[iv] The First Europeans

Prehistoric Man and His Story 1915

G. F. Scott Elliot


Pithecanthrops Erectus, Dubois

The skull fragment found by Dr. Dubois in Java is of a creature almost exactly on the boundary line between man and the higher anthropoid apes. Restored according to the directions of Professor Rutot of Brussels.

[125] The first fragment of the famous Sussex skull was discovered by Dr. Charles Dawson in the autumn of 1911 close to Piltdown, Fletching, in Sussex. This fortunate discovery is, perhaps, the most important of all yet made, for it may be that of the woman or man of Piltdown belonged to the very earliest of all human races. The beds of brown gravel in which the skull was found have been carefully traced by Mr. Dawson, who made three borings in a thousand fields, and thus was able to map accurately the distribution of the deposit. We must, of course, follow his descriptions and those of Dr. Smith Woodward and Professor Elliot Smith, which form an excellent and the only monograph on this most ancient of skulls. The bones occurred in a dark brown gravel, consisting of Iron-stone mixed with flints.

At one time this gravel lay on the surface of a plateau, which extending over the neighbouring country between the base of the Wealden anticline and the chalk escarpment. It is at from 100 to 130 feet above the present level of the sea; the River Ouse, since the time at which it was deposited, has cut down its bed for a vertical height of 80 feet. Some authorities believe that this plateau gravel of Sussex corresponds in time to the high plateau gravels of the North and South Downs, such as those of Ightham in Kent, where Benjamin Harrison, in 1865, discovered a whole series of eoliths. By a most thorough and exhaustive search at Piltdown, a very interesting collection of animal remains was obtained; Mastodon [126] arvernensis, a Pliocene elephant (Stegodon ), hippopotamus (two teeth), horse, red deer of very large size, and a beaver, which seems to be more like the later form of beaver than the Pliocene type.

These animals would flourish in a fairly warm, temperate climate, such as that of Naples and Sicily to-day. One would expect them to live in a broad valley, with rich grassy levels or marshes, and with the higher ground covered by forest, perhaps interrupted here and there by glades or grass patches, and intersected by smaller streams and tributaries. It is obvious that they belong to a warm phase and to an interglacial interval of some kind. But the mastodon and the other elephant point to the Gunz-Mindel and the beaver to the Riss-Wurm Interglacial.

It is, of course, possible that the two first are derived from some older deposit, into which a later river had cut its course; but this argument seems (at least to us) a very dangerous one, and not of much weight, at least unless there is the clearest possible proof of this older deposit. A great deal depends on the beaver's tooth, which seems not to belong to the Pliocene beaver, but to the more recent species. The other animals are certainly found in the Mindel-Riss Interglacial, and might also occur in either of the other two.

The Piltdown Skull and Associated Flints

The upper figure is a restoration of the skull and lower jaw of the Piltdown fossil (Eoanthropus Dawsoni ) about one-third natural size. The subsequent discovery of the canine tooth strikingly confirms the restoration of the lower jaw.

The "eolithic" flint shows a flaked edge (right-hand figure), simply flaked surface (left‚ and edge view (middle). This was found in a depression adjoining that in which the lower jaw was discovered.

By kind permission of Dr. Smith Woodward and the Geological Society.

There were also flint instruments in this same deposit. Some are decidedly "eolithic" in character. One is a very early type of borer, which may have been used to prepare spears, to skin animals, or to split marrow-bones. A deer's bones, split and scratched, have also been found in the gravel. Another is a very rude scraper, which, like those of the Kent plateau, may, as Prestwich showed, have been used for scraping round surfaces like bones or sticks. The Piltdown flints are certainly of a very rude and clumsy type, but it seems, at least to us, that she must have had some vague idea of what she wanted to make, which we have taken in a previous chapter as a sign of humanity. A very rude coup de poing, or boucher [127]–that is, an axe held in the hand–was also found, but at a slightly higher level in the gravel.

