological position, on the opposite or west side of the Bay of Palermo, near Carini. In the bottom of this cave a bone deposit like that of San Giro occurs, and above it other materials reaching to the roof, and evidently washed in from above, through crevices in the limestone. In this upper and newer breccia Dr. Falconer discovered flint knives, bone splinters, bits of charcoal, burnt clay, and other objects indicating human intervention, mingled with entire land shells, teeth of horses, coprolites of hyænas, and other bones, the whole agglutinated to one another and to the roof by the infiltration of water holding lime in solution. The perfect condition of the large fragile helices (Helix vermiculata) afforded satisfactory evidence, says Dr. Falconer, that the various articles were carried into the cave by the tranquil agency of water, and not by any tumultuous action. At a subsequent period other geographical changes took place, so that the cave, after it had been filled, was washed out again, or emptied of its contents with the exception of those patches of breccia which, being cemented together by stalactite, still adhere to the roof.[4]

Baron Anca, following up these investigations, explored, in 1859, another cave at Mondello, west of Palermo, and north of Mount Gallo, where he discovered molars of the living African elephant, and afterwards additional specimens of the same species in the neighbouring grotto of Olivella, In reference to this elephant, Dr. Falconer has reminded us that the distance between the nearest part of Sicily and the coast of Africa, between Marsala and Cape Bon, is not more than eighty miles, and Admiral Smyth, in his Memoir on the Mediterranean, states (p. 499) that there is a subaqueous plateau, named by him Adventure Bank, uniting Sicily to Africa by a succession of ridges which are not more than from forty to fifty fathoms under water.[5] Sicily therefore might be re-united to Africa by movements of upheaval not greater than those which are already known to have taken place within the human period on the borders of the Mediterranean, of which I shall now proceed to cite a well-authenticated example, observed in Sardinia.

Rise of the Bed of the Sea to the Height of 300 Feet, in the Human Period, in Sardinia.

Count Albert de la Marmora, in his description of the geology of Sardinia,[6] has shown that on the southern coast of that island, at Cagliari and in the neighbourhood, an ancient bed of the sea, containing marine shells of living species, and numerous fragments of antique pottery, has been elevated to the height of from seventy to ninety-eight metres above the present level of the Mediterranean. Oysters and other shells, of which a careful list has been published, including the common mussel (Mytilus edulis), many of them having both valves united, occur, embedded in a breccia in which fragments of limestone abound. The mussels are often in such numbers as to impart, when they have decomposed, a violet colour to the marine stratum. Besides pieces of coarse pottery, a flattened ball of baked earthenware, with a hole through its axis, was found in the midst of the marine shells. It is supposed to have been used for weighting a fishing net. Of this and of one of the fragments of ancient pottery Count de la Marmora has given figures.

The upraised bed of the sea probably belongs in this instance to the post-pliocene period, for in a bone breccia, filling fissures in the rocks around Cagliari, the remains of extinct mammalia have been detected; among which is a new genus of carnivorous quadruped, named Cynotherium by M. Studiati, and figured by Count de la Marmora in his Atlas (pl. vii.), also an extinct species of Lagomys, determined by Cuvier in 1825 Embedded in the same bone breccia, and enveloped with red earth like the mammalian remains, were detected shells of the Mytilus edulis before mentioned, implying that the marine formation containing shells and pottery had been already upheaved and exposed to denudation before the remains of quadrupeds were washed into these rents and included in the red earth. In the vegetable soil covering the upraised marine stratum, with the older works of art, fragments of Roman pottery occur.

If we assume the average rate of upheaval to have been, as before hinted, p. 58, two and a half feet in a century, 300 feet would give an antiquity of 12,000 years to the Cagliari pottery, even if we simply confine our estimate to the upheaval above the sea-level, without allowing for the original depth of water in which the mollusca lived. Even then our calculation would merely embrace the period during which the upward movement was going on; and we can form at present no conjecture as to the probable era of its commencement or termination.

