Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/May 1875/The First Traces of Man in Europe II

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Popular Science Monthly Volume 7 May 1875  (1875) 
The First Traces of Man in Europe II
By Albrecht Mueller
Last in series


WE have been concerned heretofore with the human and animal remains of the older Diluvium. We come now to the upper and more recent layers of that formation.

In these, the formerly so abundant remains of the cave-bear are wholly wanting, those of the mammoth very rare. The common animals are the giant-elk, primitive ox, aurochs, horse, chamois, steinbok, moose, monkey, and various species at present confined to arctic and high Alpine and Pyrenean tracts. The characteristic animal of the time, however, is the reindeer, heretofore absent or very rare, and hence the name—the Age of Reindeers.

The continued prevalence of a northern and Alpine fauna in the lowlands of Europe, proves the continuance of the severity of climate; we are still dealing with the Ice period, or probably with a second ice-period, as many infer from the peculiarities of the more recent drift. Of course the retreat of the glaciers of this later Ice period—glaciers apparently less in mass and extent than those of the former one—would produce fresh floods and all the phenomena previously explained as the results of such floods.

Men were still troglodytes, but also to some extent lived out-of-doors in so-called stations at the foot of sheltering cliffs. The domestication of animals was not yet practised, even the reindeer being used for food only, though this is disputed by some writers. Of the use of metals there is not a trace. This age is shown by every indication to be separated from our own, the historic age, by not less than 10,000 years, as to its initial point, at least, for some writers believe it to have been continued until the beginning of historic times.

The knives, axes, and spear-heads, are still rough-worked, but more carefully and skillfully than before. The material for them was brought from considerable distances; those found in Belgium, for instance, being made from flint-bowlders found in the chalk of the Champagne district. Very many kinds of implements were in use. The pieces of iron-stone found among them were probably used there, as they are now, by many tribes, for painting the face and figure. Bright stones, shells, and the teeth of animals, were perforated and strung into necklaces and bracelets—personal vanity thus anciently asserting itself. Skins and furs were used for clothing. Needles of horn and bone, and pieces of horn and stones manifestly used for smoothing down the seams, are often met with. The dead were buried at full length in caves.

The station at Solutré, department of Saône-et-Loire, is rich in memorials of this remote age, such as carefully-wrought articles of flint, and bones of the species named, especially of the reindeer; and near by is a burial-cave in which are several perfectly-preserved skeletons, with skulls of the Mongol type, according to Dr. Pruner Bey. In this instance the bodies of the dead were inclosed between flag-stones.

Pottery had now come into use, but it was roughly made by hand and unburnt. The beginnings of art are now met, as in pictures upon bone, ivory, and slate, of the mammoth, aurochs, horse, etc., and even sketches of the human figure. In some of these drawings, shadows are rudely but not badly shown by peculiar linings. At Bruniquet, also, in the department of Tarn-et-Garonne, such engravings of the mammoth and reindeer have been found.

One of the most interesting collections of relics of this age was found in the Station de la Madeleine, in the department of Dordogne. Bones and flints from another locality seem to show the marks of an iron hammer.

The cave of Cro-Maguon, in the same department, was rich in human skulls, skeletons, and handiwork; among other articles were perforated shells, evidently once worn in necklaces. Contrary to rule, bones of the mammoth were here associated with those of the reindeer.

At Chavaux, Belgium, was a deposit of remains, the disposition and other indications of which almost compel the belief that the place was the scene of a cannibal feast. The human skulls and bones are all of young women and boys, witnessing to a decided preference for young and tender flesh on the part of our anthropophagic ancestors. These bones were split open longitudinally, as was the custom with those of animals, for the extraction of marrow. This and similar discoveries in other caves throw a singular light upon the habits and culture of the men of this time.

Many Belgian caves, and notably that of Chaleux on the Lesse, yield large collections of mammal bones and stone implements.

The digging of a mill-race through a peat-bed at Schussenried, a village not far from Ravensburg, revealed a station very rich in archaeological relics of this age. It was probably little more than the rubbish-heap of a station near at hand. There was here a profusion of flint articles, and bones and antlers of the reindeer. The mosses and snail-shells of the peat of this vicinity belong, like the mammals mentioned, to arctic and Alpine species, and are thus another evidence of the rigors of the climate of that time.

