Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man/Chapter 5
POST-PLIOCENE PERIOD—FOSSIL HUMAN SKULLS OF THE NEANDERTHAL AND ENGIS CAVES.
HUMAN SKELETON FOUND IN CAVE NEAR DÜSSELDORF—ITS GEOLOGICAL POSITION AND PROBABLE AGE—ITS ABNORMAL AND APE-LIKE CHARACTERS—FOSSIL HUMAN SKULL OF THE ENGIS CAVE NEAR LIÉGE—PROFESSOR HUXLEY'S DESCRIPTION OF THESE SKULLS—COMPARISON OF EACH, WITH EXTREME VARIETIES OF THE NATIVE AUSTRALIAN RACE—RANGE OF CAPACITY IN THE HUMAN AND SIMIAN BRAINS—SKULL FROM BORREBY IN DENMARK—CONCLUSIONS OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY—BEARING OF THE PECULIAR CHARACTERS OF THE NEANDERTHAL SKULL ON THE HYPOTHESIS OF TRANSMUTATION.
Fossil human Skeleton of the Neanderthal Cave near Düsseldorf.
BEFORE I speak more particularly of the opinions which anatomists have expressed respecting the osteological characters of the human skull from Engis, near Liége, mentioned in the last chapter and described by Dr. Schmerling, it will be desirable to say something of the geological position of another skull, or rather skeleton, which, on account of its peculiar conformation, has excited no small sensation in the last few years. I allude to the skull found in 1857, in a cave situated in that part of the valley of the Düssel, near Düsseldorf, which is called the Neanderthal. The spot is a deep and narrow ravine about seventy English miles north-east of the region of the Liége caverns treated of in the last chapter, and close to the village and railway station of Hochdal between Düsseldorf and Elberfeld. The cave occurs in the precipitous southern or left side of the winding ravine, about sixty feet above the stream, and a hundred feet below the top of the cliff. The accompanying section will give the reader an idea of its position.
b Loam covering the floor of the cave near the bottom of which the human skeleton was found.
b, c Rent connecting the cave with the upper surface of the country.
d Superficial sandy loam.
e Devonian limestone.f Terrace, or ledge of rock.
When Dr. Fuhlrott of Elberfeld first examined the cave, he found it to be high enough to allow a man to enter. The width was seven or eight feet, and the length or depth fifteen. I visited the spot in 1860, in company with Dr. Fuhlrott, who had the kindness to come expressly from Elberfeld to be my guide, and who brought with him the original fossil skull, and a cast of the same, which he presented to me. In the interval of three years, between 1857 and 1860, the ledge of rock, f, on which the cave opened, and which was originally twenty feet wide, had been almost entirely quarried away, and, at the rate at which the work of dilapidation was proceeding, its complete destruction seemed near at hand.
In the limestone are many fissures, one of which, still partially filled with mud and stones, is represented in the section at a c as continuous from the cave to the upper surface of the country. Through this passage the loam, and possibly the human body to which the bones belonged, may have been washed into the cave below. The loam, which covered the uneven bottom of the cave, was sparingly mixed with rounded fragments of chert, and was very similar in composition to that covering the general surface of that region.
There was no crust of stalagmite overlying the mud in which the human skeleton was found, and no bones of other animals in the mud with the skeleton; but just before our visit in 1860 the tusk of a bear had been met with in some mud in a lateral embranchment of the cave, in a situation precisely similar to b, fig. 1, and on a level corresponding with that of the human skeleton. This tusk, shown us by the proprietor of the cave, was two and a half inches long and quite perfect; but whether it was referable to a recent or extinct species of bear, I could not determine.
From a printed letter of Dr. Fuhlrott we learn that on removing the loam, which was five feet thick, from the cave, the human skull was first noticed near the entrance, and, further in, the other bones lying in the same horizontal plane. It is supposed that the skeleton was complete, but the workmen, ignorant of its value, scattered and lost most of the bones, preserving only the larger ones.