I learn from Capt. Spratt, R.N., that the island of Crete or Candia, about 135 miles in length, has been raised at its western extremity about twenty-five feet; so that ancient ports are now high and dry above the sea, while at its eastern end it has sunk so much that the ruins of old towns are seen under water. Revolutions like these in the physical geography of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, may well help us to understand the phenomena of the Palermo caves, and the presence in Sicily of African species of mammalia.

Climate and Habits of the Hippopotamus.

As I have alluded more than once in this chapter (pp. 172, 175) to the occurrence of the remains of the hippopotamus in places where there are now no rivers, not even a rill of water, and as other bones of the same genus have been met with in the lower level gravels of the Somme (p. 134), where large blocks of sandstone seem to imply that ice once played a part in their transportation, it may be well to consider, before proceeding farther, what geographical and climatal conditions are indicated by the presence of these fossil pachyderms.

It is now very generally conceded that the mammoth and tichorhine rhinoceros were fitted to inhabit northern regions, and it is therefore natural to begin by asking whether the extinct hippopotamus may not in like manner have flourished in a cold climate. In answer to this enquiry, it has been remarked, that the living hippopotami, anatomically speaking so closely allied to the extinct species, are so aquatic and fluviatile in their habits, as to make it difficult to conceive that their congeners could have thriven all the year round in regions where, during winter, the rivers were frozen over for months. Moreover, I have been unable to learn that, in any instance, bones of the hippopotamus have been found in the drift of northern Germany associated with the remains of the mammoth, tichorhine rhinoceros, musk-buffalo, reindeer, lemming, and other arctic quadrupeds before alluded to (p. 157); yet, though not proved to have ever made a part of such a fauna, the presence of the fossil hippopotamus north of the fiftieth parallel of latitude naturally tempts us to speculate on the migratory powers and instincts of some of the extinct species of the genus. They may have resembled, in this respect, the living musk-buffalo, herds of which pass for hundreds of miles over the ice to the rich pastures of Melville Island, and then return again to southern latitudes before the ice breaks up.

I am indebted to Dr. Falconer for having called my attention to the account given by an experienced zoologist, Dr. Andrew Smith,[7] of the migratory habits of the living hippopotamus of Southern Africa (H. amphibius, Linn.).

He states that, when the Dutch first colonized the Cape of Good Hope, this animal abounded in all the great rivers, as far south as the land extends; whereas, in 1849, they had all disappeared, scarcely one remaining even within a moderate distance of the colony. He also tells us that this species evinces great sagacity in changing its quarters whenever danger threatens, quitting every district invaded by settlers bearing fire-arms. Bulky as they are, they can travel speedily for miles over land from one pool of a dried-up river to another; but it is by water that their powers of locomotion are surpassingly great, not only in rivers, but in the sea, for they are far from confining themselves to fresh water. Indeed, Dr. Smith finds it 'difficult to decide whether, during the daytime and when not feeding, they prefer the pools of rivers or the waters of the ocean for their abode.' In districts where they have been disturbed by man, they feed almost entirely in the night, chiefly on certain kinds of grass, but also on brushwood. Dr. Smith relates that, in an expedition which he made north of Port Natal, he found them swarming in all the rivers about the tropic of Capricorn, Here they were often seen to have left their foot-prints on the sands, entering or coming out of the salt water; and on one occasion Smith's party tried in vain to intercept a female with her young as she was making her way to the sea. Another female, which they had wounded on her precipitate retreat to the sea, was afterwards shot in that element.

The geologist, therefore, may freely speculate on the time when herds of hippopotami issued from North African rivers, such as the Nile, and swam northwards in summer along the coasts of the Mediterranean, or even occasionally visited islands near the shore. Here and there they may have landed to graze or browse, tarrying awhile and afterwards continuing their course northwards. Others may have swum in a few summer days from rivers in the south of Spain or France to the Somme, Thames, or Severn, making timely retreat to the south before the snow and ice set in.

Burial-place at Aurignac, in the South of France, of Post-pliocene Date.

