Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London/Volume 28/On the Animal-remains found by Colonel Lane Fox in the High- and Low-terrace Gravels at Acton and Turnham Green

3. On the Animal-remains found by Colonel Lane Fox in the High- and Low-terrace Gravels at Acton and Turnham Green. By Geo. Busk, F.R.S., F.G.S., &c.

[Plate XXIX.]

I. High-terrace Gravel.

The animal-remains from the High-terrace Gravel belong to Bos, Ovis, Equus[1] and Elephas?

1. Bos.—The bovine remains comprise by far the greater part of the specimens collected at this level. They are all in a comparatively recent condition, though some appear to have been more exposed to atmospheric influence previous to interment than others. Most of the bones also exhibit marks of cutting or chopping with a sharp metallic implement; and none have been exposed to fire. Some few present faint indications of manganous deposit, in the form of minute specks; but none, with one exception, can be called dendritic, nor do any of them adhere to the tongue, or but very slightly so. In fact, they may nearly all be regarded as of modern origin, and as belonging to the common ox of rather small size. A perfect metacarpal measures 8 inches in length. Amongst the bovine remains is what appears to be a portion of the metacarpal of a calf.

2. Ovis.—The ovine relics are very few in number, and all modern.

3. Equus.—Two specimens only belonging to the horse occur in the High-level collection, viz. a left lower molar and a portion of the right scapula, including the glenoid cavity. Both these specimens are dendritic; and the fragment of the scapula is highly ferruginous and much decomposed, apparently from subaerial exposure, so that the surface scales off in thin laminæ. From their condition, these bones would seem to belong to a different period than those of the ox and sheep, or, at any rate, to have been subjected to different conditions as regards exposure &c.

4. Incerta.—The other remains from this level are eighteen or twenty broken and rolled fragments of long and flat bones of some large animal or animals, not improbably Elephant, Rhinoceros, or Hippopotamus. Most of them are too imperfect to allow of correct determination; and all are extremely friable, loaded with manganous oxide, and apparently retain very little animal matter, since they neither blacken nor smell when burnt. As they are, as above said, much rolled, it may be presumed that they may have formed part of a previous deposit. But amongst these remains is a large portion of an elephant's molar, which will be referred to subsequently.

II. Mid-terrace Gravel

The remains from the Mid-terrace Gravel, with one or two exceptions, all present characters of great antiquity. They are all highly dendritic, and adhere strongly to the tongue. They vary, however, a good deal in colour, many being white and chalky, except where stained with manganous oxide, whilst others are highly ferruginous. They present no evidence of their having been water-worn or rolled; and from the circumstance that several portions of the same skeleton have occurred at no great distance apart, it would seem probable that the carcasses of the animals had been deposited more or less entire not very far from the locality in which the bones were found, viz. a bight of the ancient river.

The bones of decidedly recent origin (five or six in number) belong to the Horse (of which a nearly entire skeleton was found in one of the pits) and Ox, the latter species being represented by the proximal end of a humerus, whose shaft has been chopped across; most probably an old marrow-bone.

The really fossil bones belong to the following species:—

I. Perissodactyla.

1. Rhinoceros hemitœchus.

2. Equus caballus
II. Artiodactyla.

3. Hippopotamus major.
4. Bos taurus (primigenius).
5. Bison priscus.
6. Cervus clactoniensis (Browni).
7. —— elaphus.

8. —— tarandus.
III. Carnivora.
9. Ursus ferox priscus? (U. priscus).
IV. Proboscidea.
10. Elephas primigenius.

1. Rhinoceros hemitœchus.—The only distinguishable relic of Rhinoceros is a nearly entire left ulna, whose form and dimensions agree precisely with those of Rhinoceros hemitœchus from the Ilford gravel, of which species such abundant remains are to be seen in the collection of Sir Antonio Brady. This bone appears to have been met with quite at the bottom of the Thames valley, at a height of from 10 to 20 feet only above high-water mark, and at a depth of 8 feet from the surface, beneath a layer of fine yellow sand.

