The Zoologist/4th series, vol 1 (1897)/Issue 667/Man in Zoology

Man in Zoology (1897)
by Edward William Brabrook
4031475Man in Zoology1897Edward William Brabrook


By E.W. Brabrook, F.S.A.,
President of the Anthropological Institute.

I have to thank the Editor of 'The Zoologist' for giving me the privilege of addressing his readers on "Man." He has himself shown, beyond controversy, how fitting the subject of Man is for the pages of this Journal. A zoology which omitted from its purview the highest and most interesting of all animals would indeed be incomplete.

The founder of the Anthropological Society of London, in his opening address to that body thirty years ago, compared his science to the last volume of a work on zoology, "with perhaps an appendix." He accepted the investigation of the relations of Man to the Mammalia as the first great duty of the society he formed. He did not, however, confine this duty within those limits. On the contrary, he defined anthropology as the science of the whole nature of Man, as including in its grasp nearly the whole of the circle of the sciences.

In the years 1846 to 1850 the relation between the study of Man and the study of animals generally was recognized by the British Association in the appointment of an ethnological subsection to the section (D) of Zoology. Dr. Topinard, in his excellent work 'L'Homme dans la Nature,' says, "l'anthropologie vraie est l'histoire de l'Homme considérée au point de vue animal," and refers to the purpose of that work as being to ascertain as to Man "ses rapports avec la zoologie générale, la place qu'il occupe matériellement parmi les animaux, et son origine probable ou descendance." We are entirely of opinion that this is not the whole of anthropology, but the prominence given to this branch of anthropology by a writer of so great authority and distinction certainly justifies the position I am asking for it in the consideration of professed zoologists. There is no line of cleavage between the two sciences.

It is difficult to suggest a physical faculty of Man which is not shared by him with other animals. It is equally difficult to suggest a moral or intellectual faculty of his which is not foreshadowed in them.

Though the present paper is necessarily directed to the early history of Man in the British Islands, I must ask leave to refer by way of preface to the important discovery by Dr. Dubois in Java of remains to which he gave the name Pithecanthropus erectus. Whether we regard the controversy which has arisen over this discovery, or the nature of the remains themselves, they form a fitting introduction to the consideration of the question.

In the neighbourhood of Trinil, in 1891–92, Dr. Dubois unearthed a great number of fossil bones, among which he found the upper part of a skull, a thigh-bone, and two teeth, which resembled those of Man. Great care had been taken in removing the layers of rock one by one, so that it was ascertained that these remains were accompanied by those of animals now extinct. The bones were fossilized, harder than marble, very heavy, and of a chocolate-brown colour.

When the skull is compared with that found in 1857, at Neanderthal, in Prussia, it is observed to be less capacious, less lofty, and in other respects of an inferior type. It may be said, in popular language, to stand as far behind the skull of Neanderthal as that skull, with its low capacity, its prominent eyebrow ridges, and its rapidly receding front, stands behind a normally developed skull of the present day.

The thigh-bone shows a number of peculiarities, the most apparent of which is a large diseased excrescence of bony growth along one side of it. In a paper read at the Liverpool meeting of the British Association in 1896, it was shown that these peculiarities may be found, either alone or in some degree of combination, in thigh-bones derived from existing races of mankind. Whether the thigh-bone belonged to the same individual as the skull is not certain, but it appears to be probable that it did. If so, it would seem that the individual was of short stature.

The teeth are large, and appear from their shape to indicate a greater degree of prognathism in the face than is usual in mankind.

The question has been much discussed whether the remains are those of Man, or of an ape resembling the Gibbon. The discoverer took a middle course, as indicated by the name he gave them, and held that they belonged to an animal, as yet unknown, intermediate between the Ape and Man; in other words, one of the long-sought "missing links." In this view he is supported by the distinguished French anthropologist, M. Manouvrier, and some others. The leading authorities in England hold that the bones are human, but admit their remote antiquity and primitive form.