A station at Salêve, near the Swiss frontier, contains reindeer-bones of the Reindeer age, and stone axes, and human bones of the preceding Age of Mammoths.[1]

Switzerland and the Rhine valley below Basle have furnished but few relics of the Reindeer age, while France has many localities yielding quantities from both this and the Mammoth period, which are the two earlier Stone ages, the third and last of which will be next discussed.

So far, we have found human bones, skulls, skeletons, axes, knives, spear-heads, needles, ornaments, etc., of the periods discussed, in almost every country of Europe—in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the soil of classic Rome itself, as well as in the northern regions.


The Age of Polished Stone.—This name has been given by French writers to the third era of prehistoric human existence, on account of the characteristic smoothness and polish of the stone implements.

The distribution of land and sea, the relief of the surface, the climate, and the flora and fauna of this age, were substantially as they are now.

Among its oldest memorials—and the age probably ended about b. c. 5000—are the Kjökken-mödding[2] of Denmark, found at stations adjacent to the sea, and consisting of immense collections of empty mussel and oyster shells. Similar heaps are found in the United States.[3] The late Prof, von Mulot made careful studies of those of Europe, and the reader is referred to his valuable works for details. Comparatively barren as we have stated Switzerland to be in human memorials of the two preceding eras, it is the land richest in those of this age; for to it belong the oldest of the pile-dwellings found in most Swiss lakes and lacustrine peat-beds.

They were first discovered at Meilun, on Lake Zurich, during the winter of 1834-'35, when the level of most Swiss lakes was exceptionally low. Of course the mere existence of piles in our lakes had long been known to fishermen, but their real meaning and their significance for science was there first recognized by that keen-witted observer, Dr. Ferdinand Keller, of Zurich. We can offer nothing like an adequate description of these remarkable lake-villages, and shall speak of them only with reference to the indications they afford as to the man of this as compared with that of former prehistoric periods.

In addition to the rough-worked implements heretofore so abundant, we now have smooth, even polished axes, etc., of various hard stones, especially of greenstone, a term including diorite, syenite, and the peculiar serpentine which the Italians call gabrro. These axes were in various ways, and sometimes very ingeniously, attached to bone, wood, or horn handles. Besides these larger articles are many smaller ones, made of wood and horn, with arrow-tips and spear-heads of flint, jasper, and rock-crystal, often made with remarkable skill and carefulness of finish.

With the Age of Reindeers ends the Diluvial period proper, of which most of the characteristic animals, the reindeer among them, were by this time extinct, or else had wandered to distant regions. Hence the absence of their remains in later formations. Evidences of the domestication of animals now appear for the first time. Pottery is still rude and unburnt, but ornamented with odd stripes and rows of dots. The pieces are mostly conical, the bottom being the truncated point. No trace of writing, drawing, or sculpture, is to be found—a fact the more remarkable in view of the existence of the works of art mentioned as belonging to the preceding age.

The literature of the pile-dwellings is already quite extensive. Keller, Desor, Troyon, Morlot, and others, have written valuable manuals, while Heer and Rütimeyer have given in extenso the results of their thorough study of the vegetable, animal, and human remains, found in these curious habitations.

Those of the age we are considering are found in the edges of many lakes, and in peat-bogs near Pfeffikon, Inwyl, Wauwyl, and Moosseedorf. Often they are grouped into considerable villages, as on Lakes Constance, Neuchatel, Geneva, Zurich, and Morlat. These dwellings are found not only in Switzerland, but also in Bavaria, Carinthia, Moravia, Pomerania, and Mecklenburg, in Germany; and in France, England, Ireland, and the north of Italy. Of these some belong to the Stone age, some to the Bronze age, which we will next describe, and some were inhabited during both the Stone and Bronze ages.