2. Equus caballus.—The only indubitable ancient vestige of the horse in this deposit is a solitary lower molar, which is undistinguishable from that of the existing form.

3. Hippopotamus major.—The remains of the Hippopotamus are rather numerous, belonging, as it would seem, to individuals of at least two (or perhaps three) different ages—one quite mature, one at the age at which the proximal epiphysis of the tibia is still ununited and the epiphyses of the metatarsals still show the line of junction, and one apparently a much younger animal, probably only a few months old. Though most of these bones are much broken, they appear but very little water-worn or rolled. As they constitute an interesting part of the collection, I propose to give a somewhat detailed account of them. They consist of:—

1. The occipital crest of a fully mature animal. It is about the same size as that of the existing species, as shown in the skeleton in the College of Surgeons, but differs from it in the much greater depth and smoothness of the anterior concavities. Found in Brown's orchard, Mid-terrace Gravel, in June 1870.

2. Fragments of the right and left scapulæ. Found in the same locality.

3. Several large fragments of the left os innominatum, including part of the sacro-iliac articular surface. As the fractured edges all appear to be recent, it is not improbable that further search would have led to the discovery of the entire bone.

4. The proximal epiphysis of the left tibia, wanting part of the external articular facet, but otherwise entire and little worn.

5. The left fourth metatarsal of a fully mature animal (Pl. XXIX, fig. 1), very nearly perfect, as it only wants the hinder apophysis. The bone is 5⋅5 inches long, and its least circumference 5⋅1, giving a perimetral index of ⋅927.

6. The right fourth metatarsal of a young animal (fig. 2), inasmuch as the line of junction of the epiphysis is indicated by a deep groove. The bone is 5⋅75 inches long, and its least circumference 4⋅2, giving a perimetral index of ⋅730.

7. The left frontal of apparently a very young animal, to judge from the size and porous structure of the bone, which is 3"⋅4 measured along the mesial side, and 2"⋅9 transversely[2]. The bone is nearly entire, and, notwithstanding its porous nature, is very little worn; so that the depression for the reception of the nasal is sharply defined, and the cerebral sulci on the inner surface remain quite distinct.

This specimen suffices to show, did any doubt exist on the matter, that Hippopotamus major bred in this country, and was not a mere summer visitant, as some have formerly supposed.

The extraordinary difference, in proportions and also in form, between the two metatarsals above noticed is well worthy of remark; for it is so great that, under other circumstances, it might fairly have been assumed that they belonged to distinct species.

The comparative slenderness of the younger bone (fig. 2, Pl. XXIX.), which in that respect stands to the other as 730 to 927, at once strikes the eye, whilst in the form of the shaft also they differ very considerably. In the older bone the anterior and posterior surfaces are hollowed or concave from side to side, particularly the latter, the hollow being bounded on either side by a prominent ridge; whilst in the younger bone both surfaces are convex, and there is, on the posterior surface only, a very faint ridge on the tibial border. The facet, however, by which the fourth metatarsal articulates with the third is of the same form and shape in each. There is no appearance of a bursal (?) facet on the extremity of the hinder apophysis, such as may be seen in most metatarsals of the recent Hippopotamus. Comparison of the figures will serve to show at once the extraordinary difference between these two metacarpals, and to indicate also how closely the younger of the two approaches the proportions of the same bone in Hipp. amphibius[3].

It is not easy to assign the age of the individual to whom the frontal bone belonged; from its size, however, and porous structure, it would seem impossible that it could have formed part of the skeleton of the same individual as that which afforded the detached tibial epiphysis and probably also the slenderer metatarsal bone, and which must have nearly reached its full stature, the epiphysis in question measuring very nearly 5 inches in the antero-posterior direction, or from the point of the tuberosity to the hinder border of the inner condyloid facet.

4. Bos.—The bovine remains are very numerous, most of them of very large size, and obviously of great antiquity. In all probability they belong to Bos primigenius; but as they vary somewhat in dimensions and character, some may perhaps be referred to Bison priscus.