For the zoologist this question will not appear material. Whether we have here evidence of a type just before, or just after, or in the act of, transmission to another, it would seem that we have at least touched the beginnings of human history more closely than ever before. The trilemma is aptly expressed in the impromptu verses of a learned friend on seeing the remains:—

"Simian skull and human thigh,
Why as neighbours are ye found
Deep beneath the Javan ground?
Grisly comrades, tell me why!

"Were ye one or were ye twain?
Didst thou, monkey, walk upright?
Wast thou, bowless, in the fight,
By thy straight-thighed cousin slain?

"What strange antics wast thou at,
Ancestor of unknown shape,
Ape-like man or human ape,

I refer to this discovery by way of introduction to the question of the evidence of the antiquity of Man in the British Isles, because I wish to urge the necessity of carrying the imagination far back. We seek for that evidence in implements fashioned by human workmanship, and we have also sought, for the most part vainly, for remains of man himself; but even if we should succeed in finding the rudest and most primitive implements that we could assert to be fashioned by Man's hand, we should still be far from the beginnings of Man. For the art of fashioning an implement, however rude it may be, is still an art, and it has to be acquired.

It required no knowledge of that art for Man, as soon as he became "erectus," to fling stones at other animals whom he wished to kill or to frighten. The significance of the erect position of Man was ably shown by Dr. Munro, in his address at Nottingham in 1893. Its mechanical and physical advantages, the differentiation of the limbs into hands and feet, and the relation between the more perfect condition of those organs and the development of the brain, were pointed out. The difference between the semi-erect attitude of the anthropoids and the perfectly upright position of Man represents a wide gap. The chief movement in the act of progression in Man is performed by an enormously developed group of muscles known as the calf of the leg. In the upper limbs the hand has become the most complete and perfect mechanical organ ever produced. From the first moment that Man recognized the advantage of using a club or a stone in attacking his prey or defending himself, the direct incentives to a higher brain-development came into existence. What a memorable event in the history of humanity (continues Dr. Munro, whose argument I have briefly summarized) was the manufacture of the first sharp stone implement!

How long it took Man to make the discovery and acquire the art, who can say? Even now, the human mind works slowly. May it not have worked even more slowly in that time of Man's infancy? It seems not unreasonable to conclude that this great discovery may have come upon him by degrees, and that the first step in it—the ascertaining that a stone with a sharp edge was more effective than a smooth one, and that such a sharp edge might be produced by smartly knocking one stone against another—would give rise to a rude and simple implement, to which a single knock had given all the effect desired. We may therefore expect that, if any remains of Man's work at this stage are found at all, they would be in such a form as to be scarcely distinguishable from stones which had suffered a natural fracture.

When, therefore, the lamented Sir Joseph Prestwich asserted that there are to be found, on the chalk plateau of Kent, a number of flint implements of rude primitive form, in which the trimming is often very slight, made on the edges of rude natural flints, besides others which, though not the result of chance, show no special design, he stated that which is not in itself improbable. When he told us, further, that the worked edges are commonly rounded off and blunted, and the worked surfaces stained of a deep brown colour, like the natural flint, so that the artificial work is often rendered obscure, he made an admission which is significant of a very great antiquity in the objects, if they be in fact implements worked by Man's hand.

Sir Joseph Prestwich himself, indeed, seemed to shrink from all the conclusions to which his researches into the antiquity of these objects appeared to lead him. If it should prove, he said, that the rude implements have been swept down from Central Wealden uplands forming in pre-glacial times a low mountain range 2000 to 3000 feet in height with the drift which has come from that quarter, they may have to be relegated to a very early period indeed; but that must be a question for the future. We cannot refuse to exercise the same degree of caution, though we run no risk in asserting that it must be exceedingly probable that the industry of fabricating flint implements was a progressive industry, commencing with rudimentary forms, and proceeding by degrees to more elaborate and finished work.