I have alluded in the beginning of the fourth chapter (p. 58) to a custom prevalent among rude nations of consigning to the tomb works of art, once the property of the dead or objects of their affection, and even of storing up, in many cases, animal food destined for the manes of the defunct in a future life. I also cited M. Desnoyers' comments on the absence among the bones of wild and domestic animals found in old Gaulish tombs of all intermixture of extinct species of quadrupeds, as proving that the oldest sepulchral monuments then known in France (1845) had no claims to high antiquity founded on palæontological data.

M. Lartet, however, has recently published a circumstantial account of what seems clearly to have been a sepulchral vault of the post-pliocene period, near Aurignac, not far from the foot of the Pyrenees. I have had the advantage of inspecting the fossil bones and works of art obtained by him from that grotto, and of conversing and corresponding with him on the subject, and can see no grounds for doubting the soundness of his conclusions.[8]

The town of Aurignac is situated in the department of the Haute Garonne, near a spur of the Pyrenees; adjoining it is the small flat-topped hill of Fajoles, about sixty feet above the brook called Rodes, which flows at its foot on one side. It consists of nummulitic limestone, presenting a steep escarpment towards the north-west, on which side in the face of the rock, about forty-five feet above the brook, is now visible the entrance of a grotto, a, fig. 25, which opened originally on the terrace h, c, k, which slopes gently towards the valley.

Fig. 25

Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man Fig. 25.png

Section of part of the hill of Fajoles passing through the sepulchral grotto of Aurignac (E. Lartet).

a Part of the vault in which the remains of seventeen human skeletons were found.

b Layer of made ground, two feet thick, inside the grotto in which a few human bones, with entire bones of extinct and living species of animals, and many works of art were embedded.

c Layers of ashes and charcoal, eight inches thick, with broken, burnt, and gnawed bones of extinct and recent mammalia; also hearth-stones and works of art; no human bones.

d Deposit with similar contents and a few scattered cinders.

e Talus of rubbish washed down from the hill above.

f, g Slab of rock which closed the vault, not ascertained whether it extended to h.

f, i Rabbit burrow which led to the discovery of the grotto.

h, k Original terrace on which the grotto opened.

n Nummulitic limestone of hill of Fajoles

Until the year 1852, the opening into this grotto was masked by a talus of small fragments of limestone and earthy matter, e, such as the rain may have washed down the slope of the hill. In that year a labourer named Bonnemaison, employed in repairing the roads, observed that rabbits, when hotly pursued by the sportsman, ran into a hole which they had burrowed in the talus, at i f, fig. 25. On reaching as far into the opening as the length of his arm, he drew out, to his surprise, one of the long bones of the human skeleton; and his curiosity being excited, and having a suspicion that the hole communicated with a subterranean cavity, he commenced digging a trench through the middle of the talus, and in a few hours found himself opposite a large heavy slab of rock f h, placed vertically against the entrance. Having removed this, he discovered on the other side of it an arched cavity, a, seven or eight feet in its greatest height, ten in width, and seven in horizontal depth. It was almost filled with bones, among which were two entire skulls, which he recognised at once as human. The people of Aurignac, astonished to hear of the occurrence of so many human relics in so lonely a spot, flocked to the cave, and Dr. Amiel, the Mayor, ordered all the bones to be taken out and reinterred in the parish cemetery. But before this was done, having as a medical man a knowledge of anatomy, he ascertained by counting the homologous bones that they must have formed parts of no less than seventeen skeletons of both sexes, and all ages; some so young that the ossification of some of the bones was incomplete. He also remarked that the size of the adults was such as to imply a race of small stature. Unfortunately the skulls were injured in the transfer; and what is worse, after the lapse of eight years, when M. Lartet visited Aurignac, the village sexton was unable to tell him in what exact place the trench was dug, into which the skeletons had been thrown, so that this rich harvest of ethnological knowledge seems for ever lost to the antiquary and geologist.

