Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/84

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stealthy foxes and wild-cats, and the larger by grizzly and brown bears and packs of wolves. The stillness of night was from time to time broken by the weird laughter of the spotted hyena and by the roar that proclaimed the presence of the king of beasts. Otters pursued their finny prey in the Thames at Grays Thurrock, and at Ilford beavers were to be seen disporting themselves round their wonderful habitations, and vanishing beneath the surface as if by magic at the splash caused by the bulky form of the hippopotamus as he plunged into the water.

Nor are we without a clew as to the vegetation then covering the district, since the present flora of this country arrived here at a geological period long before the time under discussion. We may therefore complete our ideal by picturing to ourselves oaks, ashes, and yews among the important trees in the forest, while the thickets that sheltered such a strange assemblage of animals did not differ in any important particular from those in Britain at the present time. Then, as now, dark Scotch firs clustered on the sands and gravels covering the heights of Kent, and alders and willows marked the water-courses of the low-lying district of Essex, until the view was closed northward by the black pines covering the answering heights of Havering and of Brentwood. We should alone miss the elms now so marked a feature in the landscape.

Such as these were the surroundings of the lion when he first appeared in Britain, huge in size and without a rival among the lower animals. The central figure, however, in the picture is proved by recent discoveries to have been man. Not only have flint implements of the ordinary river-drift type been obtained from the brick-earths of Crayford along with remains of the animals above mentioned, but Mr. Flaxman Spurrell has been able to fix the place where the hunter sat on the ancient bank of the Thames and fashioned the blocks of flint to his various needs. The river-drift hunter, armed with his roughly chipped stone implements, doubtless had great difficulty in making good his place in the struggle for existence among the beasts of prey then in the valley of the Thames, and sometimes, when he had the chance, he would be likely to eat the lion, and at other times the lion would certainly eat him. They must often have come into contact when engaged in the pursuit of the same animals.

The climate at this time in Southern Britain is proved to have been in the main temperate, by the presence of animals such as the horse, bison, and rhinoceros. A temperate fauna was then in possession of the land, although a few Arctic stragglers, such as the musk-sheep, were also present. The hippopotamus still haunted the banks of the Thames, and can hardly be supposed to have been able to endure the winter cold of the region now inhabited by the musk-sheep, any more than that animal could be expected to enjoy the heat of the summers in the present home of the hippopotamus.