The Antiquity of Man/Chapter 2

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The Antiquity of Man by Charles Lyell
Chapter 2

CHAPTER 2.

RECENT PERIOD—DANISH PEAT AND SHELL MOUNDS—SWISS LAKE-DWELLINGS.

(PLATE 1. [omitted] A VILLAGE BUILT ON PILES IN A SWISS LAKE. Restored by Dr. F. Keller, partly from Dumont D'Urville's Sketch of similar habitations in New Guinea.)

Works of Art in Danish Peat-Mosses.
Remains of three Periods of Vegetation in the Peat.
Ages of Stone, Bronze, and Iron.
Shell-Mounds or ancient Refuse-Heaps of the Danish Islands.
Change in geographical Distribution of Marine Mollusca since their Origin.
Embedded Remains of Mammalia of Recent Species.
Human Skulls of the same Period.
Swiss Lake-Dwellings built on Piles.
Stone and Bronze Implements found in them.
Fossil Cereals and other Plants.
Remains of Mammalia, wild and domesticated.
No extinct Species.
Chronological Computations of the Date of the Bronze and Stone Periods in Switzerland.
Lake-Dwellings, or artificial Islands called "Crannoges," in Ireland.

WORKS OF ART IN DANISH PEAT.[edit]

When treating in the "Principles of Geology" of the changes of the earth which have taken place in comparatively modern times, I have spoken of the embedding of organic bodies and human remains in peat, and explained under what conditions the growth of that vegetable substance is going on in northern and humid climates. Of late years, since I first alluded to the subject, more extensive investigations have been made into the history of the Danish peat-mosses. Of the results of these inquiries I shall give a brief abstract in the present chapter, that we may afterwards compare them with deposits of older date, which throw light on the antiquity of the human race.

The deposits of peat in Denmark,[1] varying in depth from 10 to 30 feet, have been formed in hollows or depressions in the northern drift or boulder formation hereafter to be described. The lowest stratum, 2 to 3 feet thick, consists of swamp-peat composed chiefly of moss or sphagnum, above which lies another growth of peat, not made up exclusively of aquatic or swamp plants. Around the borders of the bogs, and at various depths in them, lie trunks of trees, especially of the Scotch fir (Pinus sylvestris), often 3 feet in diameter, which must have grown on the margin of the peat-mosses, and have frequently fallen into them. This tree is not now, nor has ever been in historical times, a native of the Danish Islands, and when introduced there has not thriven; yet it was evidently indigenous in the human period, for Steenstrup has taken out with his own hands a flint instrument from below a buried trunk of one of these pines. It appears clear that the same Scotch fir was afterwards supplanted by the sessile variety of the common oak, of which many prostrate trunks occur in the peat at higher levels than the pines; and still higher the pedunculated variety of the same oak (Quercus robur, L.) occurs with the alder, birch (Betula verrucosa, Ehrh.), and hazel. The oak has now in its turn been almost superseded in Denmark by the common beech. Other trees, such as the white birch (Betula alba), characterise the lower part of the bogs, and disappear from the higher; while others again, like the aspen (Populus tremula), occur at all levels, and still flourish in Denmark. All the land and freshwater shells, and all the mammalia as well as the plants, whose remains occur buried in the Danish peat, are of Recent species.[2]

It has been stated, that a stone implement was found under a buried Scotch fir at a great depth in the peat. By collecting and studying a vast variety of such implements, and other articles of human workmanship preserved in peat and in sand-dunes on the coast, as also in certain shell-mounds of the aborigines presently to be described, the Danish and Swedish antiquaries and naturalists, MM. Nilsson, Steenstrup, Forchhammer, Thomsen, Worsaae, and others, have succeeded in establishing a chronological succession of periods, which they have called the ages of stone, of bronze, and of iron, named from the materials which have each in their turn served for the fabrication of implements.

The age of stone in Denmark coincided with the period of the first vegetation, or that of the Scotch fir, and in part at least with the second vegetation, or that of the oak. But a considerable portion of the oak epoch coincided with "the age of bronze," for swords and shields of that metal, now in the Museum of Copenhagen, have been taken out of peat in which oaks abound. The age of iron corresponded more nearly with that of the beech tree.[3][4]

M. Morlot, to whom we are indebted for a masterly sketch of the recent progress of this new line of research, followed up with so much success in Scandinavia and Switzerland, observes that the introduction of the first tools made of bronze among a people previously ignorant of the use of metals, implies a great advance in the arts, for bronze is an alloy of about nine parts of copper and one of tin; and although the former metal, copper, is by no means rare, and is occasionally found pure or in a native state, tin is not only scarce but never occurs native. To detect the existence of this metal in its ore, then to disengage it from the matrix, and finally, after blending it in due proportion with copper, to cast the fused mixture in a mould, allowing time for it to acquire hardness by slow cooling, all this bespeaks no small sagacity and skilful manipulation. Accordingly, the pottery found associated with weapons of bronze is of a more ornamental and tasteful style than any which belongs to the age of stone. Some of the moulds in which the bronze instruments were cast, and "tags," as they are called, of bronze, which are formed in the hole through which the fused metal was poured, have been found. The number and variety of objects belonging to the age of bronze indicates its long duration, as does the progress in the arts implied by the rudeness of the earlier tools, often mere repetitions of those of the stone age, as contrasted with the more skilfully worked weapons of a later stage of the same period.

