At the middle of the nineteenth century came the beginning of a new epoch in science--an epoch when all these earlier discoveries were to be interpreted by means of investigations in a different field: for, in 1847, a man previously unknown to the world at large, Boucher de Perthes, published at Paris the first volume of his work on _Celtic and Antediluvian Antiquities_, and in this he showed engravings of typical flint implements and weapons, of which he had discovered thousands upon thousands in the high drift beds near Abbeville, in northern France.

The significance of this discovery was great indeed--far greater than Boucher himself at first supposed. The very title of his book showed that he at first regarded these implements and weapons as having belonged to men overwhelmed at the Deluge of Noah; but it was soon seen that they were something very different from proofs of the literal exactness of Genesis: for they were found in terraces at great heights above the river Somme, and, under any possible theory having regard to fact, must have been deposited there at a time when the river system of northern France was vastly different from anything known within the historic period. The whole discovery indicated a series of great geological changes since the time when these implements were made, requiring cycles of time compared to which the space allowed by the orthodox chronologists was as nothing.

His work was the result of over ten years of research and thought. Year after year a force of men under his direction had dug into these high-terraced gravel deposits of the river Somme, and in his book he now gave, in the first full form, the results of his labour. So far as France was concerned, he was met at first by what he calls "a conspiracy of silence," and then by a contemptuous opposition among orthodox scientists, at the head of whom stood Elie de Beaumont.

This heavy, sluggish opposition seemed immovable: nothing that Boucher could do or say appeared to lighten the pressure of the orthodox theological opinion behind it; not even his belief that these fossils were remains of men drowned at the Deluge of Noah, and that they were proofs of the literal exactness of Genesis seemed to help the matter. His opponents felt instinctively that such discoveries boded danger to the accepted view, and they were right: Boucher himself soon saw the folly of trying to account for them by the orthodox theory.

And it must be confessed that not a little force was added to the opposition by certain characteristics of Boucher de Perthes himself. Gifted, far-sighted, and vigorous as he was, he was his own worst enemy. Carried away by his own discoveries, he jumped to the most astounding conclusions. The engravings in the later volume of his great work, showing what he thought to be human features and inscriptions upon some of the flint implements, are worthy of a comic almanac; and at the National Museum of Archaeology at St. Germain, beneath the shelves bearing the remains which he discovered, which mark the beginning of a new epoch in science, are drawers containing specimens hardly worthy of a penny museum, but from which he drew the most unwarranted inferences as to the language, religion, and usages of prehistoric man.

Boucher triumphed none the less. Among his bitter opponents at first was Dr. Rigollot, who in 1855, searching earnestly for materials to refute the innovator, dug into the deposits of St. Acheul--and was converted: for he found implements similar to those of Abbeville, making still more certain the existence of man during the Drift period. So, too, Gaudry a year later made similar discoveries.

But most important was the evidence of the truth which now came from other parts of France and from other countries. The French leaders in geological science had been held back not only by awe of Cuvier but by recollections of Scheuchzer. Ridicule has always been a serious weapon in France, and the ridicule which finally overtook the supporters of the attempt of Scheuchzer, Mazurier, and others, to square geology with Genesis, was still remembered. From the great body of French geologists, therefore, Boucher secured at first no aid. His support came from the other side of the Channel. The most eminent English geologists, such as Falconer, Prestwich, and Lyell, visited the beds at Abbeville and St. Acheul, convinced themselves that the discoveries of Boucher, Rigollot, and their colleagues were real, and then quietly but firmly told England the truth.

And now there appeared a most effective ally in France. The arguments used against Boucher de Perthes and some of the other early investigators of bone caves had been that the implements found might have been washed about and turned over by great floods, and therefore that they might be of a recent period; but in 1861 Edward Lartet published an account of his own excavations at the Grotto of Aurignac, and the proof that man had existed in the time of the Quaternary animals was complete. This grotto had been carefully sealed in prehistoric times by a stone at its entrance; no interference from disturbing currents of water had been possible; and Lartet found, in place, bones of eight out of nine of the main species of animals which characterize the Quaternary period in Europe; and upon them marks of cutting implements, and in the midst of them coals and ashes.