Elsewhere the same enquiry has been pursued, and Mr. Shrubsole has discovered flint implements of the like primitive type at Finchampstead and Old Dean, in Berkshire. Mr. Allen Brown has recognized that these roughly worked flints carry Man back to an earlier period than that called palæolithic, and suggests for it the name "eolithic." Mr. A.M. Bell has also studied the question, and arrived at the conclusion that Sir J. Prestwich was right in his views.

However this may be, there can be no doubt whatever as to the flint implements called palæolithic. One, now in the British Museum, was found in Gray's Inn Road as far back as 1690. Mr. John Frere, who in the year 1797 read a paper before the Society of Antiquaries, on some flint weapons discovered at Hoxne, in Suffolk, remarked that they were evidently weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals, and must be considered objects of curiosity from the situation in which they were found, which might tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed. A few other similar discoveries were made afterwards, but Mr. Frere's far-seeing suggestion remained unnoticed for sixty years, until M. Boucher de Perthes found some precisely similar flint implements at Abbeville. Since then the finds have been so numerous that the subject has become one of common and familiar knowledge. In the heart of London, as well as in many parts of the country, palæolithic flint implements have been found in enormous numbers, in association with bones of extinct animals, and in circumstances proving their immense antiquity. These animals include the Hippopotamus, Mammoth, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Lion, Wild Cat, Bear, Hyæna, Bison, and Wild Horse. Mr. Worthington Smith has discovered, at Caddington, thirty miles from London, "an undisturbed living and working place of primeval Man," and has traced there, as he had previously done at Stoke Newington, in the north-east of London, a palæolithic floor, that is, a thin stratum of flint, in some places full of flint implements and flakes, and extending over an area of several miles.

We have thus acquired, from all parts of the British Islands, abundant evidence of Man's workmanship, from which much may be gathered as to his manners and customs. Has there been any discovery of early remains of Man himself? If the answer to the question were a decided negative it would not be surprising; for there are many probabilities against the long preservation of human bones.

This, indeed, is an argument that has been strongly used against the authenticity of certain remains found in the year 1888, at Galley Hill, near Swanscombe, in Kent. I take the following summary of the discovery from the useful work on 'Ethnology,' by Prof. A.H. Keane:—

"Nearly perfect skeleton found by Mr. R. Elliott and Mr. Matthew Heys in situ at a depth of 8 feet in the Pleistocene high-level gravels about 90 feet above the Thames, with numerous palæolithic implements and remains of extinct mammals close by; skull hyperdolichocephalic, extremely long, narrow and much depressed, with height and breadth indexes 67 and 64; glabella and brow-ridges prominent; forehead somewhat receding; all chief sutures obliterated; three lower molars and two premolars in place; last lower molar, which in Neolithic skulls is smaller, is in this specimen as large, if not larger than the first; height about 5 ft. 1 in.; altogether most nearly related to the Neanderthal, Spy and Naulette types (Dr. Garson); 'is the best authenticated record of the occurrence of human remains in the higher river-drift that has yet been brought forward in England.' (J. Allen Brown). From the anatomical characters Prof. Sollas thinks it highly probable that the remains were in a natural position and of the same age as the gravels, and not merely interred in them at a later (Neolithic) period, as suggested by Sir J. Evans and Prof. Boyd Dawkins (E.T. Newton, Meeting Geolog. Soc. May 22, 1895)."

It is certainly to be regretted that these remains were not submitted to the scientific examination of Mr. Newton until about seven years after they had been discovered. The very completeness of the skeleton has tended to throw doubts upon it; for it has been urged that, as we do not possess so complete a skeleton of the much stronger and tougher bones of the extinct animals, it is not likely that we should find one in the case of their human contemporaries. The answer to that can only be given by the circumstances of the discovery, and that answer appears to be sufficient, though not so complete as it would have been if the discovery had been made known earlier.

