The Idea of Fossil Man

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Kroeber, A. L., Anthropology Today: An Encyclopedic Inventory. 1953

[93] I Birth

The idea of the existence of a man who can be regarded as a precursor, both chronologically and morphologically, of the builder of historical civilization – this idea, I submit, represents a surprisingly recent conquest of the human mind. Today no one any longer questions it or even wonders at it. And yet only a little more than a century ago it would have been as impossible and as shocking for the serious scientist to speak (or even think!) in terms of "fossil man," as it still was, fifty years ago, for official science to suggest the mutability of the atom.

In his classic Les Hommes fossiles, Professor M. Boule vividly pictured pre-history’s heroic days (in and around 1850) when the best brains of France and England fought hard to break the philosophico-scientific spell which made it almost impossible for the ordinary man of that time (and this in spite of Buffon, Cuvier, and Lamarck) to conceive of man (or even of apes) as a part of the so-called "extinct world." . . .

[98] The first, but oversimplified, idea of the early human paleontologists, as I have mentioned above, was to connect Homo sapiens genetically, and in a direct line, with each newly discovered fossil man, either with the Neanderthal man or with Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus.

Today, as a result of a franker recognition and a better understanding of such pre-Neanderthal, "sapientoid" forms as the men of Palestine, the Swanscombe man, the Steinhelm man, and the Piltdown man [only mention of this in chapter], we are beginning to realize (1) that the formation and rise of Homo sapiens has apparently been a long and complicated process….