MORE than a century ago Dr. William Buckland, reader in Geology at Oxford and later Dean of Westminster, and Professor Schmerling of Liege made the first discoveries of palmolithic man in Europe, the cliffs which fringe the pretty valley of the Meuse.
they believed, was not contemporaneous with the extinct beasts for whose remains they were in quest. Yet they stumbled upon him ; not a " missing link," which hardly anyone thought of in those days, but men like ourselves.
Ninety years ago an officer in the Royal Artillery found at Gibraltar the skull of a man or woman very different from ourselves with resemblances to that of a large ape. The Gibraltar skull was described to the local scientific society, then put in a cupboard and forgotten.
A few years later a skull of a similar type was found in Western Germany. The Darwinian controversy soon burst on the world; some said the new skull was a freak, some a " missing link." Its fellow, having been by this time forgotten, could not be called in to help to settle the dispute.
When the Descent of Man appeared, Darwin's critics taunted him with the objection to his thesis that, were it true, remains of beings morphologically intermediate between men and apes would have been discovered. Darwin replied that when they had bean looked for in the right place they would be found.
Darwin Vindicated Nearly seventy years have elapsed since the Descent of Man first appeared, and Darwin's prophecy has received ample verification. The only matter for dispute is whether the remains of fossil man which have come to our knowledge during this period fortify the hypothesis that there existed a common origin between man and the non-human members of the order of mammals called Primates, or whether they can be explained away as freaks or abnormalities.
In the opinion of the overwhelming majority of those who have devoted themselves to the study of human palaeontology—be they Catholics, Protestants or Agnostics—these vestiges of extinct man, taken as a whole, serve to render almost untenable any theory other than that which gives to man, considered as a mammal, kinship with the apes, monkeys and lemurs.
Degree of Cousinship Authorities differ, however, considerably with regard to the degree of cousinship which they believe to exist between man and these three branches of the Primate stem. In the CATHOLIC HERALD for January 27 Mr George Beverley expresses his dissent from the opinion of the schola and would seemingly have us believe that anthropologists, if not actually knaves, have first made fools of themselves and then made fools of a gullible public by investing certain anatomical abnormalities with hybrid Grieco-Latin names, and then foisting upon us mythical races of man.
Neanderthal man is the most recent in time of Mr Beverley's hoaxes. There is no " skull game " here; nearly the whole skeleton is known, reconstructed from a large number of specimens found over an area extending from Gibraltar to the Crimea, and from Jersey to Rome.
Found by Three Priests The most perfect Neanderthal skeleton was found by three priests, one of whom considers him to be so different from modern man that he doubts whether the two shared a common ancestor of human status.
Without going so far as that, it would, I think, be true to say that the great majority of comparative anatomists who have given attention to this problem would, were any other animal than man under consideration, hold that the differences between Neanderthal man and modern man were sufficient to constitute them separate species rather than subspecies. Speakly roughly, we may perhaps compare the relation between the gorilla and the chimpanzee or between the mammoth and the African and two types to that existing between the Indian elephants.
So far as is known, and search has been made on an extensive scale, Neanderthal man was the sole inhabitant of a large part of Europe at one period. The freak theory is untenable because when freaks become as numerous as Neanderthal men they cease to be freaks and become normal.
I suspect that Mr Beverley's real grievance against Neanderthal man is that in nearly every particular in which he differs from ourselves it is in the direction of resemblance to the great apes. If he were less and not more ape-like than we are, I think that he would treat him with the greatest respect and seek to accord him the most widespread publicity.
" Mr Homo Heidelbergensis " I will not linger long over "Mr Homo Heidelbergensis." He was probably an
early variety of Neanderthal man. The jaw would almost articulate with some of the Neanderthal skulls. It was found in 1907, not 1917. The difference is not unimportant, because Neanderthal man was much better known at the later than at the earlier date, and if he had been found in 1917 Heidelberg man might not have been so readily accorded the rank of a new species.
From the nine lines which he devotes to Piltdown man I gather that Mr Beverley thinks he has little to tell us of our early ancestors. He says that Eoanthropus consists of part of the walls of a skull. Part of the walls of a skull may tell an anatomist a very great deal or they may tell him very little. In this case they tell him a very great deal, and, what is more, parts of the walls of two Eoanthropus skulls are known, thus indicating that we are on the track of a long vanished type of man and not of another freak. The jaw cannot at present be shown with absolute certainty to belong to the skull. But for reasons which space forbids me to enter into, it almost certainly did.
Very Peculiar Race of Men The lesson which may prudently be drawn from the Piltdown fragments is this : that at a very remote period either in the warm interval preceding the last glacial phase or else in the period preceding the last but one, there lived in South Britain a very peculiar race of men combining in a way not found among other peoples certain modern and certain primitive features.
Now we come to the Pekin man, Sinanthropus. Mr Beverley appears to confuse the true Sinanthropus with sonic human remains of a much later date found in the same cave and now being used for political propaganda. With these latter I am not concerned. The true Pekin man is known from parts of upwards of twenty individuals. Mr Beverley surely knows that the chances of finding a complete skeleton of so remote a period are infinitesimal. I think I understand why he has so little to say about Sinanthropus. It is, I feel sure, because he is no •longer a missing, but a discovered, link in the chain of evidence required to bridge the gulf between Neanderthal man and the great apes.
Mr Chesterton Makes Merry The Java man, Pithecanthropus, whether entitled to his surname Erectus or not, has been the butt of a great deal of burnout'. Mr Chesterton made merry about him in a way which did more credit to his reserves of fun than to his ability to appreciate scientific evidence. I suppose that Mr Beverley thinks that he too was a freak or else a large ape. Freaks would have had little chance of surviving to maturity in the rude days in which Pithecanthropus lived and unluckily for the ape theory a Catholic professor has recently brought forward important evidence to show that his brain, if not actually human, was at least tending in a human direction. Pithecanthropus is not so lonely as he used to be. He has already found an
adult companion and possibly a child
as well. The really irritating thing about him is the way in which he diminishes the gap between the Pekin man and the anthropoid apes.
What, then, is the lesson of the " skull game " ? It is not necessarily that any one of these fossil types is directly ancestral to ourselves or even to another. It is that we must either reject evolution altogether and believe in the separate creation of each species or, at least, each genus of living things, or else bring the skeleton of man within its scope.
One who believes that evolution can span the gap between an amoeba and a gorilla cannot refuse to go further. If it could produce the skull of a gorilla, it could certainly produce those of Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus; if these, then the skull of Neanderthal man, and if it has done all this it will not have fallen in its last hop between Neanderthal man and ourselves. It is not by undervaluing evidence that we shall best combat materialism, but rather by exorcising the spirit of obscurantism from our midst.