It has been suggested that an age of copper must always have intervened between that of stone and bronze; but if so, the interval seems to have been short in Europe, owing apparently to the territory occupied by the aboriginal inhabitants having been invaded and conquered by a people coming from the East, to whom the use of swords, spears, and other weapons of bronze was familiar. Hatchets, however, of copper have been found in the Danish peat.

The next stage of improvement, or that manifested by the substitution of iron for bronze, indicates another stride in the progress of the arts. Iron never presents itself, except in meteorites, in a native state, so that to recognise its ores, and then to separate the metal from its matrix, demands no inconsiderable exercise of the powers of observation and invention. To fuse the ore requires an intense heat, not to be obtained without artificial appliances, such as pipes inflated by the human breath, or bellows, or some other suitable machinery.

DANISH SHELL-MOUNDS, OR KJOKKENMODDING.[5][edit]

In addition to the peat-mosses, another class of memorials found in Denmark has thrown light on the pre-historical age. At certain points along the shores of nearly all the Danish islands, mounds may be seen, consisting chiefly of thousands of cast-away shells of the oyster, cockle, and other molluscs of the same species as those which are now eaten by Man. These shells are plentifully mixed up with the bones of various quadrupeds, birds, and fish, which served as the food of the rude hunters and fishers by whom the mounds were accumulated. I have seen similar large heaps of oysters, and other marine shells with interspersed stone implements, near the seashore, both in Massachusetts and in Georgia, U.S.A., left by the native North American Indians at points near to which they were in the habit of pitching their wigwams for centuries before the white man arrived.

Such accumulations are called by the Danes, Kjokkenmodding, or "kitchen-middens." Scattered all through them are flint knives, hatchets, and other instruments of stone, horn, wood, and bone, with fragments of coarse pottery, mixed with charcoal and cinders, but never any implements of bronze, still less of iron. The stone hatchets and knives had been sharpened by rubbing, and in this respect are one degree less rude than those of an older date, associated in France with the bones of extinct mammalia, of which more in the sequel. The mounds vary in height from 3 to 10 feet, and in area are some of them 1000 feet long, and from 150 to 200 wide. They are rarely placed more than 10 feet above the level of the sea, and are confined to its immediate neighbourhood, or if not (and there are cases where they are several miles from the shore), the distance is ascribable to the entrance of a small stream, which has deposited sediment, or to the growth of a peaty swamp, by which the land has been made to advance on the Baltic, as it is still doing in many places, aided, according to Puggaard, by a very slow upheaval of the whole country at the rate of 2 or 3 inches in a century.

There is also another geographical fact equally in favour of the antiquity of the mounds, namely, that they are wanting on those parts of the coast which border the Western Ocean, or exactly where the waves are now slowly eating away the land. There is every reason to presume that originally there were stations along the coast of the North Sea as well as that of the Baltic, but by the gradual undermining of the cliffs they have all been swept away.

Another striking proof, perhaps the most conclusive of all, that the "kitchen-middens" are very old, is derived from the character of their embedded shells. These consist entirely of living species; but, in the first place, the common eatable oyster is among them, attaining its full size, whereas the same Ostrea edulis cannot live at present in the brackish waters of the Baltic except near its entrance, where, whenever a north-westerly gale prevails, a current setting in from the ocean pours in a great body of salt water. Yet it seems that during the whole time of the accumulation of the "kitchen-middens" the oyster flourished in places from which it is now excluded. In like manner the eatable cockle, mussel, and periwinkle (Cardium edule, Mytilus edulis, and Littorina littorea), which are met with in great numbers in the "middens," are of the ordinary dimensions which they acquire in the ocean, whereas the same species now living in the adjoining parts of the Baltic only attain a third of their natural size, being stunted and dwarfed in their growth by the quantity of fresh water poured by rivers into that inland sea.[6] Hence we may confidently infer that in the days of the aboriginal hunters and fishers, the ocean had freer access than now to the Baltic, communicating probably through the peninsula of Jutland, Jutland having been at no remote period an archipelago. Even in the course of the nineteenth century, the salt waters have made one irruption into the Baltic by the Lymfiord, although they have been now again excluded. It is also affirmed that other channels were open in historical times which are now silted up.[7]