The cranium, which Dr. Fuhlrott showed me, was covered both on its outer and inner surface, and especially on the latter, with a profusion of dendritical crystallisations, and some other bones of the skeleton were ornamented in the same way. These markings, as Dr. Hermann von Meyer observes, afford no sure criterion of antiquity, for they have been observed on Roman bones. Nevertheless, they are more common in bones that have been long embedded in the earth. The skull and bones, moreover, of the Neanderthal skeleton had lost so much of their animal matter as to adhere strongly to the tongue, agreeing in this respect with the ordinary condition of fossil remains of the post-pliocene period. On the whole, I think it probable that this fossil may be of about the same age as those found by Schmerling in the Liége caverns; but, as no other animal remains were found with it, there is no proof that it may not be newer. Its position lends no countenance whatever to the supposition of its being more ancient.
When the skull and other parts of the skeleton were first exhibited at a German scientific meeting at Bonn, in 1857, some doubts were expressed by several naturalists, whether it was truly human. Professor Schaaffhausen, who, with the other experienced zoologists, did not share these doubts, observed that the cranium, which included the frontal bone, both parietals, part of the squamous, and the upper third of the occipital, was of unusual size and thickness, the forehead narrow and very low, and the projection of the supra-orbital ridges enormously great. He also stated that the absolute and relative length of the thigh bone, humerus, radius, and ulna, agreed well with the dimensions of a European individual of like stature at the present day; but that the thickness of the bones was very extraordinary, and the elevation and depression for the attachment of muscles were developed in an unusual degree. Some of the ribs, also, were of a singularly rounded shape and abrupt curvature, which was supposed to indicate great power in the thoracic muscles.
In the same memoir, the Prussian anatomist remarks that the depression of the forehead, see fig. 3, p. 82, is not due to any artificial flattening, such as is practised in various modes by barbarous nations in the Old and New World, the skull being quite symmetrical, and showing no indication of counter-pressure at the occiput; whereas, according to Morton, in the Flat-heads of the Columbia, the frontal and parietal bones are always unsymmetrical. On the whole, Professor Schaaffhausen concluded that the individual to whom the Neanderthal skull belonged must have been distinguished by small cerebral development, and uncommon strength of corporeal frame.
When on my return to England I showed the cast of the cranium to Professor Huxley, he remarked at once that it was the most ape-like skull he had ever beheld. Mr. Busk, after giving a translation of Professor Schaaffhausen's memoir in the Natural History Review, added some valuable comments of his own on the characters in which this skull approached that of the gorilla and chimpanzee.
Professor Huxley afterwards studied the cast with the object of assisting me to give illustrations of it in this work, and in doing so discovered what had not previously been observed, that it was quite as abnormal in the shape of its occipital as in that of its frontal or superciliary region. Before citing his words on the subject, I will offer a few remarks on the Engis skull which the same anatomist has compared with that of the Neanderthal.
Fossil Skull of the Engis Cave near Liége.
Among six or seven human skeletons, portions of which were collected by Dr. Schmerling from three or four caverns near Liége, embedded in the same matrix with the remains of the elephant, rhinoceros, bear, hyæna, and other extinct quadrupeds, the most perfect skull, as I have before stated, p. 65, was that of an adult individual found in the cavern of Engis. This skull, Dr. Schmerling figured in his work, observing that it was too imperfect to enable the anatomist to determine the facial angle, but that one might infer, from the narrowness of the frontal portion, that it belonged to an individual of small intellectual development. He speculated on its Ethiopian affinities, but not confidently, observing truly that it would require many more specimens to enable an anatomist to arrive at sound conclusions on such a point. M. Geoffroy St. Hilaire and other osteologists, who examined the specimen, denied that it resembled a negro's skull. When I saw the original in the museum at Liége, I invited Dr. Spring, one of the professors of the university, to whom we are indebted for a valuable memoir on the human bones found in the cavern of Chauvaux near Namur, to have a cast made of this Engis skull. He not only had the kindness to comply with my request, but rendered a service to the scientific world by adding to the original cranium several detached fragments which Dr. Schmerling had obtained from Engis, and which were found to fit in exactly, so that the cast represented at fig. 2 is more complete than that given in the first plate of Schmerling's work. It exhibits on the right side the position of the auditory foramen (see fig. 6, p. 88), which was not included in Schmerling's figure. Mr. Busk, when he saw this cast, remarked to me that, although forehead was, as Schmerling had truly stated, some what narrow, it might nevertheless be matched by the skulls of individuals of European race, an observation since fully borne out by measurements, as will be seen in the sequel.
