Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization/Chapter 11



The traditions current among mankind are partly historical and partly mythical. To the ethnologist they are of value in two very different ways, sometimes as preserving the memory of past events, sometimes as showing by their occurrence in different districts of the world that between the inhabitants of these districts there has been in some way a historical connexion. His great difficulty in dealing with them is to separate the fact and the fiction, which are both so valuable in their different ways: and this difficulty is aggravated by the circumstance that these two elements are often mixed up in a most complex manner, myths presenting themselves in the dress of historical narrative, and historical facts growing into the wildest myths.

Between the traditions of real events, which are History, and the pure myths, whose origin and development are being brought more and more clearly into view in our own times by the labours of Adalbert Kuhn and Max Müller, and their school, there lie a mass of stories which may be called "Myths of Observation." They are inferences from observed facts, which take the form of positive assertions, and they differ principally from the inductions of modern science in be ng much more generally crude and erroneous, and in taking to themselves names of persons, and more or less of purely subjective detail, which enables them to assume the appearance of real history. When a savage builds upon the discovery of great bones buried in the earth a story of a combat of the giants and monsters whose remains they are, he constructs a Myth of Observation which may shape itself into the form of a historical tradition, and be all the more puzzling for the portion of scientific truth which it really contains. The object of the present chapter is to collect a quantity of evidence, bearing on the problem how to separate Historical Traditions and Myths of Observation from pure Myths, and from one another.

Though it may not be possible to lay down any general canon of criticism by which the historical and mythical elements of tradition may be separated, it is to some extent possible to judge by internal evidence whether or not a particular legend or episode has a claim to be considered as history. It happens sometimes that a legend contains statements which are hardly likely to have come into the minds of the original narrators of the story, except by actual experience. The Chinese legend which tells us the name of the ancient sage who taught his people to make fire by the friction of wood cannot be taken as it stands for real history, seeing that so many nations ascribe this and other arts to mythic heroes, yet it embodies a recollection of a time when this was the ordinary way of producing fire. So, when the same people tell us that they once used knotted cords like the Peruvian quipus, as records of events, and that the art of writing superseded this ruder expedient, we are in no way called upon to receive the names and dates of the inventors to whom they ascribe these arts; but, at the same time, it is hard to imagine what could have put such an idea into their heads, unless there had been a foundation of fact for the story, in the actual use of quipus in the country before writing became general.

In the traditions which the Polynesians have preserved of their migrations in past times, it is likely that some historic truth may be preserved, and with their help, aided by a closer study of the languages and myths of the district, it may be some day possible for ethnologists to sketch out, at least roughly, the history of the race for ages before the European discovery. Much of the historical value of the South Sea traditions is due to their being commonly preserved in verses, kept alive by frequent repetition, and in which even small events are placed on record with an accuracy and permanence that yields only to written history. Thus a question that arose when Ellis was in Tahiti, about a certain buoy that was stolen from the 'Bounty' nearly thirty years before, was settled at once by a couple of lines from a native song,

"O mea eiá e Tareu eiá
Eiá te poito a Bligh."

"Such a one a thief, and Tareu a thief,
Stole the buoy of Bligh."[1]

Among the mass of Central American traditions which have become known through the labours of the Abbé Brasseur, there occur certain passages in the story of an early migration of the Quiché race, which have much the appearance of vague and broken stories derived in some way from high northern latitudes. The Quiche manuscript describes the ancestors of the race as travelling away from the rising of the sun, and goes on thus:—"But it is not clear how they crossed the sea, they passed as though there had been no sea, for they passed over scattered rocks, and these rocks were rolled on the sands. This is why they called the place 'ranged stones and torn up sands,' the name which they gave it on their passage within the sea, the water being divided when they passed." Then the people collected on a mountain called Chi Pixab, and there they fasted in darkness and night. Afterwards it is related that they removed, and waited for the dawn which was approaching, and the manuscript says:—"Now, behold, our ancients and our fathers were made lords and had their dawn; behold, we will relate also the rising of the dawn and the apparition of the sun, the moon, and the stars." Great was their joy when they saw the morning star, which came out first with its resplendent face before the sun. At last the sun itself began to come forth; the animals, small and great, were in joy; they rose from the watercourses and ravines, and stood on the mountain tops with their heads towards where the sun was coming. An innumerable crowd of people were there, and the dawn cast light on all these nations at once. "At last the face of the ground was dried by the sun: like a man the sun showed himself, and his presence warmed and dried the surface of the ground. Before the sun appeared, muddy and wet was the surface of the ground, and it was before the sun appeared, and then only the sun rose like a man. But his heat had no strength, and he did but show himself when he rose, he only remained like (an image in) a mirror, and it is not indeed the same sun that appears now, they say in the stories."[2]

Obscure as much of this is, there are things in it which agree very curiously with the phenomena of the Arctic regions. The cold and darkness, the sea not like a sea but like rocks rolled on the sand, the long waiting for the sun, and its appearance at last with little strength, and but just rising above the horizon, form a picture which corresponds with the nature of the high north, as much as it differs from that of the tropical regions where the tradition is found. We read of the people of Thule of old, after their 35-day night, climbing hills to look out for the returning sun, as in more modern times of Arctic voyagers going out to watch for the sun towards the close of the long dismal winter.[3] The judgment that it was not indeed the sun of Central America that appeared so strangely, may be placed by the side of a remark made by a savage in another country. Sir George Grey, travelling in Australia, was once telling stories of distant countries to a party of natives round the camp fire; "I now spoke to them of still more northern latitudes; and went so far as to describe those countries in which the sun never sets at a certain period of the year. Their astonishment now knew no bounds: 'Ah! that must be another sun, not the same as the one we see here,' said an old man; and in spite of all my arguments to the contrary, the others adopted this opinion."[4]

