Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/161

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147
RECENT ANTHROPOLOGY.

in the ancient grammars, it must be remembered that human custom is hardly ever willfully absurd, its unreasonableness usually arising from loss or confusion of old sense. Thus it can hardly be doubted that the misused grammatical gender in Hebrew or Greek is the remains of an older and reasonable phenomenon of language; but, if so, this must have belonged to a period earlier than we can assign to the theoretical parent language of either. Lastly, the development of civilization requires a long period of prehistoric time. Experience and history show that civilization grew up gradually, while every age preserves recognizable traces of the ages which went before. The woodman's axe of to-day still retains much of the form of its ancestor—the stone celt in its wooden handle; the mathematician's tables keep up in their decimal rotation a record of the early ages when man's ten fingers first taught him to count; the very letters with which I wrote these lines may be followed back to the figure of birds and beasts and other objects drawn by the ancient Egyptians, at first as mere picture-writing, to denote the things represented. Yet, when we learn from the monuments what ancient Egyptian life was like toward five thousand years ago, it appears that civilization had already come on so far that there was an elaborate system of government, an educated literary priesthood, a nation skilled in agriculture, architecture, and metal-work. These ancient Egyptians, far from being near the beginning of civilization, had, as the late Baron Bunsen held, already reached its halfway house. This eminent Egyptologist's moderate estimate of man's age on the earth at about twenty thousand years has the merit of having been made on historical grounds alone, independently of geological evidence, for the proofs of the existence of man in the Quaternary or mammoth period had not yet gained acceptance.

My purpose in briefly stating here the evidence of man's antiquity derived from race, language, and culture, is to insist that these arguments stand on their own ground. It is true that the geological argument from the implements in the drift-gravels and bone-caves, by leading to a general belief that man is extremely ancient on the earth, has now made it easier to anthropologists to maintain a rationally satisfactory theory of the race-types and mental development of mankind. But we should by no means give up this vantage-ground, though the ladder we climbed by should break down. Even if it could be proved that the flint implements of Abbeville or Torquay were really not so ancient as the pyramids of Egypt, this would not prevent us from still assuming, for other and sufficient reasons, a period of human life on earth extending many thousand years further back.

It is an advantage of this state of the evidence that it to some extent gets rid of the "sensational" element in the problem of fossil man, which it leaves as merely an interesting inquiry into the earliest known relics of savage tribes. Geological criticism has not yet absolutely settled either way the claims of the Abbé Bourgeois's flints from