OBSERVATIONS BY PROFESSOR HUXLEY ON THE HUMAN SKULLS OF ENGIS AND THE NEANDERTHAL.
'The Engis skull, as originally figured by Professor Schmerling, was in a very imperfect state; but other fragments have since been added to it by the care of Dr. Spring, and the cast upon which my observations are based (fig. 2) exhibits the frontal, parietal, and occipital regions, as far as the middle of the occipital foramen, with the squamous and mastoid portions of the right temporal bone entire, or nearly so, while the left temporal bone is wanting. From the middle of the occipital foramen to the middle of the roof of each orbit, the base of the skull is destroyed, and the facial bones are entirely absent.
a Superciliary ridge and glabella. b Coronal suture.
c The apex of the lambdoidal suture. d The occipital protuberance.
'The extreme length of the skull is 7⋅7 inches, and as its extreme breadth is not more than 5⋅25, its form is decidedly dolichocephalic. At the same time its height (44 inches from the plane of the glabello-occipital line (a d) to the vertex) is good, and the forehead is well arched; so that while the horizontal circumference of the skull is about 202 inches, the longitudinal arc from the nasal spine of the frontal bone to the occipital protuberance (d) measures about 134 inches. The transverse arc from one auditory foramen to the other across the middle of the sagittal suture measures about 13 inches. The sagittal suture (b c) is 52 inches in length. The superciliary prominences are well, but not excessively, developed, and are separated by a median depression in the region of the glabella. They indicate large frontal sinuses. If a line joining the glabella and the occipital protuberance (a d) be made horizontal, no part of the occiput projects more than 10th of an inch behind the posterior extremity of that line; and the upper edge of the auditory foramen is almost in contact with the same line, or rather with one drawn parallel to it on the outer surface of the skull.
a Superciliary ridge and glabella. b Coronal suture.
c The apex of the lambdoidal suture. d The occipital protuberance.
'The Neanderthal skull, with which also I am acquainted only by means of Professor Schaaffhausen's drawings of an excellent cast and of photographs, is so extremely different in appearance from the Engis cranium, that it might well be supposed to belong to a distinct race of mankind. It is 8 inches in extreme length and 5⋅75 inches in extreme breadth, but only measures 3⋅4 inches from the glabello- occipital line to the vertex. The longitudinal arc, measured as above, is 12 inches; the transverse arc cannot be exactly ascertained, in consequence of the absence of the temporal bones, but was probably about the same, and certainly exceeded 104 inches. The horizontal circumference is 23 inches. This great circumference arises largely from the vast development of the superciliary ridges, which are occupied by great frontal sinuses whose inferior apertures are displayed exceedingly well in one of Dr.
Fuhlrott's photographs, and form a continuous transverse prominence, somewhat excavated in the middle line, across the lower part of the brows. In consequence of this structure, the forehead appears still lower and more retreating than it really is. To an anatomical eye the posterior part of the skull is even more striking than the anterior. The occipital protuberance occupies the extreme posterior end of the skull when the glabello-occipital line is made horizontal, and so far from any part of the occipital region extending beyond it, this region of the skull slopes obliquely upward and forward, so that the lambdoidal suture is situated well upon the upper surface of the cranium. At the same time, notwithstanding the great length of the skull, the sagittal suture is remarkably short (42 inches), and the squamosal suture is very straight.
'In human skulls, the superior curved ridge of the occipital bone and the occipital protuberance correspond, approximatively, with the level of the tentorium and with the lateral sinuses, and consequently with the inferior limit of the posterior lobes of the brain. At first, I found some difficulty in believing that a human brain could have its posterior lobes so flattened and diminished as must have been the case in the Neanderthal man, supposing the ordinary relation to obtain between the superior occipital ridges and the tentorium; but on my application, through Sir Charles Lyell, Dr. Fuhlrott, the possessor of the skull, was good enough not only to ascertain the existence of the lateral sinuses in their ordinary position, but to send convincing proofs of the fact, in excellent photographic views of the interior of the skull, exhibiting clear indications of these sinuses.