Close upon these came the excavations at Eyzies by Lartet and his English colleague, Christy. In both these men there was a carefulness in making researches and a sobriety in stating results which converted many of those who had been repelled by the enthusiasm of Boucher de Perthes. The two colleagues found in the stony deposits made by the water dropping from the roof of the cave at Eyzies the bones of numerous animals extinct or departed to arctic regions--one of these a vertebra of a reindeer with a flint lance-head still fast in it, and with these were found evidences of fire.

Discoveries like these were thoroughly convincing; yet there still remained here and there gainsayers in the supposed interest of Scripture, and these, in spite of the convincing array of facts, insisted that in some way, by some combination of circumstances, these bones of extinct animals of vastly remote periods might have been brought into connection with all these human bones and implements of human make in all these different places, refusing to admit that these ancient relics of men and animals were of the same period. Such gainsayers virtually adopted the reasoning of quaint old Persons, who, having maintained that God created the world "about five thousand sixe hundred and odde yeares agoe," added, "And if they aske what God was doing before this short number of yeares, we answere with St. Augustine replying to such curious questioners, that He was framing Hell for them." But a new class of discoveries came to silence this opposition. At La Madeleine in France, at the Kessler cave in Switzerland, and at various other places, were found rude but striking carvings and engravings on bone and stone representing sundry specimens of those long-vanished species; and these specimens, or casts of them, were soon to be seen in all the principal museums. They showed the hairy mammoth, the cave bear, and various other animals of the Quaternary period, carved rudely but vigorously by contemporary men; and, to complete the significance of these discoveries, travellers returning from the icy regions of North America brought similar carvings of animals now existing in those regions, made by the Eskimos during their long arctic winters to-day.[275]

As a result of these discoveries and others like them, showing that man was not only contemporary with long-extinct animals of past geological epochs, but that he had already developed into a stage of culture above pure savagery, the tide of thought began to turn. Especially was this seen in 1863, when Lyell published the first edition of his _Geological Evidence of the Antiquity of Man_; and the fact that he had so long opposed the new ideas gave force to the clear and conclusive argument which led him to renounce his early scientific beliefs.

Research among the evidences of man's existence in the early Quaternary, and possibly in the Tertiary period, was now pressed forward along the whole line. In 1864 Gabriel Mortillet founded his review devoted to this subject; and in 1865 the first of a series of scientific congresses devoted to such researches was held in Italy. These investigations went on vigorously in all parts of France and spread rapidly to other countries. The explorations which Dupont began in 1864, in the caves of Belgium, gave to the museum at Brussels eighty thousand flint implements, forty thousand bones of animals of the Quaternary period, and a number of human skulls and bones found mingled with these remains. From Germany, Italy, Spain, America, India, and Egypt similar results were reported.

Especially noteworthy were the further explorations of the caves and drift throughout the British Islands. The discovery by Colonel Wood, In 1861, of flint tools in the same strata with bones of the earlier forms of the rhinoceros, was but typical of many. A thorough examination of the caverns of Brixham and Torquay, by Pengelly and others, made it still more evident that man had existed in the early Quaternary period. The existence of a period before the Glacial epoch or between different glacial epochs in England, when the Englishman was a savage, using rude stone tools, was then fully ascertained, and, what was more significant, there were clearly shown a gradation and evolution even in the history of that period. It was found that this ancient Stone epoch showed progress and development. In the upper layers of the caves, with remains of the reindeer, who, although he has migrated from these regions, still exists in more northern climates, were found stone implements revealing some little advance in civilization; next below these, sealed up in the stalagmite, came, as a rule, another layer, in which the remains of reindeer were rare and those of the mammoth more frequent, the implements found in this stratum being less skilfully made than those in the upper and more recent layers; and, finally, in the lowest levels, near the floors of these ancient caverns, with remains of the cave bear and others of the most ancient extinct animals, were found stone implements evidently of a yet ruder and earlier stage of human progress. No fairly unprejudiced man can visit the cave and museum at Torquay without being convinced that there were a gradation and an evolution in these beginnings of human civilization. The evidence is complete; the masses of breccia taken from the cave, with the various soils, implements, and bones carefully kept in place, put this progress beyond a doubt.

All this indicated a great antiquity for the human race, but in it lay the germs of still another great truth, even more important and more serious in its consequences to the older theologic view, which will be discussed in the following chapter.