6. Cervus.—The next most numerous remains are:—a. Those of a very large species of Cervus, apparently equal in size to 'C. canadensis, and with the brow-antler arising immediately above the burr, or even from it, and turning downwards, as in the Clacton specimens, to which form I should be inclined to refer the larger cervine remains and antlers (C. clactoniensis, Falc., C. Browni, B. Dawk.). b. A few relics, however, of a smaller deer, no doubt C. elaphus, also occur, amongst which are a perfect astragalus and a nearly perfect calcaneum of opposite feet, whence, perhaps, it may be surmised that the carcass to which they belonged had not been brought any very great distance. c. One large portion of an antler, undoubtedly of C. tarandus, indicates the coexistence of that species; but as no other portions of the skeleton have been discovered, this specimen may have been brought down by the river from some distance.

9. Ursus.—The only bone belonging to the Carnivora is the left fifth metacarpal of a Bear of large size. The bone, which is quite entire, is 3"⋅9 long, its least circumference 2"⋅5 (perimetral index ⋅641). It would seem to belong to U. ferox priscus, as it is too slender for U. spelæus, and altogether too large for U. arctos. No teeth or other portions of the skeleton of Ursus have as yet been met with; still, as the present specimen is entire and unworn, it would seem that it could not have been carried very far.

10. Elephas primigenius.—The Mammoth is distinctly represented by portions of three upper molars and a fragment of a dorsal spine. But besides these there are several other fragments of bone which, from their thickness and texture, not improbably belong to this species.

1. The fragment of dorsal spine betokens an individual of large size. It is recently fractured at one end; but the other is much rounded by attrition. The specimen was found in the Mid-terrace Gravel at Acton Green.

2. A second specimen, also found at Acton Green, in the Mid-terrace Gravel, at a depth of 12 feet, in March 1870, is somewhat remarkable on account of its mineral condition, which is very different from that of the two other teeth to be described below. The present is a fragment, measuring 3⋅8 × 2⋅4, of a right lower m 1. It presents the worn surfaces of six plates and of half a plate at each end. Five entire plates occupy a length of 2"⋅5; consequently they are of unusual thickness for E. primigenius, although, from the form and thickness of the enamel ridges, there can be little or no doubt of the tooth belonging to that species. Under other circumstances, however, it might equally belong to E. indicus. The tooth is very heavy and dense and hard, the dentine quite black, and the osteine deeply mottled with manganous oxide.

3. Of the other two teeth, one is marked as having been found in the High-terrace Gravel at Acton, as recorded in Col. Lane Fox's paper; and although in colour and general condition it exactly resembles the tooth next to be noticed, which was obtained from the Mid-terrace Gravel at Turnham Green, there is nothing, from this circumstance alone, absolutely opposed to its having been derived from the High-terrace Gravel, which in general characters does not appear to differ very materially from the Mid-terrace deposit. Nevertheless it will perhaps be more prudent not to assume positively that there has been no confusion in the account given to Col. Lane Fox by the finders.

The specimen is a much-broken portion of an upper molar of the right side, about 5"⋅5 long, presenting the remains of twelve or thirteen plates, which are, so far as can be judged, unworn. They are also very easily separable, and incomplete at the base. And as numerous portions of detached plates, in all probability belonging to this tooth, occur in the collection, I conclude that the specimen represents the last upper molar in a state of germ or nearly so.

4. The third specimen is a nearly perfect upper molar, entirely in the germ-state. It is about 3″ long by 2″⋅2 wide, and exhibits eight plates, and apparently had at least one or two more at the anterior end. It would therefore appear to be an m.m 4, or m 1, although, if so, it is of rather unusual width.

Figs. 1 and 2. Two fourth metatarsals of Hippopotamus major.