The legend of the introduction of rice in Borneo relates how a Dayak climbed up a tree which grew downward from the sky, and so got up to the Pleiades, and there he found a personage who took him to his house and gave him boiled rice to eat. He had never seen rice before, and the story says that when he saw the grains, he thought they were maggots.[5] Now there is a tradition of recent date, among the Keethratlah Indians of British Columbia, which tells in the most graphic way the story of the first appearance of the white men among them; how an Indian canoe was out catching halibut, when the noise of a huge sea-monster was heard, plunging along through the thick mist; the Indians drew up their lines and paddled to shore, when the monster proved to be a boat full of strange-looking men. "The strangers landed, and beckoned the Indians to come to them and bring them some fish. One of them had over his shoulder what was supposed to be a stick; presently he pointed it to a bird that was flying past—a violent poo went forth—down came the bird to the ground. The Indians died! As they revived, they questioned each other as to their state, whether any were dead, and what each had felt. The whites then made signs for a fire to be lighted; the Indians proceeded at once, according to their usual tedious practice, of rubbing two sticks together. The strangers laughed, and one of them, snatching up a handful of dry grass, struck a spark into a little powder placed under it. Instantly another poo!—and a blaze. The Indians died! After this the new-comers wanted some fish boiled: the Indians, therefore, put the fish and water into one of their square wooden buckets, and set some stones on the fire; intending, when they were hot, to cast them into the vessel, and thus boil the food. The whites were not satisfied with this way: one of them fetched a tin kettle out of the boat, put the fish and some water into it, and then, strange to say, set it on the fire. The Indians looked on with astonishment. However, the kettle did not consume; the water did not run into the fire. Then, again, the Indians died! When the fish was eaten, the strangers put a kettle of rice on the fire; the Indians looked at each other, and whispered Akshahn, akshahn! or 'Maggots, maggots!'"[6]

Again, the Australians have had the same idea of what rice was, for in the Moorunde dialect it is called "yeelilee," or "maggots,"[7] a name which, of course, dates from the recent time when foreigners brought it to the country. When, therefore, we are told in the Borneo tale that the first Dayak who saw grains of rice took them for maggots, we are, I think, justified in believing this notion to be in Borneo, as elsewhere, a real reminiscence of the introduction of rice into the country, though this piece of actual history comes to us woven into the texture of an ancient myth. There is reason to suppose that rice was introduced into the Malay islands from Asia; in Marsden's time it had not been adopted even in Engano and Batu, which are islands close to Sumatra.[8]

When a tradition is once firmly planted among the legendary lore of a tribe, there seems scarcely any limit to the time through which it may be kept up by continual repetition from one generation to the next; unless such an event as the coming of a stronger and more highly cultivated race entirely upsets the old state of society, and destroys the old landmarks. The traditions of the Polynesians, for instance, seem often to be of great age, for they occur among the natives of distant islands whose languages have had time to diverge widely from a common origin; but even the most long-lived stories are fast disappearing, under European influence, from the memory of the people. The historical value of a tradition does not of necessity vary inversely with its age, and indeed this rule-of-three test goes for very little, for some very old stories are, beyond a doubt, of greater historical value than other very new ones current in the same tribe.

There is even a certain amount of evidence which tends to prove that the memory of the huge animals of the quaternary period has been preserved up to modern times in popular tradition. It is but quite lately that the fact of man having lived on the earth at the same time with the mammoth has become a generally received opinion, though its probability has been seen by a few far-sighted thinkers for many years past, and it had been suggested long before the late discoveries in the Drift-beds, that several traditions, found in different parts of the world, were derived from actual memory of the remote time when various great animals, generally thought to have died out before the appearance of man upon the earth, were still alive. The subject, is hardly in a state to express a decided opinion upon, but the evidence is worthy of the most careful attention.

Father Charlevoix, whose 'History of New France' was published in 1744, records a North American legend of a great elk. "There is current also among these barbarians a pleasant enough tradition of a great Elk, beside whom others seem like ants. He has, they say, legs so high that eight feet of snow do not embarrass him: his skin is proof against all sorts of weapons, and he has a sort of arm which comes out of his shoulder, and which he uses as we do ours."[9] It is hard to imagine that any- thing but the actual sight of a live elephant can have given rise to this tradition. The suggestion that it might have been founded on the sight of a mammoth frozen with his flesh and skin, as they are found in Siberia, is not tenable, for the trunks and tails of these animals perish first, and are not preserved like the more solid parts, so that the Asiatic myths which have grown out of the finding of these frozen beasts, know nothing of such appendages. Moreover, no savage who had never heard of the use of an elephant's trunk would imagine from a sight of the dead animal, even if its trunk were perfect, that its use was to be compared with that of a man's arm.

The notion that the Indian story of the Great Elk was a real reminiscence of a living proboscidian, is strengthened by a remarkable drawing, Fig. 30, from one of the Mexican picture-writings. It represents a masked priest sacrificing a human victim, and Humboldt copies it in the 'Vues des Cordillères' with the following remarks:—I should not have had this hideous scene engraved, were it not that the disguise of the sacrificing priest presents some remarkable and apparently not accidental resemblance with the Hindoo Ganesa [the elephant-headed god of wisdom]. The Mexicans used masks imitating the shape of the heads of the serpent, the crocodile, or the jaguar. One seems to recognize in the sacrificer's mask the trunk of an elephant or some pachyderm resembling it in the shape of the head, but with an upper jaw furnished with incisive teeth. The snout of the tapir no doubt protrudes a little more than that of our pigs, but it is a long way from the tapir's snout to the trunk figured in the 'Codex Borgianus.' Had the peoples of Aztlan derived from Asia some vague notions of the elephant, or, as seems to me much less probable, did their traditions reach back to the time when America was still inhabited by these gigantic animals, whose petrified skeletons are found buried in the marly ground on the very ridge of the Mexican Cordilleras?"[10] It may be worth while to notice in connexion with Humboldt's remarks, that when Mr. Bates showed a picture of an elephant to some South American Indians, they settled it that the creature must be a large kind of tapir.[11]

Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization, 0323.png

Fig. 30.