But new evidences came in, showing a yet greater antiquity of man. Remains of animals were found in connection with human remains, which showed not only that man was living in times more remote than the earlier of the new investigators had dared dream, but that some of these early periods of his existence must have been of immense length, embracing climatic changes betokening different geological periods; for with remains of fire and human implements and human bones were found not only bones of the hairy mammoth and cave bear, woolly rhinoceros, and reindeer, which could only have been deposited there in a time of arctic cold, but bones of the hyena, hippopotamus, sabre-toothed tiger, and the like, which could only have been deposited when there was in these regions a torrid climate. The conjunction of these remains clearly showed that man had lived in England early enough and long enough to pass through times when there was arctic cold and times when there was torrid heat; times when great glaciers stretched far down into England and indeed into the continent, and times whe England had a land connection with the European continent, and the European continent with Africa, allowing tropical animals to migrate freely from Africa to the middle regions of England.

The question of the origin of man at a period vastly earlier than the sacred chronologists permitted was thus absolutely settled, but among the questions regarding the existence of man at a period yet more remote, the Drift period, there was one which for a time seemed to give the champions of science some difficulty. The orthodox leaders in the time of Boucher de Perthes, and for a considerable time afterward, had a weapon of which they made vigorous use: the statement that no human bones had yet been discovered in the drift. The supporters of science naturally answered that few if any other bones as small as those of man had been found, and that this fact was an additional proof of the great length of the period since man had lived with the extinct animals; for, since specimens of human workmanship proved man's existence as fully as remains of his bones could do, the absence or even rarity of human and other small bones simply indicated the long periods of time required for dissolving them away.

Yet Boucher, inspired by the genius he had already shown, and filled with the spirit of prophecy, declared that human bones would yet be found in the midst of the flint implements, and in 1863 he claimed that this prophecy had been fulfilled by the discovery at Moulin Quignon of a portion of a human jaw deep in the early Quaternary deposits. But his triumph was short-lived: the opposition ridiculed his discovery; they showed that he had offered a premium to his workmen for the discovery of human remains, and they naturally drew the inference that some tricky labourer had deceived him. The result of this was that the men of science felt obliged to acknowledge that the Moulin Quignon discovery was not proven.

But ere long human bones were found in the deposits of the early Quaternary period, or indeed of an earlier period, in various other parts of the world, and the question regarding the Moulin Quignon relic was of little importance.

We have seen that researches regarding the existence of prehistoric man in England and on the Continent were at first mainly made in the caverns; but the existence of man in the earliest Quaternary period was confirmed on both sides of the English Channel, in a way even more striking, by the close examination of the drift and early gravel deposits. The results arrived at by Boucher de Perthes were amply confirmed in England. Rude stone implements were found in terraces a hundred feet and more above the levels at which various rivers of Great Britain now flow, and under circumstances which show that, at the time when they were deposited, the rivers of Great Britain in many cases were entirely different from those of the present period, and formed parts of the river system of the European continent. Researches in the high terraces above the Thames and the Ouse, as well as at other points in Great Britain, placed beyond a doubt the fact that man existed on the British Islands at a time when they were connected by solid land with the Continent, and made it clear that, within the period of the existence of man in northern Europe, a large portion of the British Islands had been sunk to depths between fifteen hundred and twenty-five hundred feet beneath the Northern Ocean,--had risen again from the water,--had formed part of the continent of Europe, and had been in unbroken connection with Africa, so that elephants, bears, tigers, lions, the rhinoceros and hippopotamus, of species now mainly extinct, had left their bones in the same deposits with human implements as far north as Yorkshire. Moreover, connected with this fact came in the new conviction, forced upon geologists by the more careful examination of the earth and its changes, that such elevations and depressions of Great Britain and other parts of the world were not necessarily the results of sudden cataclysms, but generally of slow processes extending through vast cycles of years--processes such as are now known to be going on in various parts of the world. Thus it was that the six or seven thousand years allowed by the most liberal theologians of former times were seen more and more clearly to be but a mere nothing in the long succession of ages since the appearance of man.

