The Antiquity of Man

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HAVING carefully perused the proceedings that took place at the recent “Conference” on the subject of the antiquity of man at the Anthropological Institute, I confess to a feeling of disappointment. I had looked, if not for new geological facts, at least for something novel in the treatment of what was already known, instead of which the geological speakers seem, for the most part, to have merely reiterated opinions with which their names have been for some time identified. Thus my able opponent, Prof. Boyd Dawkins, does no more than restate views and conclusions which have already been controverted more than once, and to which, therefore, I need not reply here, as in so doing I should be only summarising what has been stated at length elsewhere. Mr. Dawkins's “case” and my own are now so fully before our fellow-hammerers that we may be well content to leave them for judgment to the future—a future which is probably not far off. Prof. Prestwich, again, while quite open to conviction that man may have lived in England in pre-glacial times, is yet strongly of opinion that all the human relics hitherto obtained in the south of England are of post-glacial age, because they occur in deposits that overlie “the boulder-clay.” Now this conclusion would certainly follow if it could be shown that the “chalky boulder-clay” of East Anglia represents, as Prof. Prestwich thinks it does, the glacial period. Unfortunately it only represents one phase of that period. There is an older boulder-clay than that “chalky till,” and there are two separate boulder-clays which are younger, as Mr. S. V. Wood has demonstrated. The East Anglian chalky boulder-clay was laid down, as I believe, during the climax of glacial cold, and is consequently much older than the upper boulder-clays that occupy the surface of Scotland and the North of England. For the evidence which has weighed with me incoming to this conclusion I must refer Prof. Prestwich to the account of the English glacial deposits, which is given in the second edition of my work on the Ice Age. The proofs and argument are too long to recapitulate here. That the East Anglian chalky till belongs to a much more ancient date than the upper boulder clays of Yorkshire and the North, must strike any one who will take the trouble to compare them. The East Anglian deposit has been subjected to long-continued and powerful erosion, and everywhere bears the impress of extreme antiquity, while the younger tills of the North have a comparatively recent appearance. Nor is this by any means all, for between the accumulation of the chalky till and the formation of the most recent boulder-clay or till of the North there certainly intervened one mild inter-glacial period. (There were in reality, as I believe, two such periods.) Now during the “last inter-glacial period”—that, namely, which preceded the deposition of the youngest boulder-clay of Yorkshire and the North—there certainly existed a land-surface in England over which the pleistocene mammalia roamed. The proofs of this are found in certain fresh-water and estuarine deposits which are met with near Hull and elsewhere, and which have yielded mammalian remains, and thousands of Cyrena fluminalis and other shells. Prof. Prestwich has himself described these beds and classified them as post-glacial, partly because they repose upon boulder-clay and partly on account of their fossil contents. But since the date of Prof. Prestwich's visit to the locality in question, the section (near Burstwick) has been much better opened up, and now one may see resting upon these so-called post-glacial deposits a thick mass of tumultuous boulder-clay. This boulder-clay is in my opinion as truly the product of glacier-ice as any ground-moraine or till in Scotland, Norway, or Switzerland, and points to a time when all Scotland and the northern districts of England, down as far as the valley of the Humber, were shrouded in snow and ice.

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GEIKIE, J. The Antiquity of Man. Nature 16, 141–142 (1877) doi:10.1038/016141b0

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