Attempts have been made by other writers to connect the memory of animals now extinct, with mythological tales current in the regions to which they belong. Dr. Falconer is disposed to connect the huge elephant-fighting and world-bearing tortoises of the Hindoo mythology with a recollection of the time when his monstrous Himalayan tortoise, the Colossochelys Atlas, the restoration of which forms so striking an object in the British Museum, was still alive.[12] The savage tribes of Brazil have traditions about a being whom they call the Curupíra. Sometimes he is described as a kind of orang-utan, being covered with long, shaggy hair, and living in trees. At others he is said to have cloven feet, and a bright red face. He has a wife and children, and sometimes comes down to the roças to steal the mandioca." Similar to, or the same as this being, is the Caypór, whom the Indians, in their masquerades, represent us a bulky, misshapen monster, with red skin and long shaggy red hair, hanging hallway down his back.[13] With reference to these Brazilian stories, Mr. Carter Blake remarks—"In Brazil the Indians had a tradition of a gigantic anthropoid ape, the cayporé, which represented the African gorilla. No such ape exists in the present day; but in the post-pliocene in Brazil, remains have been preserved of an extinct ape (Protopithecus antiquus) four feet high, which might possibly have lived down to the human period, and formed the subject of the tradition."[14] Lastly, Colonel Hamilton Smith has collected a quantity of evidence, thought by him to bear on the preservation of the memory of extinct creatures, adding to Father Charlevoix's great Elk, and the Père aux Bœufs from Buffon, a North American "Naked Bear," and an East Indian "Elephant-Horse," etc., and endeavouring to identify them in nature.[15]

To proceed now from the traditions which have, or may set up some sort of claim to have, a historical foundation, to the Myths of Observation, which are so often liable to be confounded with them: it is to be noticed that if the inference from facts, which forms the basis of such a myth, should happen to be a correct one, and if the story should also happen to have fairly dropped out of sight the evidence out of which it grew, its separation from a real tradition of events may be hardly possible. Fortunately for the Ethnologist, it is very common for such stories to betray their unhistoric origin in one or both of these ways, either by recording things which seemed indeed probable when the myths arose, but which modern knowledge repudiates, or by having embodied with them the facts which have been appealed to for ages as confirmation of their truth, but which we are now in a position to recognize at once as the very basis on which their mythical structure was raised.

A good example of a Myth of Observation is a story current in Egypt in Strabo's time, but which he, having indeed a considerable knowledge of geology, declines to believe. "But one of the wondrous things," he says, " which we saw about the pyramids, must not be passed over. There He in front of the pyramids certain heaps of the masons' rubbish, and among these there are found pieces in shape and size like lentils, and in some, as it were, half-peeled grains. They say, the leavings of the workmen's food have been turned into stone, but this is not likely, for at home among us there is a longish ridge of hill in a plain, and this is full of lentil-like stones of tufa, etc."[16]

To men whose country has the open sea to its west it seems that the sun plunges at night into its waters. Now the sun is evidently a mass of matter at a distance, and very hot, and when red-hot bodies come in contact with water there follows a hissing noise; and thus the inference is easy and straightforward, that when the sun dips into the waves such a sound ought to be heard. From the inference that the hissing might be heard, to the assertion that it has actually been heard, is the easy step by which the crude argument of early science passes into the full- grown Myth of Observation. In two distant countries where the world seems to end westward in the boundless ocean, the story is to be found. The Sacred Promontory, that is Cape St. Vincent, Strabo says, is the westernmost point, not of Europe alone, but of the whole habitable earth, and there Posidonius tells how the vulgar say the sun goes down larger on the ocean-coast, and with a noise almost as it were the sea hissing as the sun plunges into its depths and is quenched; but this is false, as well as that the night follows instantly upon its setting. So in the Pacific, in some of the Society Islands, the name for sunset means the falling of the sun into the sea, and the sun itself is thought to be a substance resembling fire. Mr. Ellis asked them how they knew it fell into the sea, and they said they had not seen it, but some people of Borabora or Maupiti, the most western islands, had once heard the hissing occasioned by its plunging into the ocean.[17]

From the incredulous geographer who records the stories of the fossil lentils and the hissing sun, yet another Myth of Observation may be taken, which shows well the easy transition from "it may have been," to "it was," which lies at their root. Mr. Catlin, in one of his journeys, says that he came to a place where he saw rocks "looking as if they had actually dropped from the clouds in such a confused mass, and all lay where they had fallen." So in old times, a round plain between Marseilles and the mouths of the Rhone was called the "stony" plain, from its being covered with stones as big as a man's fist. You would think, says Pomponius Mela, that the stones had rained there, so many are they, and so far and wide do they lie.[18] Now Æschylus, says Strabo, having perceived the difficulty of accounting for these stones, or having heard about it from some one else, has wrested the whole matter into a myth. In some lines of his, preserved to us by Strabo's quotation of them, Prometheus, explaining to Hercules his way from the Caucasus to the Hesperides, tells him how when his missiles fail him in his fight with the Ligurians, and the soft earth will not even afford him a stone, Jove, pitying his defenceless state, will rain down a shower of round pebbles over the ground, hurling which he will easily rout his foes.[19]

Fossil remains have for ages been objects of curious speculation to mankind. In the most distant regions where huge bones have been found, they have been explained, truly enough, as being the bones of monstrous beasts, and as plausibly, though, as later investigations have shown within the last century, not so correctly, as bones of giants. Given the belief that the earth was formerly inhabited by monsters and giants, the myth-making power of the human mind gave "a local habitation and a name" wherever it was required, and the battles of these monsters with each other, and with man, were worked into the general mass of popular tradition, with gradually increasing fulness and accuracy of detail. The Asiatic sagas which have grown out of the finding of the frozen mammoths, and the fossil remains of these and other great extinct animals, are excellent cases in point. Many of them have been collected and criticized in an admirable paper published more than twenty years ago by Von Olfers, of Berlin.[20]

The Siberians are constantly finding bones and teeth of mammoths imbedded in the faces of cliffs or river banks at some depth below the surface. Often a mass of earth or gravel falls away from such a cliff, and exposes such remains. How could they have got there? A plausible explanation suggested itself, that the creature was a huge burrowing animal, and lived underground. Not only the skeleton, but the body in tolerable preservation with flesh and skin being found in a frozen state in high Northern latitudes, the notion grew up that it was a monstrous kind of burrowing rat, and it is described in Chinese books under such names as fen-shu, or "digging rat," yen-men, or "burrowing ox," shu-mu, "mother of mice," and so on. A difficulty which suggested itself to the native Siberian geologists was met in a characteristic manner. It was strange that whenever they came upon a mammoth imbedded in a cliff, it was always dead. It must be a creature unable to bear the air or the light, and when in the course of its subterranean wanderings it breaks through to the outer air it dies immediately. With so much knowledge of the natural history of the creature to start from, other details grow round it in the usual way. Yakuts and Tunguz have seen the earth heave and sink, as a mammoth walked beneath. It frequents marshes, and travels underground, never appearing above the surface of the earth or water during the day, but has been seen at dawn in lakes and rivers, just as it dived below. The account of it given in the Chinese Encyclopædia of Kang-hi is as follows:—