'There can be no doubt that, as Professor Schaaffhausen and Mr. Busk have stated, this skull is the most brutal of all known human skulls, resembling those of the apes not only in the prodigious development of the superciliary prominences and the forward extension of the orbits, but still more in the depressed form of the brain-case, in the straightness of the squamosal suture, and in the complete retreat of the occiput forward and upward, from the superior occipital ridges.
'But the cranium, in its present condition, is stated by Professor Schaaffhausen to contain 1033·24 cubic centimeters of water, or, in other words, about 63 English cubic inches. As the entire skull could hardly have held less than 12 cubic inches more, its minimum capacity may be estimated at 75 cubic inches. The most capacious healthy European skull yet measured had a capacity of 114 cubic inches, the smallest (as estimated by weight of brain) about 55 cubic inches, while, according to Professor Schaaffhausen, some Hindoo skulls have as small a capacity as about 46 cubic inches (27 oz. of water). The largest cranium of any Gorilla yet measured contained 34·5 cubic inches. The Neanderthal cranium stands, therefore, in capacity, very nearly on a level with the mean of the two human extremes, and very far above the pithecoid maximum.
'Hence, even in the absence of the bones of the arm and thigh, which, according to Professor Schaaffhausen, had the precise proportions found in man, although they were much stouter than ordinary human bones, there could be no reason for ascribing this cranium to anything but a man; while the strength and development of the muscular ridges of the limb-bones are characters in perfect accordance with those exhibited, in a minor degree, by the bones of such hardy savages, exposed to a rigorous climate, as the Patagonians.
'The Neanderthal cranium has certainly not undergone compression, and, in reply to the suggestion that the skull is that of an idiot, it may be urged that the onus probandi lies with those who adopt the hypothesis. Idiotcy is compatible with very various forms and capacities of the cranium, but I know of none which present the least resemblance to the Neanderthal skull; and, furthermore, I shall proceed to show that the latter manifests but an extreme degree of a stage of degradation exhibited, as a natural condition, by the crania of certain races of mankind.
'Mr. Busk drew my attention, some time ago, to the resemblance between some of the skulls taken from tumuli of the stone period at Borreby in Denmark, of which Mr. Busk possesses numerous accurate figures, and the Neanderthal cranium. One of the Borreby skulls in particular (fig. 5, p. 86) has remarkably projecting superciliary ridges, a retreating forehead, a low flattened vertex, and an occiput which shelves upward and forward. But the skull is relatively higher and broader, or more brachycephalic, the sagittal suture longer, and the superciliary ridges less projecting, than in the Neanderthal skull. Nevertheless, there is, without doubt, much resemblance in character between the two skulls,—a circumstance which is the more interesting, since the other Borreby skulls have better foreheads and less prominent superciliary ridges, and exhibit altogether a higher conformation.
'The Borreby skulls belong to the stone period of Denmark, and the people to whom they appertained were probably either contemporaneous with, or later than, the makers of the "refuse-heaps" of that country. In other words, they were subsequent to the last great physical changes of Europe, and were contemporaries of the urus and bison, not of the Elephas primigenius, Rhinoceros tichorhinus, and Hyæna spelæa.
'Supposing for a moment, what is not proven, that the Neanderthal skull belonged to a race allied to the Borreby people and was as modern as they, it would be separated by as great a distance of time as of anatomical character from the Engis skull, and the possibility of its belonging to a distinct race from the latter might reasonably appear to be greatly heightened.
'To prevent the possibility of reasoning in a vicious circle, however, I thought it would be well to endeavour to ascertain what amount of cranial variation is to be found in a pure race at the present
a Superciliary ridge. b Coronal suture.
c The apex of the lambdoidal suture. d The occipital protuberance.
e The auditory foramen.
'I soon found it possible to select from among these crania two (connected by all sorts of intermediate gradations), the one of which should very nearly resemble the Engis skull, while the other should some what less closely approximate the Neanderthal cranium in form, size, and proportions. And at the same time others of these skulls presented no less remarkable affinities with the low type of Borreby skull.