This instrument is described as Chellean, or by Mr. Reginald Smith as Acheulean (see table). The resemblances of her tools to those found in the plateau gravel of Kent (Shoreham, Eynsford, etc.) is very close indeed. We must regard her, then, as having been armed very much in the way that we have suggested for the first human being–that is, with a rough wooden club and wooden lances; she was, perhaps, clothed in skins, tied together with withies, and she may have carried one or two favourite flints in a roll of skin, or, possibly, in the very first of all string bags. But there is no evidence regarding these questions. It is in the highest degree probable that she avoided with great care all dangerous animals of large size. If they attacked, she would try to keep them at a distance, with pebbles picked up anywhere, or with lighted firebrands.

In such a forest there should be nuts and fruits, perhaps roots, to be dug up with a stick, and plenty of very small game, such as frogs, insects, and small mammals. But it is the skull itself that gives the most important evidence of a very early date. Dr. Smith Woodward and Professor Elliot Smith have fully described the cranium and brain so far as the material goes, and a reconstruction has been carried out by Mr. Barlow of the Natural History Museum, where it is now exhibited.

It is the most primitive and ape-like yet discovered, saving only that of Pithecanthropus. Very low and narrow in front, the skull is gently arched above, and becomes widest and highest towards the back. The attachments of the neck muscles are very well marked. There may have been thickened bony ridges over the eyes, but there is no suggestion of the median crest, which is well marked in the Tasmanians and some other primitives. The skull is quite extraordinarily thick–in one place 20 millimetres, and from 10 to 12 millimetres elsewhere. Even the Australian and the La Chapelle [128] (Neanderthal race) skulls are only 6 to 8 millimetres in thickness, and that of the modern European is only 6 to 8 millimetres.

The brain is of quite considerable capacity, being l,070 c.c. That of the Gibraltar skull was 1,080 c.c. This is not less than some Australians and Peruvians, but far below the average of the Neanderthal race.

From the latter, there is also a difference in the position of the ear, which is in much the same place as in modern man. The muscles used in mastication were extraordinarily strong and powerful, but those employed in moving the tongue and speaking seem to have been but feebly developed. It is, however, highly improbable that the first Englishwoman was unable to speak, and it seems, also, that those parts of the brain which are concerned in the "spontaneous elaboration of speech and the ability to recall names" were at any rate present, or developing in a promising way. The lower jaw is heavy and massive, narrow and long rather than round and arched, and the teeth are very large, with five or six cusps. They are larger than those of the Spy specimens, but smaller than that of the Heidelberg man. The jaw in some respects resembles that of a young chimpanzee. As restored by Dr. Elliot Smith, there was a large canine tooth, which has since then been discovered, and confirms his reconstruction in a very remarkable way. Moreover, the woman of Piltdown and the man of Heidelberg are the only two human beings who had, so far as we know, no proper chin. She was not ambidexterous, but seems to have been right-handed.

We should perhaps mention that Dr. Keith has proposed a very different restoration of the cranium. It will be remembered that Pilthecanthropus was supposed to be the missing link. This very early form of man is far beyond Pithecanthropus in the size of the skull. Her brain was 1,070c.c., Pithecanthropus, 855 c.c., and a gorilla about 600 c.c. It is clear that the Piltdown [129] woman was a human being. The base of the skull is characteristic of man, not of apes, and we have seen that this is a very important point in the view here taken of the evolution of mankind.

Though there are a few distinctly ape-like characters, most of those points in which the skull differs from modern man can be detected in one or other of the primitive races. If so, she is the only representative known of one of the very earliest strains of mankind, perhaps the very first known of the original "generalized world-ranging type" from which all other varieties were derived.

The man of Heidelberg is the only other European yet discovered who may be of as ancient a date as our Piltdown skull. This, the Heidelberg or Mauer jaw, is nearly complete, with most of the teeth. It also has an excessively heavy, savage-looking, and massive character, and is especially remarkable for being entirely without a chin, being in this respect unique except for the Piltdown specimen. It possesses all the characters of a very early ape-like type, being narrow and elongated–a Gothic rather than a round arch. The teeth are quite human, but the strong grinding molars are enormous, larger even than the Piltdown specimen.