"Fen-shu.—The cold is extreme and almost continual on the coast of the Northern Sea, beyond the Tai-tong-Kiang; on this coast is found the animal Fen-shu, which resembles a rat in shape, but is as big as an elephant; it dwells in dark caverns, and ever shuns the light. There is got from it an ivory as white as that of the elephant, but easier to work, and not liable to split. Its flesh is very cold, and excellent for refreshing the blood. The ancient book Shin-y-King speaks of this animal in the following terms:—There is in the extreme north, among the snows and ice which cover this region, a shu (rat), which weighs up to a thousand pounds, its flesh is very good for those who are heated. The Tse-shu calls it fen-shu, and speaks of another kind which is of less size; it is only, says this authority, as large as a buffalo, it burrows like the moles, shuns the light, and almost always stays in its underground caves. It is said that it would die if it saw the light of the sun, or even of the moon."[21]

The story of the mammoth being a burrowing animal, which has arisen from the finding its remains exposed in cliffs or banks deep below the surface, becomes the more valuable as evidence of the growth of myths, from the fact that on the other side of the world a like story has developed itself from a like origin. When Darwin visited certain cliffs of the river Parana, between Buenos Ayres and Santa Fe, where many bones of Mastodons are found, he says, "The men who took me in the canoe, said they had long known of these skeletons, and had often wondered how they had got there: the necessity of a theory being felt, they came to the conclusion that, like the bizcacha, the mastodon was formerly a burrowing animal."[22] The bizcacha is a small rabbit-like rodent, common on the Pampas.

Other fossil remains beside those of the mammoth have given rise to myths of observation in Siberia. The curved tusks of the Rhinoceros tichorhinus are something like the claws of a monstrous bird, and when both tusks are found united by part of the skull, the whole might very well be taken by a man totally ignorant of anatomy, for the bird's foot with two claws. The Siberians not only believe the horns of the rhinoceros to be the claws of an enormous bird, and call them "birds' claws" accordingly, but a family of myths has developed itself out of this belief, how these winged monsters lived in the country in the time of the ancestors of the present inhabitants, who fought with them for the possession of the land. One story tells how the country was wasted by one of them, till a wise man fixed a pointed iron spear on the top of a pine tree, and the bird alighted there, and skewered itself upon the lance.

Adolf Erman connects with much plausibility the well-known rukh of the Arabian Nights, and the griffin (γρύψ) of Herodotus, with the tales of monstrous birds current in the gold-producing regions of Siberia; and he even suggests the remark that gold-bearing sand really underlies the beds which contain these fossil "birds' claws" as an explanation of the passage, "it is said that the Arimaspi, one-eyed men, seize (the gold) from underneath the griffins" (λέγεται δὲ ὑπὲκ τῶν γρυπῶν ἁρπάζειν Αριμασποὺς ἄνδρας μουνοφθάλμους).[23] At about the same time as Herodotus, Ctesias brings out more fully the familiar figure of the griffin. "There is also gold," he says, "in the Indian country, not found in the streams and washed, as in the river Pactolus; but there are many and great mountains, wherein dwell the griffins, four-footed birds of the greatness of the wolf, but with legs and claws like lions. The feathers on the rest of their bodies are black, but red on the breast. Through them it is that the gold in the mountains, though plentiful, is most difficult to get."[24] That the Siberian myths of monstrous birds have passed into the mediæval notions of the griffins admits of no question whatever. Albertus Magnus describes them as quadrupeds, with birds' beaks and wings; they dwell in Scythia, and possess the gold, and silver, and precious stones. The Arimaspi fight with them. In its nest the griffin lays the agate for its help and medicine. It is hostile to men and horses: it has long claws, which are made into goblets; they are as big as ox-horns, as indeed the creature itself is bigger than eight lions; of its feathers are made strong bows, arrows, and lances.[25] With regard to this description, it is to be observed that the horns, cut in slices, are really used for plating bows;[26] but the bird's quills, as they are still considered to be in the country where they are found, are the leg-bones of other animals.[27] The rhinoceros horns, supposed to be griffins' claws, were mounted in gold and silver in Europe in the middle ages, and preserved as relics in churches. There is or was one in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, mounted on little gilt claws, which sufficiently show what it was thought to be.

The Chinese idea that the mammoth was a huge rat, and the very name of "Mother of Mice " given to it, fit curiously with a set of North American stories, which may have a like origin in the finding of fossil remains of enormous size. The name of the "Père aux Bœufs," probably the translation of a native Indian name, was given to an extinct animal whose huge bones were found on the banks of the Ohio.[28] The Indians of New France, Father Paul le Jeune relates in 1635, "say besides, that all the animals of each species have an elder brother, who is as the beginning and origin of all the race, and this elder brother is marvellously great and powerful. The elder brother of the beavers, they told me, is perhaps as big as our hut."[29] There are current among the Iroquois, says Morgan, fables of a buffalo of such huge dimensions as to thresh down the forest in his march.[30] And lastly, in one of the North American tales of the Sun-catcher, we find a creature to which the name of "Mother of Mice" may well belong. When the sun was to be set free from the snare, the animals debated who should go up and sever the cord, and the dormouse went, "for at this time the dormouse was the largest animal in the world; when it stood up it looked like a mountain." The whole story, which goes on to tell how it came to pass that the dormice are but small creatures now, is given here in the next chapter.