'That the resemblances to which I allude are by no means of a merely superficial character, is shown by the accompanying diagram (fig. 6, p. 88), which gives the contours of the two ancient and of one of the Australian skulls, and by the following table of measurements.
|Australian, No. 1||202||13||12||44||72||510|
|Australian, No. 2||22||122||104||310||7·9||54|
a The horizontal circumference in the plane of a line joining the glabella, with the occipital protuberance.
b The longitudinal arc from the nasal depression along the middle line of the skull to the occipital tuberosity.
c From the level of the glabello-occipital line on each side, across the middle of the sagittal suture to the same point on the opposite side.
d The vertical height from the glabello-occipital line.
e The extreme longitudinal measurement.
f The extreme transverse measurement.
'The question whether the Engis skull has rather the character of one of the high races or of one of the lower has been much disputed, but the following measurements of an English skull, noted in the catalogue of the Hunterian museum as typically Caucasian (see fig. 4) will serve to show that both sides may be right, and that cranial measurements alone afford no safe indication of race.
'In making the preceding statement, it must be clearly understood that I neither desire to affirm that the Engis and Neanderthal skulls belong to the Australian race, nor to assert even that the ancient
skulls belong to one and the same race, so far as race is measured by language, colour of skin, or character of hair. Against the conclusion that they are of the same race as the Australians various minor anatomical differences of the ancient skulls, such as the great development of the frontal sinuses, might be urged; while against the supposition of either the identity, or the diversity, of race of the two arises the known independence of the variation of cranium on the one hand, and of hair, colour, and language on the other.
'But the amount of variation of the Borreby skulls, and the fact that the skulls of one of the purest and most homogeneous of existing races of men can be proved to differ from one another in the same characters, though perhaps not quite to the same extent, as the Engis and Neanderthal skulls, seem to me to prohibit any cautious reasoner from affirming the latter to have been necessarily of distinct races.
'The marked resemblances between the ancient skulls and their modern Australian analogues, however, have a profound interest, when it is recollected that the stone axe is as much the weapon and the implement of the modern as of the ancient savage; that the former turns the bones of the kangaroo and of the emu to the same account as the latter did the bones of the deer and the urus; that the Australian heaps up the shells of devoured shellfish in mounds which represent the "refuse-heaps" or "Kjokkenmöddings," of Denmark; and, finally, that, on the other side of Torres Straits, a race akin to the Australians are among the few people who now build their houses on pile-works, like those of the ancient Swiss lakes.
'That this amount of resemblance in habit and in the conditions of existence is accompanied by as close a resemblance in cranial configuration, illustrates on a great scale that what Cuvier demonstrated of the animals of the Nile valley is no less true of men; circumstances remaining similar, the savage varies little more, it would seem, than the ibis or the crocodile, especially if we take into account the enormous extent of the time over which our knowledge of man now extends, as compared with that measured by the duration of the sepulchres of Egypt.
'Finally, the comparatively large cranial capacity of the Neanderthal skull, overlaid though it may be by pithecoid bony walls, and the completely human proportions of the accompanying limb-bones, together with the very fair development of the Engis skull, clearly indicate that the first traces of the primordial stock whence man has proceeded need no longer be sought, by those who entertain any form of the doctrine of progressive development, in the newest tertiaries; but that they may be looked for in an epoch more distant from the age of the Elephas primigenius than that is from us.'
The two skulls which form the subject of the preceding comments and illustrations have given rise to nearly an equal amount of surprise for opposite reasons; that of Engis because being so unequivocally ancient, it approached so near to the highest or Caucasian type; that of the Neanderthal, because, having no such decided claims to antiquity, it departs so widely from the normal standard of humanity. Professor Huxley's observation regarding the wide range of variation, both as to shape and capacity, in the skulls of so pure a race as the native Australian, removes to no small extent this supposed anomaly, assuming what though not proved is very probable, that both varieties coexisted in the post-pliocene period in Western Europe.
As to the Engis skull, we must remember that although associated with the elephant, rhinoceros, bear, tiger, and hyæna, all of extinct species, it nevertheless is also accompanied by a bear, stag, wolf, fox, beaver, and many other quadrupeds of species still living. Indeed many eminent palæontologists, and among them Professor Pictet, think that, numerically considered, the larger portion of the mammalian fauna agrees specifically with that of our own period, so that we are scarcely entitled to feel surprised if we find human races of the post-pliocene epoch undistinguishable from some living ones. It would merely tend to show that man has been as constant in his osteological characters as many other mammalia now his contemporaries. The expectation of always meeting with a lower type of human skull, the older the formation in which it occurs, is based on the theory of progressive development, and it may prove to be sound; nevertheless we must remember that as yet we have no distinct geological evidence that the appearance of what are called the inferior races of mankind has always preceded in chronological order that of the higher races.
