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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/October 1883/How the Earth was Peopled II

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 23‎ | October 1883

By M. Le Marquis G. De SAPORTA.

IT follows from the exposition given in our former article that man, issuing from a "mother-region" still undetermined, but which a number of considerations indicate to have been in the North, has radiated in several directions; that his migrations have been constantly from north to south; and that they have given rise to races the more ancient of which went farthest and were the most inferior. The superior races were those which, migrating later and becoming localized in peculiarly favorable climatic conditions, have risen gradually to what we call civilization.

M. de Mortillet has occupied himself with this progress, and, persuaded that existing mankind is only a resultant, and the last term of a series of successive transformations, distinguishes between several men, as tertiary man, quaternary man, existing man. The man of the ancient quaternary, the Neanderthal, the Denise, and the Canstadt man, appear to him so different from the historical type, that not only does he separate them from it, but he creates for the times anterior to the quaternary a human or pseudo-human category of a particular order. There were, in his view, "precursors of man," to which he applies the significant name of antropopithecus, or "man-monkey," because he believes they preceded man in the scale of beings, and constituted an intermediate type between the living anthropomorphic apes and man. We should then have to deal with a creature high enough above the gorilla and the chimpanzee to know how to cut flints and use fire, low enough not to be able to rise above that industrial grade and become a real man; or with a race standing to the Bushman and Tasmanian as they seem to stand to us. Theology does not absolutely repel this view, for it discusses the possible existence of preadamites. Religion even seems disinterested in the question, for the Abbe Bourgeois, whose discoveries have given rise to M. de Mortillet's anthropopithecuses, and who has not rejected the theory, has always passed for a soundly orthodox priest, while he is known to be a keen observer. Nothing is against an impartial examination of the question. Only the objections may be offered to his views that no one has ever seen an anthropopithecus, the structure and characteristics of which have been worked out by pure reasoning alone, and that the distance that must have separated the precursor of man from man himself is calculated upon the extremely uncertain basis of the distance between quaternary and existing man.

According to M. de Mortillet's admission, quaternary man was himself gradually modified. "His blood," he says, "was infused into the new race, and may even reappear by atavism in our own times." The question is reduced to one of learning whether there existed in Europe, alongside of the miocene anthropomorphs of St. Gaudens, a primitive and rudimentary man of unknown physical qualities, who had industrial instinct enough to cut flints for his use. We are thus brought to the inquiry whether the instruments collected at Thénay by Abbé Bourgeois, and those discovered afterward in Portugal, in more recent but unquestionably tertiary formations, are authentic, or are not simple flakes and natural fragments that have been confounded with articles intentionally fabricated. Thénay, where the earlier of these flints were discovered, is in the Lower Miocene, an inferior formation to that of Sansan, in which the anthropomorphic fauna we have spoken of were included. The existence of the rhinoceros at the time of its formation is still in doubt, the mastodons had not yet appeared, the elephants were still far off; the hipparions, the predecessors of the horse, were not to make their appearance till long afterward. The marsupials had disappeared, and the carnivora were represented only by ambiguous types. None of the animal forms that were to accompany the earlier steps of man, and which he would have to contend against or tame, had showed themselves. Yet man is to be placed, in this rudest condition of nature, already in possession of fire! There is certainly little a priori probability of this. To be convinced of it, we need more evidence than has yet been presented to us—a few flints among many thousands of others, that may have been intentionally chipped. This is a little, but not enough, in view of the improbabilities which accumulate, against our putting faith in such indications.

The tertiary flints of Portugal are not calculated to add strength to the conviction. They come from an unquestionably tertiary freshwater formation of the recent Miocene age. The Portuguese flora of the age was characterized by the presence of elms, poplars, cinnamon trees, saponarias, and tamarinds, which testify to a mild and equable climate throughout Europe, in which man would have found conditions most favorable to his development. When, however, we undertake to establish his existence there, we have in evidence only a deposit of sandstone mixed with silicious pebbles, partly disaggregated, which have been submitted to subsequent erosions and atmospheric influences that sufficiently explain the numerous fragments scattered over the ground from which those believed to have been intentionally cut have been sifted after a long search. M. Cazalis de Fondouce, who was a member of the Prehistoric Congress at Lisbon in 1880—a man of acknowledged competence in such matters—visited the miocene beds of Monte Redondo, and justifies his reservation of opinion on the character of the very few flints which it is possible to assimilate with those of the Moustier period, by reference to the denudations and disturbances the beds have suffered. It is not impossible that the stones were cut by man. One of them appears to have been taken from a bed that had not been disturbed; but, if this is admitted, is it not better to wait, than to attempt to solve so great a problem at once and without direct proof? M. de Mortillet is himself wise enough not to affirm directly anything but the authenticity of the instruments. He adds that their small size leads him to believe that the beings that made them, if of proportionate dimensions, were not and could not have been real men. The doubt which he admits respecting the creatures whose intervention he invokes, we extend to the instruments, and wait for the results of future discoveries to resolve it.