The native tribes of the lower end of South America explained the reason why they, unlike the Spaniards, had no herds of cattle in their country, by an interesting story, which has the air of a myth of observation founded upon the examination of caves containing fossil bones. They had a multiplicity of inferior deities below the two great powers of Good and Evil, who, there as elsewhere on the American continent, are above all. Each of the lower deities presides over one particular caste or family of Indians, of which he is supposed to have been the creator. "Some make themselves of the caste of the tiger, some of the lion, some of the guanaco, and others of the ostrich, etc. They imagine that these deities have each their separate habitations, in vast caverns under the earth, beneath some lake, hill, etc.; and that when an Indian dies, his soul goes to live with the deity who presides over his particular family, there to enjoy the happiness of being eternally drunk. They believe that their good deities made the world, and that they first created the Indians in their caves, gave them the lance, the bow and arrows, and the stone-bowls to fight and hunt with, and then turned them out to shift for themselves. They imagine that the deities of the Spaniards did the same by them; but that instead of lances, bows, etc., they gave them guns and swords. They suppose that when the beasts, birds, and lesser animals were created, those of the more nimble kind came immediately out of their caves; but that the bulls and cows being the last, the Indians were so frightened at the sight of their horns, that they stopped up the entrance of their caves with great stones. This is the reason they give why they had no black cattle in their country till the Spaniards brought them over, who more wisely had let them out of the caves."[31]

The possibility that the Brazilian belief in the caypor, or wild ape-like being of the woods, may be derived from a recollection of a great extinct ape, has been already mentioned, but there is a circumstance which rather favours the idea of its being a myth, founded on the examination of fossil bones. Like the mammoth and the mastodon, and the creators of the beasts and birds, he is thought to live underground. "They believe he has subterranean campos and hunting grounds in the forest, well stocked with pacas and deer."[32] It is possible, too, that the notion of subterranean animals, who die if they see the daylight, like the mammoths of Siberia, may be traced in various stories. Thus, the Fijians tell a tale of two rocks, male and female Lado, which are two deities who were turned by the sight of daylight into stone;[33] and in the West Indies there were men who dwelt in Cimmerian darkness in their caves, and coming out were turned into stones and trees by the sight of the sun.[34]

Tales of giants and monsters, which stand in direct connexion with the finding of great fossil bones, are scattered broadcast over the mythology of the world. Huge bones, found at Punto Santa Elena, in the north of Guayaquil, have served as a foundation for the story of a colony of giants who dwelt there.[35] The whole area of the Pampas is a great sepulchre of enormous extinct animals; no wonder that one great plain should be called the "Field of the giants," and that such names as "the hill of the giant," "the stream of the animal," should be guides to the geologist in his search for fossil bones.[36]

In North America it is the same. The fossil bones of Mexico are referred to the giants who dwelt in the land in early times, and were found living in the plains of Tlascala by the Olmecs, who came there before the Toltecs. At the time of the conquest, Bernal Diaz was told of their huge stature and their crimes; and, to show him how big they were, the people brought him a bone of one of them, which he measured himself against, and it was as tall as he, who was a man of reasonable stature. He and his companions were astonished to see those bones, and held it for certain that there had been giants in that land.[37] The Indians of North America tell how their mythic hero, Manabozho, "killed the ancient monsters whose bones we now see under the earth." They use pieces of the bones of these monsters as charms, and most likely the pieces of bone drawn in their pictures as instruments of magic power are such. They tell of giants who could stride over the largest rivers, and the tallest pine-trees. The Winnebagos say their monstrous medicine animal still exists, and they have pieces of the bones which belong to them, which they use as charms. The Dacotas use such bones for "medicine," and say they belong to the great horned water-beast, the Unk-a- ta-he. Hiawatha helped the Indians to subdue the great monsters that overran the country. The "Tom Thumb" of the Chippewas killed the giants and hacked them into little pieces, saying, "Henceforth let no man be larger than you are now," and so men became of their present size.[38] There are plenty more such stories. One mentioned by Dr. Wilson has the interesting feature that monsters and giants both perished by the thunderbolts of the Great Spirit, and in another all the monsters were thus slain except the Big Bull, who went off to the Great Lakes.[39] It must be borne in mind, however, that in speculating on the origin of tales such as these, possible recollections of contests of men with huge animals now extinct must be taken into consideration, as well as inferences from the finding of large bones, and sometimes even both causes may have worked together.

In the Old World, myths both old and new connected with huge bones, fossil or recent, are common enough.[40] Marcus Scaurus brought to Rome, from Joppa, the bones of the monster who was to have devoured Andromeda, while the vestiges of the chains which bound her were to be seen there on the rock;[41] and the sepulchre of Antæus, containing his skeleton, 60 cubits long, was found in Mauritania.[42]

Don Quixote was beforehand with Dr. Falconer in reasoning on the huge fossil bones so common in Sicily as remains of ancient inhabitants, as appears from his answer to the barber's question, how big he thought the giant Morgante might have be-on? "... Moreover, in the island of Sicily there have been found long-bones and shoulder-bones so huge, that their size manifests their owners to have been giants, and as big as great towers, for this truth geometry sets beyond doubt." Again, the fossil bones so plentifully strewed over the Sewalik, or lowest ranges of the Himalayas, belonged to the slain Rakis,[43] the gigantic Rakshasas of the Indian mythology. The remains of the Dun Cow that Guy Earl of Warwick slew are or were to be seen in England, in the shape of a whale's rib in the church of St. Mary Redcliffe, and some great fossil bone kept, I believe, in Warwick Castle. "The giant sixteen feet high, whose bones were found in 1577 near Reyden under an uprooted oak, and examined and celebrated in song by Felix Plater, the renowned physician of Basle, has been long ago banished by later naturalists into a very distant department of zoology; but the giant has from that time forth got a firm standing ground beside the arms of Lucerne, and will keep it, all critics to the contrary notwithstanding."[44]

It would be tedious to enumerate more instances in which traditions of giants and huge beasts have been formed both in ancient and modern times from the finding of great fossil bones. But the remarks of St. Augustine on a great fossil tooth he saw are worthy of attention, as throwing some light on the connexion of such bones with the belief that man was once both enormously larger and longer-lived than he is now, and that his stature has diminished in the course of ages to its present dimensions; as it is held by the Moslems that Adam was sixty feet high, of the measure of a tall palm-tree, and that the true believers will be restored in Paradise to this original stature of the human race, and that the houris who will attend them will be of proportionate dimensions. It seems as if Linnæus may have held such an opinion, at least his editor gives the following as his reading of a passage in the notes of his northern tour, where unfortunately the original is obscure. "I have a notion that Adam and Eve were giants, and that mankind, from one generation to another, owing to poverty and other causes, have diminished in size. Hence perhaps the diminutive stature of the Laplander."[45]

