Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 27.djvu/124

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112
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

indeed, but armed only with roughly-chipped stone implements, and wholly ignorant of taming animals, or of the very rudiments of agriculture. He knew nothing of the use of metals—aurum irrepertum spernere fortior—and he had not even learned how to grind and polish his rude stone tomahawks to a finished edge. He couldn't make himself a bowl of sun-baked pottery, and if he had discovered the almost universal art of manufacturing an intoxicating liquor from grain or berries (for, as Byron, with too great anthropological truth, justly remarks, "man, being reasonable, must get drunk") he at least drank his aboriginal beer or toddy from the capacious horn of a slaughtered aurochs. That was the kind of human being who alone inhabited France and England during the later pre-Glacial period.

A hundred and seventy thousand years elapse (as the play-bills put it), and then the curtain rises afresh upon neolithic Europe. Man meanwhile, loitering somewhere behind the scenes in Asia or Africa (as yet imperfectly explored from this point of view), had acquired the important arts of sharpening his tomahawks and producing hand-made pottery for his kitchen utensils. When the great ice-sheet cleared away he followed the returning summer into Northern Europe, another man, physically, intellectually, and morally, with all the slow accumulations of nearly two thousand centuries (how easily one writes the words! how hard to realize them!) upon his maturer shoulders. Then comes the age of what older antiquaries used to regard as primitive antiquity—the age of the English barrows, of the Danish kitchen-middens, of the Swiss lake-dwellings. The men who lived in it had domesticated the dog, the cow, the sheep, the goat, and the invaluable pig; they had begun to sow small ancestral wheat and undeveloped barley; they had learned to weave flax and wear decent clothing; in a word, they had passed from the savage hunting condition to the stage of barbaric herdsmen and agriculturists. That is a comparatively modern period, and yet I suppose we must conclude, with Dr. James Geikie, that it isn't to be measured by mere calculations of ten or twenty centuries, but ten or twenty thousand years. The perspective of the past is opening up rapidly before us; what looked quite close yesterday is shown to-day to lie away off somewhere in the dim distance. Like our palæolithic artists, we fail to get the reindeer fairly behind the ox in the foreground, as we ought to do if we saw the whole scene properly foreshortened.

On the table where I write there lie two paper-weights, preserving from the fate of the sibylline leaves the sheets of foolscap to which this article is now being committed. One of them is a very rude flint hatchet, produced by merely chipping off flakes from its side by dexterous blows, and utterly unpolished or unground in any way. It belongs to the age of the very old master (or possibly even to a slightly earlier epoch), and it was sent me from Ightham, in Kent, by that indefatigable unearther of prehistoric memorials, Mr. Benjamin Har-