Mr. Prestwich complimented Col. Lane Pox on the exactness and completeness of his description of the classical district which he had investigated, in which mammalian bones had been found and described by Mr.Trimmer so early as 1815. In that case Hippopotamus- remains, very fresh and unworn, had also been discovered. Prof. Morris had also described a deposit near Brentford in which numerous remains of Reindeer were present, showing how variable was the distribution of mammalian remains even in a limited area, and how unsafe it was to base theories upon merely negative evidence. It was to be hoped that other investigators would extend similar discoveries to other parts of the valley of the Thames.

Mr. Godwin-Austen did not think that the presence of the young Hippopotamus was absolutely conclusive of its having been born in this country. With regard to the presence of remains of Reindeer and Hippopotamus in the same beds, not only might there have been an overlapping of faunas such as has been pointed out by Sir Charles Lyell, but there might also be an intermingling of the included remains from two beds of different ages. He was not altogether satisfied with the evidence as to the coexistence of man with Elephas primigenius, nor as to the artificial character of some of the presumed implements. He did not attach any great importance to the merely fragmentary bones.

Mr. Evans maintained that the implements exhibited were of necessity artificial, and commented on the nature of the evidence as to the coexistence of man with the Pleistocene fauna. Under any circumstances the gravels containing the implements could only have been deposited at a time when the Thames valley had not been excavated to any thing like its present depth; and they were therefore of great antiquity. There was, moreover, a notable absence in them of a number of the animals usually found associated with Neolithic implements; and if man had not subsisted on the animals the remains of which were found associated with his handiworks in the gravels, it was a question on what food he had had to depend. The absence of implements in the low-level gravels seemed to him significant of a diminution in the number of the human beings who frequented the banks of the river.

Mr. Carruthers said that as the rhizome, whether it was that of Aspidium or Osmunda, was an aerial, and not a subterraneous rhizome, it must have been carried to its present position; and it consequently indicated, as Col. Lane Fox had pointed out, the direction of the stream.

Mr. Flower regarded Col. Lane Fox's memoir as of great interest, as affording an additional instance of that perfect similarity of these deposits, whether in France or England, which in places so wide apart might reasonably be taken to indicate a common origin. It was indeed generally assumed that these deposits were brought down by rivers; but this, according to his view, was by no means certain. Col. Lane Fox had described the valley as 41/2 miles wide; but there was at Croydon, 12 miles distant, a deposit of gravel capped with loess, containing elephant-remains, and exactly resembling the Thames-valley gravels, and communicating with them. This evidently formed part of the Thames-valley system, whatever that system might be taken to be; and if so, he thought it incredible that the loess should have been distributed by river-action over an area 12 or 15 miles in width. In conclusion, he was quite content to adhere to the opinion held by the French geologists, and formerly by several of our own most able writers, that the distribution of these superficial drifts was in the first instance diluvial rather than fluvial.

Col. A. Lane Fox, in reply, pointed out the artificial character of the implements, and the manner in which the mammalian remains occurred. He thought that some part of the brick-earth of the lower terraces might have been deposited at the bottom of a lake.

Mr. Busk, in proof of the animal-remains not having been brought from a distance, showed that remains of the same animal were found in close proximity to each other.

Prof. Ramsay made some remarks on the undoubtedly artificial character of the implements, and on their position at the base of the gravels. The origin of the Thames valley he had already maintained to be of Postmiocene age; and though there was at present no evidence of man's existence at that time, it was still possible. Of the extreme antiquity of the human race there could, however, be no doubt.

  1. As a curious instance of the way in which animal-remains may become mixed together, it may be mentioned that the nearly entire pelvis of an Emu was found, as it is stated, in "brick-earth at Acton, close to the south of the High-level terrace Gravel, at a depth of about 21/2 feet from the surface," the truth being that it was found in garden-mould at that depth.
  2. The frontal bones in a young hippopotamus born in the Zoological Gardens, and which died a few days after birth, measured in the same directions 1⋅9 and 2⋅3.
  3. In the skeleton of Hipp. amphibius in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, the articular surfaces between the third and fourth metatarsals is prolonged along the whole length of the hinder apophysis. But in other instances this condition was not found to exist, nor have I met with it in any case of fossil hippopotamus.