Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/258

This page has been validated.

man's existence during, or even prior to, the last glacial epoch, i. e., at the time when the ice sheet enveloped Northern Europe as far south as latitude 54°; for the glacial stage still lingers in Switzerland and the Pyrenees, and continues in full sway in Greenland and Labrador. We find no adequate reference made to the implements met with in the till or bowlder drift. He is content to set aside many an important issue, such as this, with the assurance that 'physical science has its fashions like metaphysics, that theories are ever changing, and that Darwinism and prehistoric archæology, twenty years from to-day, may be both forgotten.' A great point with him, in opposition to the antiquity of man, is the unity of the human race, for which, beyond denial, a strong case is to be made out, and which, as it stands by itself, must be regarded as the most solid and the best-welded link in his whole chain of argument. But this unity, resting upon the world-wide diffusion of symbols like the pre-Christian cross, the legend of the deluge, or of a terrestrial paradise, with common habits of interment, and domestic usage and similarity of speech—even when pushed to the extreme length which such arguments attain in the hands of enthusiasts like Mr. Southall—is far from compelling the narrow contraction of time within which he would reduce the differences entailed by the disruption of that primary unity. It is true that many arguments brought forward on the side of extreme antiquity have broken down; but what are the few that our author may have disposed of, beside the host of facts which the industry of paleontologists and the critical study of language and of race have verified and correlated? The zodiacs of Dendera and Esne may be given up as works of art more than 5,300 years old. The fossil man of Guadaloupe may be reduced to the status of a commonplace Carib not many centuries back, in company with the fossil man of Denise buried under the lava of Auvergne, and the human remains found, as at first alleged, under the coral limestone of Florida, but since referred to the recent fresh-water sandstone formation. The cone of the Tinière may be brought down from a date of 10,000 years to less than a third of that amount; and the notches in bones from the Pliocene beds of the Val d'Arno, said to bear the marks of knives, may be referred to the gnawings of porcupines or of some extinct rodent. But what is this more than to say that because, for instance, not a few palæolithic implements, so called, have been proved to be fictitious, therefore the countless stores which crowd our museums are to be set aside as worthless? In this easy and high-handed manner are the inferences drawn from the innumerable implements met with in the river-gravels (sometimes, as our author allows, a hundred feet above the present water-level) summarily disposed of. These gravels he admits, whether of higher or lower level, to have been deposited about the close of the Glacial age, and such, therefore, we may regard the date of man. Within the human period then, at least, the valley of the Somme has been hollowed out, and the Thames brought within its existing narrow limits from the wider range to which its beds of gravel, with bones deeply buried, bear record. With the ordinary explanation of valley erosion, as laid down by Sir C. Lyell, and other standard writers upon geology, our author is wholly dissatisfied. Instead thereof, he brings in the portentous hypothesis of a Palæolithic flood, induced either by an inflow of the sea, or (as more in conformity with the fact of the gravels being those of fresh water) a 'pluvial period' on an immense scale following the Glacial period—in fact, the down-pour due to the melting up of the vast ice mass.

"What were the impressions made upon the dwellers by the banks of the Onse, or the fens of East Anglia, as the sea rose a hundred feet higher than it is now, aggravated as it was by the pluvial rainfall which 'overwhelmed the habitations of the contemporaries of the mammoth,' we utterly fail to realize. Paroxysmal effects, on a scale so gigantic as this, have long been removed from the conception of sober geologists of the English school. On continents later known and less thoroughly explored—within whose vast boundaries Nature seems to have carried on, or still to carry on, her operations in the stupendous fashion to which the cañons of America and valleys like the Yosemite bear witness—phenomena of this kind may seem conceivable enough. And it is upon observations and estimates such as those of Prof. Andrews, of Chicago, based upon the aspects of Nature in the great far West, that our author rests his representation of the catastrophes of man's early history. It is with limited, settled, old-world countries like England that we for our part have to do. And are we to conceive our quiet little island, within the scanty ten thousand years or so doled out by our author as the 'age of the mammoth,' raised up some hundreds, if not thousands, of feet—for Mr. Southall concurs with established geology as to the fact of oscillations to this extent and swept by pluvial storms till the gravel was piled up a hundred feet in places? Are we to believe that within the same period the British Islands were still joined by a broad tract of land to France and Holland, 'the waters of the Thames and the Rhine forming a common trunk, discharging itself into the North Sea, and the rivers of our south coast uniting with the Seine and the Somme to run westward into the Atlantic?' Why, the period since the Roman invasion carries us back to very nearly a fifth of this range of time, and in all these years we find the general level of the southern coast not disturbed one inch, the apparent local changes being due to erosion of the land by tide and storm, as at Winchelsea and Reculver, or to heaping up of shingle and sand, as at Pevensey and Sandwich. It may do in the New World to quote Humboldt for 'Jorullo in Mexico being seen to rise from a level plain, on September 14, 1759, to a height of 1,681 feet,' as a proof that 'force, no less than time, is an element in geological action.'