St. Augustine's observations are contained in his chapter "Concerning the long life of men before the flood, and the greater size of their bodies." He makes these remarks, he says, in case any infidel should raise a doubt about men having lived to so great an age. "So some indeed do not believe that men's bodies were formerly much greater than now." Virgil, he continues, expresses the huge size of the men of former times, how much more then in the younger periods of the world, before the celebrated deluge. "But concerning the magnitude of their bodies, the graves laid bare by age or the force of rivers and various accidents especially convict the incredulous, where they have come to light, or where bones of the dead of incredible magnitude have fallen. I have seen, and not I alone, on the shore by Utica, so huge a molar tooth of a man, that were it cut up into small models of teeth like ours, it would seem enough to make a hundred of them. But this I should think had belonged to some giant; for beside that the bodies of all men were then much larger than ours, the giants again far exceeded the rest."[46]

Among the traditions preserved from remote ages by the human race, there are perhaps none more important to the ethnologist than those which relate, in every great district of the world, and with so much unity combined with so much variety, the occurrence of a great Deluge in long past time. In studying these Diluvial Traditions it is of the highest consequence that he should be able to separate the results of the memory of real events from those of observation of natural phenomena and of purely mythological development. Humboldt in part states the problem in his remarks on the four devastations of the earth, by famine, fire, hurricane, and deluge, as represented in the Mexican picture-writing. "Whatever may be their true origin, it does not appear less certain that they are fictions of astronomical mythology, modified either by a dim remembrance of some great revolution which our planet has undergone, or in accordance with the physical and geological hypotheses to which the appearance of marine petrifactions and fossil bones gives rise, even among peoples at the greatest distance from civilization."[47]

That the observation of shells and corals in places above the level of the sea, and even on high mountains, should have given rise to legends of great floods which deposited them there, is natural enough, and quite consistent with the growth of myths of monsters and giants from the observation of fossil bones. Marine productions being found at heights of many hundred feet above the sea, the question would evidently occur to the men who speculated so ingeniously about the fossil bones, how did these productions of the sea get upon the mountains? As to fossil crustaceans, the Arabian geographer Abu-Zeyd ex- plains their appearance in Ceylon by setting them down as sea- animals like craw-fish, which, when they come out of the sea, are converted into stone,[48] but the appearance of sea-shells on mountains could hardly be so accounted for. Two alternatives suggest themselves to explain the occurrence of shells in such situations; either the sea may have been up to the mountain, or the mountain may have been down in the sea. Modern geologists have in most cases to adopt the latter alternative, but till recent times the former was oftener than not held to be the more probable. Water is the type of all that is movable, fluctuating, unstable, while the firm earth is immovable, permanent, solid, and it is not to the purpose to argue that modern knowledge has reversed this older view, with so many other doctrines which seemed to rest on the plain evidence of the senses, and which only failed, as many of our own theories have no doubt to fail, from the narrowness of their range of observation.

The fossils embedded in high ground have been appealed to, both in ancient and modern times, both by savages and civilized men, as evidence in support of their traditions of a flood, and moreover the argument, apparently unconnected with any tradition, is to be found, that because there are marine fossils in places away from the sea, therefore the sea must once have been there. In the Society Islands, tradition tells how a flood that rose over the tops of the mountains, was raised by the sea-god Ruahatu. A fisherman caught his hooks in the hair of the god as he lay sleeping among his coral groves, and woke him, but strange to say, though in his anger he drowned the rest of the inhabitants of the land in the deluge, he allowed the fisherman himself to find safe refuge with his wife and child on a small, low, coral island close to Raiatea, and they repeopled the earth. How the little island was preserved they give no account, but they appeal to the farero, coral, and shells found at the tops of the highest mountains, as proof of the inundation.[49] In Samoa it is the universal belief that of old the fish swam where the land now is, and tradition adds that when the waters abated, many of the fish of the sea were left on the land, and afterwards were changed into stones. Hence, they say, there are stones in abundance in the bush and among the mountains, which were once sharks, and other inhabitants of the deep.[50] In the North the Moravian missionary Cranz records that, "The first missionaries found among the Greenlanders a tolerably distinct tradition of the Deluge, of which almost all heathen nations still know something, namely, that the world was once tilted over (umgekantert) and all men were drowned, but some became fire-spirits. The only man who remained alive, smote afterwards with his stick upon the ground, and there came out a woman, with whom he peopled the earth again. They tell moreover that far up in the country, where men could never have dwelt, there are found all sorts of remains of fishes, and even bones of whales on a high mountain; wherefrom they make it clear that the earth was once flooded."[51] It is interesting to compare this argument with the explanation the Kamchadals give of the bones of whales, which in their country also are found on high mountains. They fear all high mountains, says Steller, especially volcanos, and also hot springs, and believe that some mountains are the abodes of spirits. "When one asks them what the devils do up there, they reply 'they cook whales.' I asked, where they got them? The answer was, they go down to the sea at night and catch so many, that one brings home five to ten of them, one hanging to each finger. When I asked, how do you know this? They said their old people had always said so and believed it themselves. Withal they appealed to the observation, that there were many bones of whales found on all burning mountains. I asked whence come the flames there sometimes, and they answered, when the spirits have heated up their mountains as we do our yurts, they fling the rest of the brands out up the chimney, so as to be able to shut up. They said moreover, God in heaven sometimes does so too at the time when it is our summer and his winter, and he warms up his yurt; whereby they explain the veneration of the lightning."[52]

In the geological theories of classical times, the inference from fossil shells found inland, high or low above the sea level, was commonly that the sea had once been there. Herodotus argues from the shells on the mountains in Egypt,[53] and Xanthus from the fossil shells, like cockles and scallops, which he had seen far from the sea, that there had been sea in old times where the land had since been left dry. Eratosthenes notices the existence of quantities of oyster-shells and bits of wreck of sea- going ships near the temple of Ammon, far inland in Lybia, while Strabo expresses the opinion that this temple was once close to the sea, though since thrown inland by the retiring of the waters.[54] Describing the region of Numidia farther west, Pomponius Mela relates that, "Inland and far enough from the coast (if the thing be credible) they tell that in a wondrous way the spines of fish, and fragments of murex and oyster-shells, stones worn in the ordinary manner by the waves and not differing from those of the sea, anchors fixed in the rocks, and other similar signs and vestiges of the sea that once spread to those places, exist and are found on the barren plains."[55] So Ovid says in his remarkable statement of the Pythagorean doctrines,—