Acceptation of these relics as evidences of a tertiary man is made more difficult by the bright light of the following period, which M. de Mortillet calls "Chellean," from the station of Chelles, near Paris, which he regards as typical of it. Man reveals himself in this epoch with an evident industry—primitive, for it presents only a single category of instruments, which are, however, so clearly characterized by their form and size that the most prejudiced mind could not fail to recognize them at once as belonging to the same race. The deposit of Chelles is even more characteristic than that of St. Acheul, where similar instruments have been found in so great numbers. The Elephas antiquus of Falconer, the probable ancestor of the Indian elephant, and the predecessor of the mammoth in Europe, is found exclusively at Chelles, associated with human implements, while at St. Acheul the mammoth is more frequently found, although the other species is not absent. Thus, Chellean man saw two species of elephants merge one into the other. Probably, also, the climate changed insensibly and became colder, without disturbance to his habits or his industry. In the long run, however, the action of the physiological and biological events of which Europe became the theatre had an influence on quaternary man; and the Chellean race, passing into that of Moustier, gradually changed its habits, while it learned to fashion other instruments. There need have been nothing abrupt in this evolution, which was the product of the exigencies of a climate gradually growing more severe. At the beginning, the animals, plants, and air were those of Northern Africa, and the conditions for human existence were of the best. The Chellean man lived in the open air, or possibly under light shelters, but did not resort to caves, and was not accustomed to bury his dead. These facts explain the abundance of instruments of that age in alluvial deposits, their absence from the caves, which served as places of refuge in the following ages, and the extreme rarity of bones. The great numbers of the implements found in different parts of France give the idea of an active population of considerable density, whose peaceful extension was not interrupted during long ages by any unfortunate event. The race may be traced by means of identical instruments, except that the materials vary according to the resources of the different countries, in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Algeria, and Egypt, and even at the Cape of Good Hope; and, in North America, in the valley of the Delaware, New Jersey, and the Bridger Basin, Wyoming. The uniformity of the instruments is a most striking feature. Always the same in design, they were made to serve for more than one use a merit, probably, in the eyes of the men who chipped them out, but a sign of inferiority in the race which, for thousands of years, knew how to make these and no other tools. They were not, according to M. de Mortillet, real hatchets, as they have been commonly called, but simply a tool (coup de poing), to be held bodily in the hand, and used according to the need, as hatchet, knife, chisel, or gouge. The weapon of the race was a club, and of that all traces have, of course, vanished.

The slow development of the division of labor seems to have been reserved for the following age, that of Moustier, which joins closely upon the Chellean age, and, while less perfect in details, evidences more skill and rapidity in processes, and a more utilitarian spirit. Its implements are more varied and specialized in their forms. The climate had become more severe; the glaciers were approaching their greatest extension; and "Moustierian man" was obliged to take refuge in caverns, where the relics of his industry are as frequent as those that occur scattered over the soil. In other respects the race and epoch of Moustier seem to have been simply a prolongation of those of Chelles. Only man, under pressure of new necessities, experienced wants he had not previously known. He had to be more industrious. Large animals had become more numerous; he had to arm himself for defense, and became a hunter.

As no pains were taken to give the dead a permanent burial, we can not expect to find many bones of these most ancient races. Possibly their dead were exposed, as those of some Indian tribes are now, and that would be an additional reason why their remains should have utterly disappeared. Leaving out the doubtful relics, M. de Mortillet finds only a very few bones that can possibly be ascribed to the Chellean epoch. They belong to the race which MM. do Quatrefages and Hamy have determined, from purely anatomical considerations, as the Canstadt race, after the skull found at that place associated with elephants' bones in 1700. This skull, the Eguisheim skull (near Colmar), the fragments from Denise, the Neanderthal skull, and the la Noulette jawbone, are all that we have of it, and they are, it must be acknowledged, very little. They are enough, however, to give the clew to its general features, and to show its inferiority to the Bushmen and Australians, more marked, according to M. de Mortillet, than the differences between those races and the Europeans. M. de Mortillet believes that the Neanderthal man was violent and pugnacious, and goes so far as to deny him articulate speech. But we can not indulge in such bold conjectures on so little evidence. We know nothing more of the primitive European man, or of his fate. His simultaneous extension over so large a number of points gives occasion for the thought that originally, at least, he represented, not a particular race, but the common stock, in which modifications were destined to be made according as it became localized and specialized under the influence of the extremely varied conditions of the medium in which it found itself at different places. The Neanderthal man was, then, the original of what has followed. Advancing toward the south, he has peopled the earth, and been divided into local races and tribes. The Moustier epoch illustrates in Europe the stage following the first one; and the periods following that of Moustier, which M. de Mortillet has named Solutrean and Magdalenean, from the typical stations at Solutre and la Madeleine, correspond with the times when man, having localized himself, underwent gradual transformations, assuming in different respects the specific characteristics that distinguish those races, developing aptitudes as diverse as the places in which he fixed himself, and stopping at unequal and successive steps of the ladder which he was destined to climb, but which was to lead him to the full exercise of his noblest faculties only on condition of his reaching its highest rounds.