With the pile-dwellings are to be classed the cranochs or cranogues—artificial islands, built upon piles in the peat-bogs and lakes of Ireland; the burial-places of Monsheim, near Worms; and land-stations in wellnigh every country in Europe, as well as in Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Japan, Java, India, North Africa, Egypt, and North America. It must not be forgotten, however, that the polished-stone implements of some of these various localities may belong to later times, as there are now living tribes at about the grade of culture that was attained in the Stone age.[4] At Grand-Presigny, south of Tours, and at Charbonnières, in the Macon district, are places abounding with the nuclei of flint-boulders, and articles made therefrom in every stage of finish, with many spoiled in making—places evidently once devoted to this manufacture. Some caves in the departments of Yonne and Ariege show layers of loam upon calcareous tufa, the human and animal remains of each of which are exactly those of the successive ages we have discussed, viz., of the Mammoth, of the Reindeer, and of Polished Stone. That is, they constitute a succession of deposits, each with its peculiar animal remains, and hence offer the same kind of evidence as to their relative antiquity as do the older geological strata.

And like the earlier geological eras, the various ages of prehistoric human existence are not sharply defined and severed, each from the preceding and succeeding one, but one merges into the other by gradual progressions of thousands of years. Not only certain species of plants and animals, but entire races of man, have thus slowly vanished from off the earth, or retreated to lands far remote, while others have as gradually come in to occupy their places. Some animal species, as for instance Speller's Borken-thier[5] the dodo, and the auk or great diver, have died out within historic times; others in very recent times, as for example the huge birds of New Zealand and Madagascar.[6] And there is going on before our eyes the sad spectacle of the extinction of some of the nobler savage races of men, incapable of persistence in life in an age like ours, opposed by the superior forces of European civilization.

From the beginning civilization has spread from the East to the West, and such is still its line of march, as illustrated by the Teutonic race's steady pressure into the ever-receding "far West." So, too, with the people of the pile-dwellings. They probably came from Asia to Europe some 6,000 or 7,000 years ago, being doubtless affected, as is every people, by the powerful modifying influences either produced or put in full play by such long and vast migrations. And the people who made the stone axes and the pile-dwellings is probably the same that reared the huge funeral piles known as dolmens[7]. A dolmen consists of two immense blocks of stone placed on end,[8] upon which a third is laid, forming a sort of table. The dead were buried beneath, with various implements and weapons at hand. How a people, without engineering skill and contrivances,-could rear such masses into position, is a problem yet unsolved. They are found in Brittany, Southern France, Great Britain, Portugal, North Africa, Nubia, Palestine, and the East Indies, those of Brittany being the largest.

Thus, instead of the golden age, that fancy represents as lying far back in the race's childhood, we find the dull realities of a long Stone age, during which man endured all and more than all the perils and sufferings of the present.

And yet, for each of us, as years steal over us, the days of our own vanished youth are ever "the good old days."


The Age of Bronze.—The predominance of bronze, as the material of the articles found in the later pile-dwellings, has given to the fourth prehistoric human epoch its name—the Age of Bronze. While some of these lake-villages continued in use from the Stone age, others—usually those farthest out in the lakes—evidently originated in the Age of Bronze.

There is no longer room to doubt that the bronze articles of Switzerland were made near the places of their discovery, and were not brought from the East, according to the common view. Some of the very moulds in which they were formed have been discovered, and at Nantes the remains of a foundery have been plainly made out. Whether the bronzes of Northern Europe are of Phœnician origin is yet in doubt. Their symbolisms and religious adaptations are in favor of that view. The native origin of those of Switzerland is settled by the analyses of Prof, von Fallenberg; for, whereas the metal of Phœnicia, Egypt, and the East generally, contains lead in considerable quantities, that of Switzerland is of tin and copper only. So much artistic taste and mechanical skill are shown in these various articles—needles, rings, armlets, etc.—that many of them might be used by modern ladies without discredit to their work-boxes or toilets. But, in singular contrast to the Stone age, there is no relic of any portrayal of man or beast or plant. We meet, for the first time, with pottery turned on the lathe and well burned. Instead of dolmens we now have mounds, in which the dead are laid at full length, with weapon* and ornaments by their side. Some localities offer indications that the burning of the dead was practised. Here belong the so-called Celtic mounds, and the Terremare or Emilian mounds near Parma abound in relics of this age. Rütimeyer and others show that, although the characteristic animals of this and the preceding age are identical as to their species, in this age the domesticated animals predominate, another evidence of advancing culture.