"Et procul a pelago conchae jacuere marinas
Et vetus inventa est in montibus anchora summis,"

and argues thence that sea has been converted into land.[56]

In the Chinese Encyclopædia from which I have already quoted two remarkable passages, an account is to be found bearing on the present subject. "Eastern Tartary.—In travelling from the shore of the Eastern Sea toward Che-lu, neither brooks nor ponds are met with in the country, although it is intersected by mountains and valleys. Nevertheless there are found in the sand very far away from the sea, oyster-shells and the shields of crabs. The tradition of the Mongols who inhabit the country is, that it has been said from time immemorial that in remote antiquity the waters of the deluge flooded the district, and when they retired, the places where they had been made their appearance covered with sand. . . . However it may have happened, to follow the great geographer Ti-chi, a part of this country is in great plains, where several hundred leagues are found to have been covered by the waters and since abandoned; this is why these deserts are called the Sandy Sea, which indicates that they were not originally covered with sand and gravel."[57]

Again, the presence of fossil shells on high mountains has long been adduced as evidence of the Noachic flood. Thus Tertullian connects the sea-shells on mountains with the reappearance of the earth from below the waters,[58] and the argument may be followed up through later times, and was current in England till quite recently. In the ninth edition of Home's 'Introduction to the Scriptures,' published in 1846, the evidence of fossils is confidently held to prove the universality of the Deluge; but the argument disappears from the next edition, published ten years later.

To the statements of classical writers as to anchors and pieces of wreck being found inland, some more modern accounts must be added. From time to time, whether from upheaval of the earth's surface or other geological changes, ships and things belonging to them have been found far inland, in places for ages out of reach of navigable waters. Buffon speaks of fragments of vessels being found in a mountain lake in Portugal, far from the sea, and mentions a statement of Sabinus, in his commentary on the lines just quoted from Ovid, that in the year 1460 a vessel was found with its anchors, in a mine in the Alps.[59] This is, no doubt, the same story that Antonio Galvano refers to, when he says, "Thus they tell of finding hulls of ships and iron anchors in the mountains of Switzerland very far inland, where it appears that there was never sea nor salt water."[60]

The bearing of such phenomena on the formation of diluvial traditions is clearly shown by their having been repeatedly claimed, like the fossil shells, as evidence of the former presence of the sea, and even of the Biblical deluge. It is not, however, necessary, from this point of view, that the accounts in question should all be true; it is enough that they should be believed and reasoned upon. In the seventeenth century, Fray Pedro Simon relates that some miners, running an adit into a hill near Callao, "met with a ship which had on top of it the great mass of the hill, and did not agree in its make and appearance with our ships," whence people judged that it had been left there by the Flood, and the fact is cited in proof of the habitation of the country in antediluvian times.[61] Writing in 1730, Strahlenberg gives it as his opinion that the mammoth bones in Siberia are relics of the Deluge, and goes on to add a like example, that some thirty years earlier the whole lower hull of a ship with a keel was found in Barabinsk Tartary, where nevertheless there is no ocean.[62] Lastly, in Scotland it is quite a common thing for ancient canoes hollowed from a single tree to be found buried in places remote from navigable channels, while the skeletons of whales are found in similar situations. Sir John Clerk thus remarks upon a canoe found near Edinburgh in 1726. "The washings of the river Carron discovered a boat, 13 or 14 feet underground; it is 36 feet in length, and 41/2 in breadth, all of one piece of oak. There were several strata above it, such as loam, clay, shells, moss, sand, and gravel; these strata demonstrate it to have been an antediluvian boat."[63]

Both in Scotland and in South America, upheaval of land in more or less modern times is a recognized fact, and the finding of boats, as of various other productions of human art, in places where they could hardly have been placed by man, is readily accounted for between this upheaval and the effects of ordinary accumulation and degradation.

Geological evidence bearing on traditions of a Deluge is scarce. Sir Charles Lyell seems disposed to adopt the view of old writers that some of the South American deluge traditions are connected with the memory of local floods, such as are known to happen there. Dr. Szabó says that the Hungarians still preserve traditions of their plains having been once covered by a freshwater sea, the waters of which afterwards escaped through the narrows of the Iron Gate. The draining of the country in this manner is considered by Dr. Szabó as having really happened, so that this may be a case of tradition handing down the memory of a geological change from a very remote period.[64] It would require a large body of scientific evidence of this character to make possible a thorough investigation of the Diluvial traditions of the world, and any attempt to draw a distinct line between the claims of History and Mythology must in the meantime be premature.

It fortunately happens that the difficulty in analysing the Diluvial traditions into their historical and mythological elements is one which only partially affects their use to Ethnology. Were they merely stories current in various parts of the world, saying little more than that there was once a great flood, or giving details only harmonizing within limited districts, they might be explained as independent Myths of Observation. But the general state of things found over the world is widely different from this. The notion of men having existed before this flood, and having been all destroyed except a few who escaped and re-peopled the earth, does not flow so immediately from the observation of natural phenomena that we can easily suppose it to have originated several times independently in such a way, yet this is a feature common to a great number of flood traditions. Still more strongly does this argument apply to the occurrence of some form of raft, ark, or canoe, in which the survivors are usually saved, unless, as in some cases, they take refuge directly on the top of some mountain which the waters never cover. The idea is indeed conceivable, if somewhat far-fetched, that from the sight of a boat found high on a mountain there might grow a story of the flood which carried it there, while the people in it escaped to found a new race. But it lies outside all reasonable probability to suppose such circumstances to have produced the same story in several different places, nor is it very likely that the dim remembrances of a number of local floods should accord in this with the amount of consistency that is found among the flood traditions of remote regions of the world. The occurrence of an ark in the traditions of a deluge found in so many distant times and places, favours the opinion of these being derived from a single source.