The Solutrean age was only one of rapid transition to the Magdalenean, and appears to have represented a local rather than a secular development. Both ages are the expression of the increasing cold of the glacial period, during which the huge pachyderms gradually disappeared under the growing rigor of the climate, and the reindeer and horse multiplied to take their places. The reindeer came down to occupy Central Europe, without reaching the southern regions, in numerous varieties, all of which, however, were allied to the existing reindeers of Lapland. Of the horse, at least twenty thousand, possibly forty thousand skeletons, have been found at Solutre\ Neither of these animals was then domesticated, and the dog was still unknown. Man secured animals by hunting, either killing them on the spot or binding them to take home. The mammoth had become a kind of legendary being, hidden in the deepest forests, an object of curiosity, abundant enough to furnish ivory, and to provoke the man of the time to execute drawings of him. In fact, the man of this age had made great progress. The division of industrial labor had become efficient. The cutting of the flints had attained great perfection and delicacy, and a new branch of industry had been added to it; bone was worked, with ivory and reindeer-horn. Both the instruments and the substances of which they were made were now specialized. We have seen points of javelins and darts artistically worked on both faces, and prepared for handles; the scrapers were no less appropriately fitted to the use to which they were exclusively applied. Of bone were made needles, harpoons, and at last purely ornamental articles, sculptures, and engravings. Some of the representations give us curious details concerning the man and the animals of the epoch. The reindeer, bear, and mammoth were figured. The man is always naked, or appears to be. We distinguish the figure of a woman, whose body seems covered with hair; but this may only indicate garments of skins. One of the figures represents a man walking with a club over his shoulder. Men also become differentiated by localization, and the Magdalenean man offers us one of the earliest instances in Europe of this effect. The Solutrean race, whose spear-heads are so finished, and the more recent and more artistic race of the caves of Perigord, whose simple designs and efforts in sculpture we admire, show us the first essays of that spirit of initiative and of relative progress, which, after localization, conducted some of them to material inventions and ideal conceptions, and by these to the region of that supreme culture of all our faculties which we call civilization.

As M. de Mortillet shows, the man of la Madeleine was a hunter, active, ingenious, and susceptible to sentimental impressions from living nature. He had a home, and joys and sorrows; he held his hunting-feasts, and knew how to procure a kind of enjoyment with the aid of the arts of imitation and ornamentation. He recognized rank and a hierarchy, for he possessed emblems of honor and insignia of command. But this was all. He had no agriculture, no domestic life; and, if those men had any particular way of disposing of their dead, it was by exposure in the open air; and this is probably the reason that so few of their remains are found.

Is there any way in which we can determine the physical traits and osteological structure of this Magdalenean race? The numerous remains found at Cro Magnon in connection with articles of the Magdalenean age were thought to belong to the artistic race of Perigord; but M. de Mortillet discredits this opinion by showing that the places where these remains occur were disturbed in the succeeding period, the Robenhausian, and that the burials, unknown to the Magdaleneans, were practiced by those who came after them.

To M. de Mortillet, the European Magdalenean race was only a modified prolongation of that of Chelles and Moustier. Mixtures by migration and the co-existence of several races having differently shaped skulls were posterior to the recent quaternary and to the extinction of the mammoth and the retreat of the reindeer to the north. Then came an age in which, the climate having undergone amelioration, the glaciers having retired to the foot of the mountains, and the sea having withdrawn from Northern Europe to within its present limits, a new era was inaugurated. This was the era of continuous development and activity, the progress of which at last leads us step by step to the invention of metals and to history proper. The last period, however, includes many sub-periods. The metals were still unknown for a long time, and stone continued to be the only material used in making working-tools. A few arts, the necessary point of departure for all society, had, however, begun to be exercised: among them were the domestication of useful animals, beginning with the dog; agriculture, and consequently the adoption of some of the food plants; the use of pottery; and, finally, the grouping of men and their habitations in view of common defense, and also of the observance of religious rites. To an age of this kind, which has left a host of points in Europe, from Scandinavia to Switzerland, and from the heart of France to Southern Italy, M. de Mortillet has given the name Robenhausian. To follow it on this new ground through its progress to the age of bronze, would require the consideration of details that would carry us too far. It was the age of the dolmens and of the lake-villages; in it man was beginning to grow out of his infancy. Although, at least in Europe, he was not acquainted with the use of metals, and possessed only a rudimentary agriculture and industry, and although his food was still scanty and his existence precarious, he had already begun to sow wheat and barley; he wove coarse linen cloths; he made vessels of pottery and hardened them in the fire; and he built real monuments to his dead, artificial representations of caves made by piling rough stones together. Religious rites and invocations, a kind of luxury in furniture, and medical and surgical processes, came in vogue. We feel that we are on the verge of great inventions and of gigantic efforts, tending to enlarge the formerly extremely narrow circle of knowledge and of processes.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Revue des Deux Mondes.