for entertaining, at least, the idea of man's origin by a natural process of evolution.
Evidences of the work of man—flint implements, associated with the bones of extinct animals and therefore showing much greater age than usually accepted—had been reported from time to time, notably those found in the river Somme by Boucher de Perthes. But the prejudice against such antiquity was so strong that geologists with one accord, and without examination, pooh-poohed all such evidence as incredible. It was Sir Joseph Prestwich who, in 1859, first examined them carefully, and published the proofs that convinced the geological world that early man was indeed contemporaneous with the extinct animals of the Quaternary period, and that the time must have been many times greater than usually allowed.
Since that time confirmatory evidence has accumulated, and the earliest appearance of man has been pushed back first to the late glacial, then to the middle glacial, and finally, in Mr. Prestwich's Plateau Gravels, to the early glacial or possibly preglacial times.
Still, however, in every case earliest man was unmistakably man. No links connecting him with other anthropoids had been found. Very recently, however, have been found, by Du Bois, in Java, the skull, teeth, and thigh bone of what seems to be a veritable missing link, named by the discoverer Pithecanthropus erectus. The only question that seems to remain is whether it should be regarded as an ape more manlike than any known ape, or a man more apelike than any yet discovered. The age of this creature was either latest Pliocene or earliest Quaternary.
From the earliest times of geologic study there have been observed unconformities of the strata and corresponding changes in the fossil contents. Some of these unconformities are local and the changes of organic forms inconsiderable, but sometimes they are of wider extent and the changes of life system greater. In some cases the unconformity is universal or nearly so, and in such cases we find a complete and apparently sudden change in the fossil contents. It was these universal breaks that gave rise to the belief in the occurrence of violent catastrophes and corresponding wholesale exterminations and re-creations of faunas and floras.
It is evident, however, on a little reflection, that every such unconformity indicates a land period at the place observed, and therefore a time unrecorded in strata and fossils at that place—i. e.,
- Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Prestwich, pp. 124 et seq.