Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 1.djvu/111

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
101
PREHISTORIC TIMES.
PREHISTORIC TIMES.[1]
By Dr. T. M. COAN.

Ethnology is passing at present through a phase from which older sciences have safely emerged. The new views with reference to the antiquity of man are still looked upon by some persons with distrust and apprehension. Yet, says the distinguished author, of whose researches we are about to give some account, these new views "will, I doubt not, in a few years, be regarded with as little disquietude as are now those discoveries in astronomy and geology which at one time excited even greater opposition." It is now pretty generally admitted that the first appearance of Man in Europe dates from a period so remote, that neither history, nor even tradition, can throw any light on his origin, or mode of life. Under these circumstances, some have supposed that the past is hidden from the present by a veil, which time will probably thicken, but never can remove. Thus our prehistoric antiquities have been valued as monuments of ancient skill and perseverance, not regarded as pages of ancient history; recognized as interesting vignettes, not as historical pictures. Some writers have assured us that, in the words of Palgrave, "we must give it up, that speechless past; whether fact or chronology, doctrine or mythology; whether in Europe, Asia, Africa, or America; at Thebes or Palenque, on Lycian shore or Salisbury Plain: lost is lost; gone is gone forever."

Of late years, however, a new Science has been born among us which deals with times and events far more ancient than any which have yet fallen within the province of the archæologist. The geologist reckons not by days or by years; the whole six thousand years, which were until lately looked on as the sum of the world's existence, are to him but one unit of measurement in the long succession of past ages.

Our knowledge of geology is, of course, very incomplete; on some questions we shall, no doubt, see reason to change our opinion, but, on the whole, the conclusions to which it points are as definite as those of zoology, chemistry, or any of the kindred sciences. Nor does there appear to be any reason why those methods of examination which have proved so successful in geology, should not also be used to throw light on the history of man in prehistoric times. Archæology forms, in fact, the link between geology and history. But, while other animals leave only teeth and bones behind them, the men of the earliest ages are to be studied principally by their works; they have left

  1. "Prehistoric Times as illustrated by Ancient Remains, and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages By Sir John Lubbock, Bart, M. P., Vice President of the Royal Society," etc., etc. 8vo, pp. 640. New York: D. Appleton & Co.