As to Myths of Observation in general, the line of demarcation which separates them on the one hand from traditions of real events, and on the other from more purely mythic tales, is equally hard to draw. Even the stories which have their origin in a mere realized metaphor, or a personification of the phenomena of nature, will attach themselves to real persons, places, or objects, as strongly as though they actually belonged to them. To the subjective mind of the myth maker, every hill and valley, every stone and tree, that strikes his attention, becomes the place where some mythic occurrence happened to gods, or heroes, or fair women, or monsters, or ethereal beings. When once the tale is made, the rock or tree becomes evidence of its truth to future generations: "the bricks are alive at this day to testify it; therefore, deny it not."

  1. Ellis, Polyn. Res., vol. i. p. 287.
  2. Brasseur, 'Popol Vuh,' pp. 231–43; 'Mexique,' vol. i. pp. 169–73.
  3. Procopius, ii. 206; Purchas, vol. iii. p. 499.
  4. Grey, Journals, vol. i. p. 293.
  5. St. John, vol. i. p. 202, and see under Chap. XII.
  6. Mayne, 'British Columbia,' p. 279.
  7. Eyre, vol. ii. p. 393.
  8. Marsden, pp. 467, 474. See Ellis, 'Madagascar,' vol. i. p. 39.
  9. Charlevoix, vol. v. p. 187.
  10. Humboldt, Vues des Cord., pl. xv.; Borgia MS. in Kingsborough, vol. iii.
  11. Bates, 'Amazons,' vol. ii. p. 128.
  12. Falconer, 'Palæontological Memoirs,' London, 1868, vol. i. p. 375.
  13. Bates, 'Amazons,' vol. i. p. 73; vol. ii. p. 204.
  14. C. Carter Blake in Tr. Eth. Soc. 1863, p. 169.
  15. C. Hamilton Smith, Nat. Hist. of Human Sp., pp. 104–6.
  16. Strabo, xvii. 1, 34.
  17. Strabo, iii. 1, 5. Ellis, Polyn. Res., vol. ii. p. 414. See also Bastian, vol. ii. p. 58. Tac. Germ., c. 45.
  18. Catlin, vol. ii. p. 70. Mela, ii. c. 5.
  19. Strabo, iv. 1, 7.
  20. J. F. M. v. Olfers, 'Die Ueberreste vorweltlicher Riesenthiere in Beziehung zu Ostasiatischen Sagen und Chinesischen Schriften' (Berlin Acad., 1839); Berlin; 1840.
  21. Mém. conc. les Chinois, vol. iv. p. 481. Klemm, C. G., vol. vi. p. 471.
  22. Darwin, p. 127.
  23. Herod., iii. 116. Erman, Reise, vol. i. pp. 711–2.
  24. Ctesias, 'De Rebus Indicis,' 12.
  25. Klemm, C. G., vol. i. p. 155, and see p. 101.
  26. Olfers, p. 12.
  27. Erman, vol. i. p. 711. See Lane. 'Thousand and One Nights,' vol. ii. p. 538; vol. iii. p. 85.
  28. Buffon, Hist. Nat. (ed. Sonnini), vol. xxviii. p. 264.
  29. Le Jeune, Relations (1634), vol. i. p. 46. A remarkable resemblance appears in the description of the Slavonic Buyán, the ocean-island of the blest, where are to be found the Snake older than all snakes, the prophetic Raven, elder brother of all ravens, the Bird, largest and oldest of all birds, with iron beak and copper claws, and the Mother of Bees, eldest among bees; Ralston, 'Songs of the Russian People,' p. 375. [Note to 3rd Edition.]
  30. Morgan, p. 166.
  31. Thos. Falkner, 'A Description of Patagonia,' etc.; Hereford, 1774, p. 114.
  32. Bates, vol. ii. p. 204.
  33. Seemann, 'Viti,' p. 66.
  34. Oviedo, in Purchas, vol. v. p. 959.
  35. Humboldt, Vues des Cord., pl. 26. Cieza de Leon, p. 189. Rivero and Tschudi, Ant. Per. p. 51.
  36. Darwin, in Narr., vol. iii. p. 155.
  37. Bernal Diaz, Conq. de la Nueva España; Madrid, 1795, vol. i. p. 350. Tylor, 'Mexico,' p. 236. Clavigero, vol. i. p. 125. Humboldt, Vues des Cord., pl. 26.
  38. Schoolcraft, part i. pp. 319, 390; part. ii. pp. 175, 224; part iii. pp. 232, 315, 319.
  39. Wilson, 'Prehistoric Man,' vol. i. p. 112.
  40. In Polynesia, see Mariner, vol. i. p. 313.
  41. Plin., ix. 4; v. 14.
  42. Strabo, xvii. 3, 8.
  43. Torrens, 'Ladak,' etc., p. 87
  44. Olfers, p. 3. See also Grimm, D. M. p. 522.
  45. Linnæus, 'Tour,' vol. i. p. 28.
  46. Aug., 'De Civitate Dei,' xv. 9.
  47. Humboldt, Vues des Cord., pl 26.
  48. Teunent, 'Ceylon,' vol. i. p. 14.
  49. Ellis, Polyn. Res., vol. ii. p. 58.
  50. Turner, 'Polynesia,' p. 249.
  51. Cranz, p. 262. Again recently, C. F. Hall, 'Life with the Esquimaux;' London; 1864, vol. ii. p. 318.
  52. Steller, p. 47.
  53. Herod., ii. 12.
  54. Strabo, i. 3, 4.
  55. Mela, i. c. 6.
  56. Ov. Met., xv. 264.
  57. Mém. conc, les Chinois, vol. iv. p. 474. Kleram, C. G., vol. vi. p. 467.
  58. Tert., 'De Pallio,' ii. H. F. Link, 'Die Urwelt,' etc.; Berlin, 1821, p. 4.
  59. Buffon, 'Théorie de la Terre,' voL iii. p. 119.
  60. Galvano, p. 26.
  61. Simon, 'Noticias Historiales,' etc.; Cuenca, 1627, p. 31.
  62. Strahlenberg, 'Das Nord und Ostliche Theil on Europa und Asien;' Stockholm, 1730, p. 396. C. Hamilton Smith, p. 45.
  63. Bibl. Topog. Brit.; London, 1790, vol. iii. part i. p. 241. Wilson, 'Archælogy, etc., of Scotland,' p. 32.
  64. Geol. Journal, Feb. 1863.