M. Lartet having been shown, in 1860, the remains of some extinct animals and works of art, found in digging the original trench made by Bonnemaison through the bed d under the talus, and some others brought out from the interior of the grotto, determined to investigate systematically what remained intact of the deposits outside and inside the vault, those inside, underlying the human skeletons, being supposed to consist entirely of made ground. Having obtained the assistance, of some intelligent workmen, he personally superintended their labours, and found outside the grotto, resting on the sloping terrace h k, the layer of ashes and charcoal c, about seven inches thick, extending over an area of six or seven square yards, and going as far as the entrance of the grotto and no farther, there being no cinders or charcoal in the interior. Among the cinders outside the vault were fragments of fissile sandstone, reddened by heat, which were observed to rest on a levelled surface of nummulitic limestone and to have formed a hearth. The nearest place from whence such slabs of sandstone could have been brought was the opposite side of the valley.

Among the ashes, and in some overlying earthy layers, d, separating the ashes from the talus e, were a great variety of bones and implements; amongst the latter not fewer than a hundred flint articles—knives, projectiles, sling stones, and chips, and among them one of those siliceous cores or nuclei with numerous facets, from which flint flakes or knives had been struck off, seeming to prove that some instruments were occasionally manufactured on the very spot.

Among other articles outside the entrance was found a stone of a circular form, and flattened on two sides, with a central depression, composed of a tough rock which does not belong to that region of the Pyrenees. This instrument is supposed by the Danish antiquaries to have been used for removing by skilful blows the edges of flint knives, the fingers and thumb being placed in the two opposite depressions during the operation. Among the bone instruments were arrows without barbs, and other tools made of rein-deer horn, and a bodkin formed out of the more compact horn of the roe-deer. This instrument was well shaped, and sharply pointed, and in so good a state of preservation that it might still be used for piercing the tough skins of animals.

Scattered through the same ashes and earth were the bones of the various species of animals enumerated in the subjoined lists, with the exception of two, marked with an asterisk, which only occurred in the interior of the grotto:—

1. Carnivora.

Number of individuals.

  1. 1.
    Ursus spelæus (cave-bear)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    5 — 6
  1. 2.
    Ursus Arctos? (brown bear)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 3.
    Meles Taxus (badger)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1 — 2
  1. 4.
    Putorius vulgaris (polecat)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 5.
    *Felis spelæa (cave-lion)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 6.
    Felis Catus ferus (wild cat)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 7.
    Hyæna spelæa (cave-hyæna)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    5 — 6
  1. 8.
    Canis Lupus (wolf)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    3
  1. 9.
    Canis Vulpes (fox)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    18 — 20

2. Herbivora.

  1. 1.
    Elephas primigenius (mammoth, two molars)
  1. 2.
    Rhinoceros tichorhinus (Siberian rhinoceros)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 3.
    Equus Caballus (horse)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    12 — 15
  1. 4.
    Equus Asinus? (ass)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 5.
    *Sus Scrofa (pig, two incisors)
  1. 6.
    Cervus Elephas (stag)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 7.
    Megaceros hybernicus (gigantic Irish deer)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    1
  1. 8.
    G. Capreolus (roebuck)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    3 — 4
  1. 9.
    C. Tarandus (reindeer)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    10 — 12
  1. 10.
    Bison europæus (aurochs)
    ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
    12 — 15

The bones of the herbivora were the most numerous, and all those on the outside of the grotto which had contained marrow were invariably split open, as if for its extraction, many of them being also burnt. The spongy parts, moreover, were wanting, having been eaten off and gnawed after they were broken, the work, according to M. Lartet, of hyænas, the bones and coprolites of which were plentifully mixed with the cinders, and dispersed through the overlying soil d. These beasts of prey are supposed to have prowled about the spot and fed on such relics of the funeral feasts as remained after the retreat of the human visitors, or during the intervals between successive funeral ceremonies which accompanied the interment of the corpses within the sepulchre. Many of the bones were also streaked, as if the flesh had been scraped off by a flint instrument.