Confirmation of these results was received from various other parts of the world. In Africa came the discovery of flint implements deep in the hard gravel of the Nile Valley at Luxor and on the high hills behind Esneh. In America the discoveries at Trenton, N. J., and at various places in Delaware, Ohio, Minnesota, and elsewhere, along the southern edge of the drift of the Glacial epochs, clinched the new scientific truth yet more firmly; and the statement made by an eminent American authority is, that "man was on this continent when the climate and ice of Greenland extended to the mouth of New York harbour." The discoveries of prehistoric remains on the Pacific coast, and especially in British Columbia, finished completely the last chance at a reasonable contention by the adherents of the older view. As to these investigations on the Pacific slope of the United States, the discoveries of Whitney and others in California had been so made and announced that the judgment of scientific men regarding them was suspended until the visit of perhaps the greatest living authority in his department, Alfred Russel Wallace, in 1887. He confirmed the view of Prof. Whitney and others with the statement that "both the actual remains and works of man found deep under the lava-flows of Pliocene age show that he existed in the New World at least as early as in the Old." To this may be added the discoveries in British Columbia, which prove that, since man existed in these regions, "valleys have been filled up by drift from the waste of mountains to a depth in some cases of fifteen hundred feet; this covered by a succession of tuffs, ashes, and lava-streams from volcanoes long since extinct, and finally cut down by the present rivers through beds of solid basalt, and through this accumulation of lavas and gravels." The immense antiquity of the human remains in the gravels of the Pacific coast is summed up by a most eminent English authority and declared to be proved, "first, by the present river systems being of subsequent date, sometimes cutting through them and their superincumbent lava-cap to a depth of two thousand feet; secondly, by the great denudation that has taken place since they were deposited, for they sometimes lie on the summits of mountains six thousand feet high; thirdly, by the fact that the Sierra Nevada has been partly elevated since their formation."[280]

As an important supplement to these discoveries of ancient implements came sundry comparisons made by eminent physiologists between human skulls and bones found in different places and under circumstances showing vast antiquity.

Human bones had been found under such circumstances as early as 1835 at Cannstadt near Stuttgart, and in 1856 in the Neanderthal near Dusseldorf; but in more recent searches they had been discovered in a multitude of places, especially in Germany, France, Belgium, England, the Caucasus, Africa, and North and South America. Comparison of these bones showed that even in that remote Quaternary period there were great differences of race, and here again came in an argument for the yet earlier existence of man on the earth; for long previous periods must have been required to develop such racial differences. Considerations of this kind gave a new impulse to the belief that man's existence might even date back into the Tertiary period. The evidence for this earlier origin of man was ably summed up, not only by its brilliant advocate, Mortillet, but by a former opponent, one of the most conservative of modern anthropologists, Quatrefages; and the conclusion arrived at by both was, that man did really exist in the Tertiary period. The acceptance of this conclusion was also seen in the more recent work of Alfred Russel Wallace, who, though very cautious and conservative, placed the origin of man not only in the Tertiary period, but in an earlier stage of it than most had dared assign--even in the Miocene.

The first thing raising a strong presumption, if not giving proof, that man existed in the Tertiary, was the fact that from all explored parts of the world came in more and more evidence that in the earlier Quaternary man existed in different, strongly marked races and in great numbers. From all regions which geologists had explored, even from those the most distant and different from each other, came this same evidence--from northern Europe to southern Africa; from France to China; from New Jersey to British Columbia; from British Columbia to Peru. The development of man in such numbers and in so many different regions, with such differences of race and at so early a period, must have required a long previous time.

This argument was strengthened by discoveries of bones bearing marks apparently made by cutting instruments, in the Tertiary formations of France and Italy, and by the discoveries of what were claimed to be flint implements by the Abbe Bourgeois in France, and of implements and human bones by Prof. Capellini in Italy.

On the other hand, some of the more cautious men of science are still content to say that the existence of man in the Tertiary period is not yet proven. As to his existence throughout the Quaternary epoch, no new proofs are needed; even so determined a supporter of the theological side as the Duke of Argyll has been forced to yield to the evidence.

Of attempts to make an exact chronological statement throwing light on the length of the various prehistoric periods, the most notable have been those by M. Morlot, on the accumulated strata of the Lake of Geneva; by Gillieron, on the silt of Lake Neufchatel; by Horner, in the delta deposits of Egypt; and by Riddle, in the delta of the Mississippi. But while these have failed to give anything like an exact result, all these investigations together point to the central truth, so amply established, of the vast antiquity of man, and the utter inadequacy of the chronology given in our sacred books. The period of man's past life upon our planet, which has been fixed by the universal Church, "always, everywhere, and by all," is thus perfectly proved to be insignificant compared with those vast geological epochs during which man is now known to have existed.[283]


The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of

The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.