An English Ape-Man

The Literary Digest 1913



Akin to the Ape

The earliest known inhabitant of England, the man of Sussex, reconstructed by Mr. A. Forrester, artist of The Illustrated London News, aided by Dr. A. Smith Woodward.

Is it right to call a man who lived in what is now Sussex many thousand of years ago–so far in prehistoric times that he had not altogether lost ape-like characteristics–an "Englishman"? One would hesitate about it, and yet the London illustrated papers go at least so far as to dub the latest fossil find "the most ancient inhabitant of England." The gentleman so characterized–or what is left of him–came to light as recently as December, 1911, and his discovery is characterized by W. P. Pycraft in The Illustrated London News (December 28) as "of supreme importance to all who are interested in the history of the human race." For the past year the discoverers have endeavored to supplement their find by unearthing other remains, but hey have been only partially successful. What has been found, however, leaves no possible doubt, the writer tells us, that the living being of whom they once formed a part was a man having close relationship with his ancestors, the apes.

Mr. Pycraft goes on to say:

"The evidence for the interpretation which has been placed on them is 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. But there is reason to suspect that the canine or 'eye' tooth projected at any rate slightly, above the level of the rest–an ape-like character met with in savage races to-day, tho never to the same extent as in apes.

"Another ape-like character is afforded by the trend of the grinders, which shows that the teeth in the complete jaw must have run in a straight, parallel series, not in a horseshoe curve, as in modern men.

"Happily enough of the skull has been found to allow of the restoration of the whole of the cranial portion, which encloses the brain. And this shows us that the beetling brow so excessively developed in the celebrated fossil man of Java discovered some years ago were in the Sussex man far less developed, while the brain capacity of this ancient man had just under two pints, which is nearly twice as much as that of the highest apes, tho considerably less than that of the average European, which is, roughly, about two pints and a half."


A Comparison of Jaws.

The Piltdown or Sussex jaw compared with other typical jaws. Four sketches by Sir Ray Lankester, reproduced from the London Daily Telegraph. A. Articular process or condyle. S. Sigmoid notch. M. The bony chin. X. Doubtful part of the Sussex jaw; compare with the chimpanzee and with the modern man. c. Canine tooth. 1, 2, 3. First, second, and third molar teeth–between these and the canine are the two "bicuspids" or "premolars," while in front of the canine are two "incisors" or front teeth.

How long ago did this man live, and what did he look like? As to the first question, the author gives no definite answer; he can only say, "several hundred thousand years ago," 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. It is enough, for the present, at any rate, to say that the gravel in which he has so long rested is of nearly the same age as the Norfolk Forest bed. Of the man's probable appearance and mode of life, and the creatures which he chased or was chased by, we may quote the following paragraphs:

"As to his personal appearance one would not like to dogmatize, but, with the help of Mr. Forrester, I have been enabled to make what is probably a near approximation to the truth. He was a man of low stature, very muscular, and had not yet attained that graceful poise of the body which is so characteristic of the human race to-day. But he was 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 a life of comparative ease. Of clothing he had no need; nor was there any reason to bother about much housing accommodations; tho, for safety's sake, he may have been forced to devise some kind of shelter by night. Elephants and rhinoceroses of species long since 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 hair-breadth escapes. He had probably inherited the use of fire from his forbears, and this useful ally served to harden the ends of his wooden spears, and perhaps to cook his food. His only other tools were [177] furnished by flint stones clipped to the rough semblances of an ax, but used in the hand, not wielded by a shaft. From the peculiar character in which it was flaked from the rough nodule selected, this implement is known as of the 'Chellean' type, and tho one of the more primitive types of Paleolithic weapons, it showed better workmanship than is displayed by the still earlier 'Strepyan' and 'Mesvinian' types, and a great advance on the much-discust 'eoliths.' These earlier weapons, it may be remarked, are the only evidence we have of the existence of men older than the makers of the 'Chellean' implements, but they speak as surely as did the footprints found by Robinson Crusoe.

"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 far 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."

From the London "Graphic"

Outline of highly developed Type of Modern European Cranium

Note: very flat top to the Sussex cranium

Diagram of the CRANIUM of the SUSSEX FOSSIL Man as compared with the outline of a modern Irish type of European cranium

Conjectured outline Remarkable are the projections of the Teeth inferred from the Receding Chin

The remarkable semi-human JAW BONE found in the vicinity of the Cranium,unfortunately broken and with but TWO VERY HUMAN TEETH left.

Broken porton of Jawbone. Projecting Chin of modern European.

Outline of modern type of JAWBONE.

The circumstances of the discovery are given in some detail in the London Sphere (December 28). It was made by Mr. Charles Dawson, who in company with Dr. Smith-Woodward described the skull and its meaning to a meeting of the Geological Society on December 18. We read:

"Mr. Dawson described the circumstances of the discovery. Water filled the gravel-pit until the end of May, but excavation was begun early in June, and by the end of September had resulted in the finding of sufficient fragments of the skull to restore the whole and also in the recovery of half the lower jaw. At the same time the diggings revealed fragments of two primitive elephants, a hippopotamus, the common red deer and horse, and a beaver. Numerous flint implements of a very primitive type were also found. While the diggings were in progress he examined thoroughly the geology of the whole neighborhood and came to the conclusion that the position of the gravel and its nature proved great antiquity. Since the gravel was deposited the Ouse itself has cut down its channel to a depth of eighty feet.

"Dr. Woodward continued the narrative. With the aid of Mr. Frank O. Barlow, the preparator in the department of geology in the Natural History Museum, a restored model of the skull was prepared, and it is now possible to study its features accurately and in detail. The only external appearance of antiquity was found in the occiput, which showed that in this early form the neck was shaped not like that of a modern man, but more like that of an ape. The brain capacity was only about two-thirds of that of an ordinary modern man. Two of the molar teeth were human in shape."

It is unnecessary, of course, to say that those who do not accept the evidence tending to show human descent from ape-like ancestors will have other explanations for the apish resemblances in the Sussex skull.

From the London "Graphic"

Approximate Outline of Modern European Type.

Very heavy ridges over the Eyes.

Skull of CHIMPANZEE (after Huxley).