Among the various proofs that the bones were fresh when brought to the spot, it is remarked that those of the herbivora not only bore the marks of having had the marrow extracted and having afterwards been gnawed and in part devoured as if by carnivorous beasts, but that they had also been acted upon by fire (and this was especially noticed in one case of a cave-bear's bone), in such a manner as to show that they retained in them at the time all their animal matter.

Among other quadrupeds which appear to have been eaten at the funeral feasts, and of which the bones occurred among the ashes, were those of a young Rhinoceros tichorhinus, the bones of which had been split open for the extraction of the marrow, and gnawed by a beast of prey at both extremities.

Outside of the great slab of stone forming the door, not one human bone occurred; inside of it there were found, mixed with loose soil, the remains of as many as seventeen human individuals, besides some works of art and bones of animals. We know nothing of the arrangement of these bones when they were first broken into. M. Lartet infers, from the small height and dimensions of the vault, that the bodies were bent down upon themselves in a squatting attitude, a posture known to have been adopted in most of the sepulchres of primitive times; and he has so represented them in his restoration of the cave. His artist also has inadvertently, in the same drawing, delineated the arched grotto as if it were shaped very regularly and smoothly, like a finished piece of masonry, whereas the surface was in truth as uneven and irregular as are the roofs of all natural grottos.

There was no stalagmite in the grotto, and M. Lartet, an experienced investigator of ossiferous caverns in the south of France, came to the conclusion that all the bones and soil found in the inside were artificially introduced. The substratum, b, fig. 25, which remained after the skeletons had been removed, was about two feet thick. In it were found about ten detached human bones, including a molar tooth; and M. Delesse ascertained by careful analysis of one of these, as well as of the bones of a rhinoceros, bear, and some other extinct animals, that they all contained precisely the same proportion of azote, or had lost an equal quantity of their animal matter. My friend Mr. Evans, before cited, has suggested to me that such a fact, taken alone, may not be conclusive in favour of the equal antiquity of the human and other remains, although it has no doubt an important bearing on the case, because, had the human skeletons been found to contain less gelatine than those of the extinct mammalia, it would have shown that they were the more modern of the two. But it is possible that after a bone has gone on losing its animal matter up to a certain point, it may then part with no more so long as it continues enveloped in the same matrix, so that if all the bones have lain for many thousands of years in a particular soil, they may all have reached long ago the maximum of decomposition attainable in such a matrix. In the present case, however, the proof of the contemporaneousness of man and the extinct animals does not depend simply on the identity of their mineral condition. The chemical analysis of M. Delesse is only a fact in corroboration of a great mass of other evidence.

Mixed with the human bones inside the grotto first removed by Bonnemaison, were eighteen small, round, and flat plates of a white shelly substance, made of some species of cockle (Cardium), pierced through the middle as if for being strung into a bracelet. In the substratum also in the interior examined by M. Lartet was found the tusk of a young Ursus spelæus, the crown of which had been stripped of its enamel, and which had been carved perhaps in imitation of the head of a bird. It was perforated lengthwise as if for suspension as an ornament or amulet. A flint knife also was found in the interior which had evidently never been used; in this respect, unlike the numerous worn specimens found outside, so that it is conjectured that it may, like other associated works of art, have been placed there as part of the funeral ceremonies.

A few teeth of the cave-lion, Felis spelæa, and two tusks of the wild boar, also found in the interior, were memorials perhaps of the chase. No remains of the same animals were met with among the external relics.

On the whole, the bones of animals inside the vault offer a remarkable contrast to those of the exterior, being all entire and uninjured, none of them broken, gnawed, half-eaten, scraped or burnt like those lying among the ashes on the other side of the great slab which formed the portal. The bones of the interior seem to have been clothed with their flesh, when buried in the layer of loose soil strewed over the floor. In confirmation of this idea, many bones of the skeleton were often observed to be in juxta-position, and in one spot nearly all the bones of an Ursus spelæus were lying together uninjured. Add to this, the entire absence in the interior of cinders and charcoal, and we can scarcely doubt that we have here an example of an ancient place of sepulture, closed at the opening so effectually against the hyænas or other carnivora that no marks of their teeth appear on any of the bones, whether human or brute.