We may ascribe the introduction of bronze manufacture into Europe to a great race immigrant from Asia some 6,000 years ago, called Aryas or Aryans. And this Bronze age reaches to and overlaps the beginning of the historic period in some countries, and so includes the great epochs of the Assyrian and Egyptian Empires (b. c. circa 1500), and the earlier eras of the next succeeding Age of Iron.
The Age or Iron.—The nearer we approach the present, with its rapid growths and changes, the shorter become the several ages into which we divide the history of man as to his physical surroundings and peculiarities, and the successive grades of spiritual and social development through which he has passed.

Last of the prehistoric eras is the Age of Iron, represented in some of the pile-dwellings and their contents, but best, and with least admixture from earlier and later times, in the station of La Têne on Lake Neuchâtel. This age considerably overlaps the historic period of several countries. We can but mention some peculiarities of its earlier portions.

In the determination of its initial and terminal points we must remember that the civilization of the East preceded that of the West by several centuries. There are many proofs that a considerable degree of culture existed at its very beginning. Mounds were still used for burial. Bronze, also, was yet in use, but iron as well. Pottery was now not only shaped on the lathe, but burned a good red. Manufactures in glass, gold, and silver, are found for the first time. In lonely mountain-places are yet found dross and the remains of iron-furnaces of the time. To be sure, this dross is sometimes ascribed to volcanic action, but it is met with where volcanoes never could have existed.

To the former part of this age belong the weapons found in the Tiefenau, near Berne, plainly indicating that it was the field of a battle fought some 600 years u. c. Of great interest, also, is the ancient city of graves near Hallstadt, where the Burgomaster Ramsauer and others found over 900 graves and an immense quantity of iron and bronze weapons. But, interesting as such discoveries are, they lie too far outside the special topic of our treatise to be further discussed.

If a name, descriptive of the age in which we live, be sought for, "the Age of Paper" is perhaps as good as any that can be discussed. If we name it not from its present but its near future characteristic, we may perhaps best adopt that suggested by an eminent geologist—"the Age of Steel."

Even this hurried retrospect of the various prehistoric ages makes prominent the fact that in Europe, if not over all the earth, humanity has progressed, with various temporary haltings, from beginnings very rude and, in some respects, almost animal-like—that it is only after the lapse of many millenniums it has attained its present high physical and spiritual development.

In the progress of these studies we have perhaps become the poorer by more than one fair dream's evanishing. We have not found—we could not find—either the lovely paradise of our first parents, nor the much-sung, much-blessed golden age.

But one thing, at least, such investigations secure to us—the conviction, namely, of the limitless perfectibility implanted by the Creator in the very germs and essence of all his creatures, and preeminently in man.

And this conviction it is that opens to the eye and hope the precious, the inspiring prospect of an ever richer, fairer development for races yet to come.

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  1. After a new and critical study of this deposit, Prof. Rütimeyer believes it to be a confused mingling of remains from various epochs.
  2. Literally, Kitchen-refuse-heaps.Translator.
  3. They were capitally described in the American Naturalist for January, October, and November, 1868.—Trans.
  4. Long after metals were in common use among them, many ancient peoples (of which the Jews were one, as the Bible informs us) employed stone knives in all religious sacrifices, etc. The Indians of North America and the Greenlanders yet use stone implements exactly similar to those of the lake-dwellings.
  5. Literally, bark-animal, or bark-eater, as we would say in English. I am utterly at a loss for the English or scientific synonym. The best guess I can offer is that it is a Castoroid, or Castor proper—possibly the giant beaver of the species Discopyhlus. {See Dana, "Geology," pp. 562, 563.)—Trans.
  6. To wit, the dodo, solitaire, moa {Dinornis giganteus), and Æpiornis maximus. (For description, see Dana, pp. 578, 579.)—Trans.
  7. Or cromlechs.
  8. In some instances there are three or more uprights. The covering stone of one specimen is 18 feet long by 9 broad. In the Anglesea cromlechs are stones weighing 30 tons each.—Trans.