Dimensions: Heidelberg. Piltdown. Spy 1.

First molar 11.6 x 11.2 mm 11.5 x 10 mm. 10 x 10.5 mm.

Second molar 12.7 x 12 mm. 12 x 20 mm. 10 x 10 mm.

Both Sollas and Munro give especially full descriptions of this famous fossil, so that we shall not further discuss its peculiarities. . . .


Animals of Cromer Forest Bed, Piltdown, Heidelberg, Torralba, and Nerbudda Valley.

Cromer Piltdown Mauer, Torralba, Nerbudda

Forest Bed Heidelberg Spain Valley

Mastodon arvernensis *

Elephas meridionalis * *

" antiquus * * * *

" stegodon * *

Rhinoceros etruscus * * *

Hippopotamus * * *

Horse (species?) * *

Equus stenonsis * * *

Red deer * * *

Roe deer * *

Cereus latifrons * *

Boar * *

Beaver * * *

Bears (two species

(Pliocene) *

Machairodus *

Shells (certain special) * *

It will be seen that there is, so far as the evidence goes, a very close similarity in the animals known to the Piltdown people, the Heidelberg man, the Spaniards at Torralba, and perhaps also to those who lived in the valley of the Nerbudda. It was undoubtedly a very [132] early period for stegodon, machairodus, and the two bears could hardly have survived later than the Riss Ice Age. As a whole, and forgetting the convenient theory of a mixing up of the remains, these point to the Gunz-Mindel Interglacial. Now let us consider the general argument from the bones. Both Piltdown and Heidelberg differ from any known race of mankind. They are ceertainly of older date than the Neanderthalers. So far as their evidence goes, then, they are older than the Riss period. The Piltdown tools and those of Torralba are pre-Chellean. They are older and ruder than those common in the Mindel-Riss Interglacial.

In other parts of Sussex, and in Kent, really splendid collections of flint tools have been made, but it is in the highest degree difficult to give even an approximate date to them. One of the most famous is the Milton Street Pit, near Swanscombe, which we will suppose was inhabited during the Mindel-Riss Interglacial. After the whole Russian ice had passed, the valley below was occupied during the Riss-Wurm Interglacial, by Acheulian-Mousterian folk, who may have lived in shelters under jutting rocks and the like, and left their tools near the cliff foot. Then, after all this, when the Wurmian Ice Age came on, they departed or died. We now quote what is supposed to have happened from Mr. Lewis Abbott: "A heavy frozen mass, stodgy at base, passed from the highlands down to the lowlands, ploughing up the surface matearial, brecciating the hard chalk as it passed . . . mixing it and the surface materials into those fascinating festoonings with which we are so familar in glaciated areas, sweeping everything before it; the gigantic tusks and probably carcases of the elephants and other


The Comb Capelle Man

An ancestor of some European nations.

Restored according to the directions of Professor Rutot of Brussels.

[133] large Pleistocene Mammals; the contents of the scarcely vacated Palaeolithic settlements, with everything in living freshness; and the deposits containing relics of forgotten races pellmell into a contorted, inextricable mass some 15 feet thick." [fn. 8: J.R.A.I., 1911.]

Now, if these events happened as described, the Milton Street Pit implements would be of Chellean types. They would, on the plateau, be covered by the deposits due to the great floods of the Riss Ice Age. But the implements in the "stodgy mass" would be partly of the same age and date, partly belonging to all the stages of the Riss-Wurm–that iis, Acheulean and Mousterian. The beautiful figures in Mr. Abbott's paper seem to confirm this view. They appear, so far as we can judge from figures, to be mainly of the same general types as the Acheulan-Mousterian, of the Somme described by M. Commont. . . .


The Man of Heidelberg

The famous jaw was discovered at Mauer near Heidelberg by Dr. Schoetensack. The man had no chin. Restoration by M. Mascré under the direction of Professor Rutot of Brussels. . . .