England's Most Ancient Inhabitant

American Review of Reviews 1913

[229] Wednesday, December 18, 1912, is a new red-letter day for geologists in general and for the members of the Geological Society, London, in particular. On that date were displayed to an eager audience at a meeting of the Society, a part of the jaw and a portion of the skull of the most ancient inhabitant of England, perhaps of Europe. These remains were discovered last summer by Mr. Charles Dawson of Lewes in the dried-up bed of a pond near Uckfield in Sussex. Dr. Smith Woodward, Keeper of the Geological Department of the British Museum, exhibited to the meeting a beautiful restoration of the jaw; and also set forth the deductions made by scientists from find: The Illustrated London News in its issue of December 28, 1912, gives illustrations of a full-length reconstruction and of a reconstruction of the head of what will not be known to scientists as "the Sussex man," accompanied by an interesting article from the pen of Mr. W. P. Pycraft. One notable feature in connection with this discovery is the assuredness with which the geologists announce their deductions.

The remains thus far recovered leave no possible doubt but that they represent not merely a fossil man, but a man who must be regarded as affording us a link with our remote ancestors, the apes, and hence their surpassing interest.

The evidence for the interpretation which has been placed on them in incontrovertible. In the first place, the lower jaw is unmistakably ape-like, while presenting other features indubitably human. It is ape-like in its massiveness, in the absence of a chin, and in the absence of a peculiar ridge along the inner surface which in the typical human jaw is extremely well marked, and serves for the attachment of muscles concerned with the act of swallowing. Another simian feature is the shortness and great breadth of the upper branch whereby the jaw is hinged to the skull. As to the teeth of this ancient Briton, it will suffice to remark that they resemble those of the celebrated Heidelberg jaw, and in so far are of the human type; but they are ape-like in the greater length of their grinding-surfaces.

"The Sussex Man"

Evidence that the remains are those of a human is conclusive from the presence of the mastoid process, which in apes is wanting. Further, "the brain-capacity of this ancient man had just under two pints, which is nearly twice as much as that of the highest apes, though considerably less than that of the average European, which is, roughly [230] about two pints and a half." Nothing is at present known of the eye-sockets, nose, and upper jaw, and it is feared that all traces of the trunk and limbs have been lost beyond recall.



Party Politician: "See how even in this distant progenitor of ours we may trace those traits which, evolving through the ages, reach their almost divine development in us."

From the Herald (Swansea, Wales)

How long ago did this man live, and what did he look like when alive? To the first of these questions Mr. Pycraft can only say: "Several hundred thousand years, perhaps a million."

But this much is certain: he lived during the early part of what is known as the Pleistocene age, and near enough to the period known as the Pliocene to make it certain that his immediate forbears must have lived during that period; thus justifying the forecasts of Pliocene man which authorities from time to time have made. Indeed, the celebrated Heidelberg jaw is regarded by some as belonging to the Pliocene; and the jaw of the Sussex man now under discussion is of a still more primitive character.

The Sussex man was "of low stature, very muscular, and by no means lacking in intelligence."

Living in a genial climate amid a luxurious vegetation, and surrounded by an abundance of game, he may be said to have led the life of comparative ease. Of clothing he had no need; nor was there any reason to bother much about housing accommodation; though, for safety's sake, he may have been forced to devise some kind of shelter by night. Elephants and rhinoceroses of species long extinct roamed in herds all round him. These and the hippopotamus no doubt he killed for food, and, besides, he must have hunted a species of horse long since extinct, while the lion, bear, and saber-toothed tiger afforded him plenty of opportunities for hairbreadth escapes. . . . Finally, these fragments of man from the Sussex gravel tell us that already at this early period the human race had begun to split up into different peoples, which had spread for over the earth's surface, as is witnessed by the remains found in Java and at Heidelberg. And these three, we must point out, belong, roughly, to the same period of time in the world's history; these three, more than any others, bear witness to man's kinship with the apes.

Public Opinion (London) quotes "an eminent anthropologist, writing in the Pall Mall," to the following effect:

No event in the annals of the Society has created such a profound sensation among its members, and no discovery of human remains has equalled them in importance.

Dr. Smith Woodward seems to be of opinion that this ancient man of Sussex did not exceed five feet in height, and further, from the slight development of the brow-ridges and the slenderness of the jaw, it may prove that we shall have to regard the skull as that of a female. But this will not alter the value and importance of the discovery. . . . As with all the crania of fossil men, this skull is very long in proportion to its width, a feature more marked in the monkeys than in the higher apes. But there are two points which definitely and positively mark this skull as human. These are found, first, in the nature of the hinge for the lower jaw, which agrees absolutely with that in modern man, and differs emphatically from that of the apes; and, second, in the presence of . . the mastoid processes. These are peculiar to the human race, though, as in the Tasmanian and some other of the lower races of to-day, these bosses of bone in the Sussex man were smaller than in the higher race.



(Shaded portion, actual discovery; outlined areas, restored parts)


Dr. Smith Woodward stated to the meeting that "while the brain case is emphatically human, the jaw is as emphatically apelike. Found by itself, it might, and would, have been regarded as that of an ape with many human features.

The most striking point of both is the extraordinarily receding chin, the jaw sloping backward sharply from the base of the teeth, which had a decided forward-thrust.