Small fragments of human bone have been found in other circumstances, which may possibly prove to be remains of palæolithic Man, and may tend in time to accumulate a sufficient body of evidence to afford the materials for forming a clear idea of what he was like. One such fragment was found in 1882 at Bury St. Edmunds, by Mr. Henry Prigg; and an ingenious projection of the fragment recently made by Mr. Worthington Smith shows that it coincides in its contour with the Neanderthal and Spy skulls already mentioned. A frontal bone found at Strata Florida, in Wales, in 1888, has also been investigated by Mr. W. Smith, and presents some resemblance to those types, though he is not inclined to claim any great antiquity for it.

The same excellent writer, in his work entitled 'Man, the Primeval Savage,' has essayed to draw a picture of his subject, from which I can only borrow a few touches:—"Man's voice at that time was probably not an articulate voice, but a jabber, a shout, a roar.... The human creatures differ in aspect from the generality of men, women, and children of the present day; they are somewhat shorter in stature, bigger in belly, broader in the back, and less upright.... They are much more hairy than human creatures of the present time, especially the old males and the children.... The foreheads recede, the large bushy, red eyebrows meet over the nose, the brows are heavy, and deeply overshadow the eyes beneath.... Many of the women have whiskers, beards, and moustaches.... The teeth project slightly in a muzzle-like fashion; the lower jaws are massive and powerful, and the chins slightly recede.... Such ladies as possess lobes to their ears probably have them pierced, and a small feather pushed through the orifice.... The savages sat huddled close together round their fires with fruits, bones, and half-putrid flesh.... Then, as now, quarrels would sometimes arise over meals.... Man at that time was not a degraded animal, for he had never been higher; he was therefore an exalted animal, and represented the highest stage of development of the animal kingdom of his time."

Between this Man and neolithic Man, who polished his stone tools by rubbing them together, but had no knowledge of metals, there is a long lapse of time; but neolithic Man, and we ourselves through him, are lineal descendants of this primeval savage. The gap between them is proposed by some to be bridged over by a mesolithic or intermediate type of Man. The opinion most generally held is that the transition from palæolithic to neolithic Man took place elsewhere than in this country—it is suggested that it might have taken place in Africa—and that in this country there was a long interval of complete depopulation—that the palæolithic peoples all died out, and many centuries passed before the neolithic peoples arrived. It is held by some, however, that here as well as elsewhere there was continuity. Whichever view may be correct, there can be no doubt of the lineal descent, and we may accept it either with pride at having risen so high, or with humiliation at having begun so low, as we please.

The zoologist has therefore an opportunity offered to him of research for the discovery of facts that will throw light on a number of unsolved problems. The missing links leading up to Pithecanthropus, and from him to the pre-palæolithic peoples; the rude workmanship of these latter; the remains of palæolithic Man, and the links between him and neolithic Man, are all subjects upon which research may some day be rewarded by important discoveries. The outdoor naturalist may, if he bear in mind how much there is yet unknown or uncertain as to the real history and belongings of primitive Man, not unreasonably expect to find something that may clear up one or other of these doubtful questions. In any case, the study and training of the zoologist will eminently fit him for such an undertaking, for it is upon zoological principles and by zoological methods that such questions can most properly be determined.

I have still another appeal to make to the zoologist, but it is one which I address to him in common with the thoughtful and scientific observer generally. It is that he should join in the careful and systematic record of the phenomena of the people of our own time and country. For this purpose an ethnographic survey has been organized for the United Kingdom, and facts are being accumulated with regard not only to the physical types of the inhabitants of various places, but also to their current traditions and beliefs and their peculiarities of dialect, as well as to the monuments and remains of ancient culture in their vicinity, and the other historical documents which tend to give evidence as to the continuity of race. If each individual among us is the result not only of the circumstances by which he is surrounded, but of the physical and moral characters which have come to him by the use during countless generations of faculties that have been ever growing and widening, the close observation of the present generation may reveal much of the history of the past, and give guidance to the generations to come.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1930, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 93 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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