John Carver, in his travels in the interior of North America in 1766–68 (ch. xv.), gave a minute account of the funeral rites of an Indian tribe, which inhabited the country now called Iowa, at the junction of the St. Peter's River with the Mississippi; and Schiller, in his famous 'Nadowessische Todtenklage,' has faithfully embodied in a poetic dirge all the characteristic features of the ceremonies so graphically described by the English traveller, not omitting the many funeral gifts which, we are told, were placed 'in a cave' with the bodies of the dead. The lines beginning, 'Bringet her die letzten Graben,' have been thus translated, truthfully, and with all the spirit of the original, by Sir E. L. Bulwer[9]


'Here bring the last gifts!—and with these
The last lament be said;
Let all that pleased, and yet may please,
Be buried with the dead.

'Beneath his head the hatchet hide,
That he so stoutly swung;
And place the bear's fat haunch beside—
The journey hence is long!

'And let the knife new sharpened be
That on the battle-day
Shore with quick strokes—he took but three—
The foeman's scalp away!

'The paints that warriors love to use,
Place here within his hand,
That he may shine with ruddy hues
Amidst the spirit-land.'

If we accept M. Lartet's interpretation of the ossiferous deposits of Aurignac, both inside and outside the grotto, they add nothing to the palæontological evidence in favour of man's antiquity, for we have seen all the same mammalia associated elsewhere with flint implements, and some species, such as the Elephas antiquus, Rhinoceros hemitœchus, and Hippopotamus major, missing here, have been met with in other places. An argument, however, having an opposite leaning may perhaps be founded on the phenomena of Aurignac. It may,—indeed it has been said, that they imply that some of the extinct mammalia survived nearly to our times.

First,—Because of the modern style of the works of art at Aurignac.

Secondly,—Because of the absence of any signs of change in the physical geography of the country since the cave was used for a place of sepulture.

In reference to the first of these propositions, the utensils, it is said, of bone and stone indicate a more advanced state of the arts than the flint implements of Abbeville and Amiens. M. Lartet, however, is of opinion that they do not, and thinks that we have no right to assume that the fabricators of the various spear-headed and other tools of the Valley of the Somme possessed no bone instruments or ornaments resembling those discovered at Aurignac. These last, moreover, he regards as extremely rude in comparison with others of the stone period in France, which can be proved palæontologically, at least by strong negative evidence, to be of subsequent date. Thus, for example, at Savigné, near Civray, in the department of Vienne, there is a cave in which there are no extinct mammalia, but where remains of the rein-deer abound. The works of art of the stone period found there indicate considerable progress in skill beyond that attested by the objects found in the Aurignac grotto. Among the Savigné articles, there is a stag's horn, on which figures of two animals, apparently meant for deer, are engraved in outline, as if by a sharp-pointed flint. In another cave, that of Massat, in the department of Arriége, which M. Lartet ascribes to the period of the aurochs, a quadruped which survived the rein-deer in the south of France, there are bone instruments of a still more advanced state of the arts, as, for example, barbed arrows with a small canal in each, believed to have served for the insertion of poison; also a needle of bird's bone, finely shaped, with an eye or perforation at one end, and a stag's horn, on which is carved a representation of a bear's head, and a hole at one end as if for suspending it. In this figure we see, says M. Lartet, what may perhaps be the earliest known example of lines used to express shading.

The fauna of the aurochs (Bison europæus) agrees with that of the earlier lake dwellings in Switzerland, in which hitherto the rein-deer is wanting; whereas the rein-deer has been found in a Swiss cave, in Mont Salève, supposed by Lartet to be more ancient than the lake dwellings.

According to this view, the mammalian fauna has undergone at least two fluctuations since the remains of some extinct quadrupeds were eaten, and others buried as funeral gifts in the sepulchral vault of Aurignac.