It is now admitted that the differences between the brain of the highest races of man and that of the lowest, though less in degree, are of the same order as those which separate the human from the simian brain; and the same rule holds good in regard to the shape of the skull. The average Negro skull differs from that of the European in having a more receding forehead, more prominent superciliary ridges, and more largely developed prominences and furrows for the attachment of muscles; the face also, and its lines, are larger proportionally. The brain is somewhat less voluminous on the average in the lower races of mankind, its convolutions rather less complicated, and those of the two hemispheres more symmetrical, in all which points an approach is made to the simian type. It will also be seen, by reference to the late Dr. Morton's works, and by the foregoing statements of Professor Huxley, that the range of capacity between the highest and lowest human brain is far greater than that between the highest simian and lowest human brain; but the Neanderthal skull, although in several respects it is more ape-like than any human skull previously discovered, is, in regard to capacity, by no means contemptible.
Eminent anatomists have shown that in the average proportions of some of the bones the Negro differs from the European, and that in most of these characters, he makes a slightly nearer approach to the anthropoid quadrumana; but Professor Schaaffhausen has pointed out that in these proportions the Neanderthal skeleton does not differ from the ordinary standard, so that the skeleton by no means indicates a transition between Homo and Pithecus.
There is doubtless, as shown in the diagram fig. 4, a nearer resemblance in the outline of the Neanderthal skull to that of a chimpanzee than had ever been observed before in any human cranium; and Professor Huxley's description of the occipital region shows that the resemblance is not confined to the mere excessive prominence of the superciliary ridges.
The direct bearing of the ape-like character of the Neanderthal skull on Lamarck's doctrine of progressive development and transmutation, or on that modification of it which has of late been so ably advocated by Mr. Darwin, consists in this, that the newly observed deviation from a normal standard of human structure is not in a casual or random direction, but just what might have been anticipated if the laws of variation were such as the transmutationists require. For if we conceive the cranium to be very ancient, it exemplifies a less advanced stage of progressive development and improvement. If it be a comparatively modern race, owing its peculiarities of conformation to degeneracy, it is an illustration of what the botanists have called 'atavism,' or the tendency of varieties to revert to an ancestral type, which type, in proportion to its antiquity, would be of lower grade. To this hypothesis, of a genealogical connection between man and the lower animals, I shall again allude in the concluding chapters.
- Letter to Professor Schaaffhausen, cited Natural History Review, No. 2, p. 156.
- Professor Schaaffhausen's Memoir, translated, Natural History Review, No. 2, April 1861.
- Natural History Review, No. 2, p. 160.
- No. 2, 1861.
- I have taken the glabello-occipital line as a base in these measurements, simply because it enables me to compare all the skulls, whether fragments or entire, together. The greatest circumference of the English skull lies in a plane considerably above that of the glabello-occipital line, and amounts to twenty-two inches.
- Natural History Review, 1861, p. 8.
- 'The inferior races of mankind exhibit proportions which are in many respects intermediate between the higher, or European, orders, and the monkeys. In the Negro, for instance, the stature is less than in the European. The cranium, as is well known, bears a small proportion to the face. Of the extremities the upper are proportionately longer, and there is, in both upper and lower, a less marked preponderance of the proximal over the distal segments. For instance, in the Negro, the thigh and arm are rather shorter than in the European; the leg is actually of equal length in both races, and is therefore, relatively, a little longer in the Negro; the fore-arm in the latter is actually, as well as relatively, a little longer; the foot is an eighth, and the hand a twelfth longer than in the European. It is well known that the foot is less well formed in the Negro than in the European. The arch of the instep, the perfect conformation of which is essential to steadiness and ease of gait, is less elevated in the former than in the latter. The foot is thereby rendered flatter as well as longer, more nearly resembling the monkey's, between which and the European, there is a marked difference in this particular.'—From 'A Treatise on the Human Skeleton' by Dr. Humphry, Lecturer on Surgery and Anatomy in the Cambridge University Medical School, p. 91.