Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 7.djvu/625

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TILL the other day nothing was known that would indicate the existence of a religion among the people of the Stone Age. But a little over a year ago there were discovered clear traces of a cultus, the most ancient of which we have any idea. I propose here to narrate how we gained our first knowledge of the gross and oftentimes savage superstitions of our early ancestors. This important discovery was made by Dr, Prunières, of Marvejols. As he was cleaning some skulls from the dolmens of Lozère, he found in the interior of one of them a bone disk carefully polished on the edges, and evidently made of a fragment of a cranium, perhaps of the parietal bone. The skull in which this disk was found presented a great hole, through which it might have passed; still evidently it had not come from the part destroyed, being considerably thicker than the other bones of the skull, and, furthermore, differing from them in color. On examining this cranium at the point where it was mutilated, the edges of the opening were found to be carefully polished and beveled on the external surface, and it was plain that the hole itself, like the disk of bone, had been wrought by the hand of man. Was it also man who put the bone disk inside of the skull? One might think at first that it was the effect of an accident similar to that by which the beads of a necklace often drop into the skull; but, when other pieces were discovered similar to that described, it could not be doubted that it was the hand of man which placed the disk of bone in the skull. What was the intention? It is impossible to say with certainty, but it is difficult not to believe that the practice was coupled with a religious idea.

A number of skulls found by M. Prunières presented an opening more or less large, but contained no bone disk. These openings are often the size of a silver dollar, of variable form, but usually circular. That which has excited the greatest astonishment, however, is the fact that these perforations had been made during life, for their beveled edges had evidently commenced to cicatrize; often, indeed, the loss of substance was entirely restored. The savants to whom M. Prunières communicated his discovery then remembered that in many skulls they too had observed similar holes, with the edges more or less cicatrized. Up to that time they had supposed that they resulted from strokes of a hatchet dealt by an athletic arm, just as now a sabre often removes a portion of the skull. But what strength are we to imagine the men of that time to have possessed in order to make such terrible wounds with a simple stone hatchet? Hence the explanation offered was not very satisfactory. All doubts were set at rest by the invaluable discoveries of M. Prunières, as interpreted by himself with rare