As to the absence of any marked changes in the physical configuration of the district since the same grotto was a place of sepulture, we must remember that it is the normal state of the earth's surface to be undergoing great alterations in one place, while other areas, often in close proximity, remain for ages without any modification. In one region, rivers are deepening and widening their channels, or the waves of the sea are undermining cliffs, or the land is sinking beneath or rising above the waters, century after century, or the volcano is pouring forth torrents of lava or showers of ashes; while, in tracts hard by, the ancient forest, or extensive heath, or the splendid city continue scatheless and motionless. Had the talus which concealed from view the ancient hearth with its cinders and the massive stone portal of the Aurignac grotto escaped all human interference for thousands of years to come, there is no reason to suppose that the small stream at the foot of the hill of Fajoles would have undermined it. At the end of a long period the only alteration might have been the thickening of the talus which protected the loose cinders and bones from waste. We behold in many a valley of Auvergne, within fifty feet of the present river channel, a volcanic cone of loose ashes, with a crater at its summit, from which powerful currents of basaltic lava have poured, usurping the ancient bed of the torrent. By the action of the stream, in the course of ages, vast masses of the hard columnar basalt have been removed, pillar after pillar, and much vesicular lava, as in the case, for example, of the Puy Rouge, near Chalucet, and of the Puy de Tartaret, near Nechers.[10] The rivers have even in some cases, as the Sioule, near Chalucet, cut through not only the basalt which dispossessed them of their ancient channels, but have actually eaten fifty feet into the subjacent gneiss; yet the cone, an incoherent heap of scoriæ and spongy ejectamenta, stands unmolested. Had the waters once risen, even for a day, so high as to reach the level of the base of one of these cones—had there been a single flood fifty or sixty feet in height since the last eruption occurred, a great part of these volcanoes must inevitably have been swept away as readily as all traces of the layer of cinders; and the accompanying bones would have been obliterated by the Rodes near Aurignac, had it risen, since the days of the mammoth, rhinoceros, and cave-bear, fifty feet above its present level.

The Aurignac cave adds no new species to the list of extinct quadrupeds, which we have elsewhere, and by independent evidence, ascertained to have once flourished contemporaneously with man. But if the fossil memorials have been correctly interpreted—if we have here before us at the northern base of the Pyrenees a sepulchral vault with skeletons of human beings, consigned by friends and relatives to their last resting-place—if we have also at the portal of the tomb the relics of funeral feasts, and within it indications of viands destined for the use of the departed on their way to a land of spirits; while among the funeral gifts are weapons wherewith in other fields to chase the gigantic deer, the cave-lion, the cave-bear, and woolly rhinoceros,—we have at last succeeded in tracing back the sacred rites of burial, and, more interesting still, a belief in a future state, to times long anterior to those of history and tradition. Rude and superstitious as may have been the savage of that remote era, he still deserved, by cherishing hopes of a here after, the epithet of 'noble,' which Dryden gave to what he seems to have pictured to himself as the primitive condition of our race:


'as Nature first made man
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.'[11]


  1. W. B. Dawkins, F.G.S., Geological Society's Proceedings, January 1862.
  2. See Falconer, QuarterlyGeological Journal, vol. xv. p. 602.
  3. Geological Quarterly Journal, vol. xvi. p. 491, 1860.
  4. Note, Quarterly Geological Journal, vol. xvi. p. 105, 1860.
  5. Note, Cited by Mr. Horner, President of Geological Society, Anniversary Address, February 1861, p. 42.
  6. Partie Géologique, tom. i. pp. 382, 387.
  7. Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa: art. 'Hippopotamus.'
  8. See Lartet, Annales des Mines, Zoologie, tom. xv. p. 177, translated in Natural History Review, London, January 1862.
  9. Poems and Ballads of Schiller.
  10. Scrope's Volcanoes of Central France, p. 97, 1858.
  11. Siege of Granada, Part I., act i. scene 1.