If we next turn to the remains of vertebrata preserved in the mounds, we find that here also, as in the Danish peat-mosses, all the quadrupeds belong to species known to have inhabited Europe within the memory of Man. No remains of the mammoth, or rhinoceros, or of any extinct species appear, except those of the wild bull (Bos urus, Linn., or Bos primigenius, Bojanus), which are in such numbers as to prove that the species was a favourite food of the ancient people. But as this animal was seen by Julius Caesar, and survived long after his time, its presence alone would not go far to prove the mounds to be of high antiquity. The Lithuanian aurochs or bison (Bos bison, L., Bos priscus, Boj.), which has escaped extirpation only because protected by the Russian Czars, surviving in one forest in Lithuania) has not yet been met with, but will no doubt be detected hereafter, as it has been already found in the Danish peat. The beaver, long since destroyed in Denmark, occurs frequently, as does the seal (Phoca Gryppus, Fab.), now very rare on the Danish coast. With these are mingled bones of the red deer and roe, but the reindeer has not yet been found. There are also the bones of many carnivora, such as the lynx, fox, and wolf, but no signs of any domesticated animals except the dog. The long bones of the larger mammalia have been all broken as if by some instrument, in such a manner as to allow of the extraction of the marrow, and the gristly parts have been gnawed off, as if by dogs, to whose agency is also attributed the almost entire absence of the bones of young birds and of the smaller bones and softer parts of the skeletons of birds in general, even of those of large size. In reference to the latter, it has been proved experimentally by Professor Steenstrup, that if the same species of birds are now given to dogs, they will devour those parts of the skeleton which are missing, and leave just those which are preserved in the old "kitchen-middens."

The dogs of the mounds, the only domesticated animals, are of a smaller race than those of the bronze period, as shown by the peat-mosses, and the dogs of the bronze age are inferior in size and strength to those of the iron age. The domestic ox, horse, and sheep, which are wanting in the mounds, are confined to that part of the Danish peat which was formed in the ages of bronze and iron.

Among the bones of birds, scarcely any are more frequent in the mounds than those of the auk (Alca impennis), now extinct. The Capercailzie (Tetrao urogallus) is also met with, and may, it is suggested, have fed on the buds of the Scotch fir in times when that tree flourished around the peat-bogs. The different stages of growth of the roedeer's horns, and the presence of the wild swan, now only a winter visitor, have been appealed to as proving that the aborigines resided in the same settlements all the year round. That they also ventured out to sea in canoes such as are now found in the peat-mosses, hollowed out of the trunk of a single tree, to catch fish far from land, is testified by the bony relics of several deep-sea species, such as the herring, cod, and flounder. The ancient people were not cannibals, for no human bones are mingled with the spoils of the chase. Skulls, however, have been obtained not only from peat, but from tumuli of the stone period believed to be contemporaneous with the mounds. These skulls are small and round, and have a prominent ridge over the orbits of the eyes, showing that the ancient race was of small stature, with round heads and overhanging eyebrows—in short, they bore a considerable resemblance to the modern Laplanders. The human skulls of the bronze age found in the Danish peat, and those of the iron period, are of an elongated form and larger size. There appear to be very few well-authenticated examples of crania referable to the bronze period—a circumstance no doubt attributable to the custom prevalent among the people of that era of burning their dead and collecting their bones in funeral urns.

No traces of grain of any sort have hitherto been discovered, nor any other indication that the ancient people had any knowledge of agriculture. The only vegetable remains in the mounds are burnt pieces of wood and some charred substance referred by Dr. Forchhammer to the Zostera marina, a sea plant which was perhaps used in the production of salt.

What may be the antiquity of the earliest human remains preserved in the Danish peat cannot be estimated in centuries with any approach to accuracy. In the first place, in going back to the bronze age, we already find ourselves beyond the reach of history or even of tradition. In the time of the Romans the Danish Isles were covered, as now, with magnificent beech forests. Nowhere in the world does this tree flourish more luxuriantly than in Denmark, and eighteen centuries seem to have done little or nothing towards modifying the character of the forest vegetation. Yet in the antecedent bronze period there were no beech trees, or at most but a few stragglers, the country being then covered with oak. In the age of stone again, the Scotch fir prevailed, and already there were human inhabitants in those old pine forests. How many generations of each species of tree flourished in succession before the pine was supplanted by the oak, and the oak by the beech, can be but vaguely conjectured, but the minimum of time required for the formation of so much peat must, according to the estimate of Steenstrup and other good authorities, have amounted to at least 4000 years; and there is nothing in the observed rate of the growth of peat opposed to the conclusion that the number of centuries may not have been four times as great, even though the signs of Man's existence have not yet been traced down to the lowest or amorphous stratum. As to the "kitchen-middens," they correspond in date to the older portion of the peaty record, or to the earliest part of the age of stone as known in Denmark.

ANCIENT SWISS LAKE-DWELLINGS, BUILT ON PILES.[edit]

In the shallow parts of many Swiss lakes, where there is a depth of no more than from 5 to 15 feet of water, ancient wooden piles are observed at the bottom sometimes worn down to the surface of the mud, sometimes projecting slightly above it. These have evidently once supported villages, nearly all of them of unknown date, but the most ancient of which certainly belonged to the age of stone, for hundreds of implements resembling those of the Danish shell-mounds and peat-mosses have been dredged up from the mud into which the piles were driven.

The earliest historical account of such habitations is that given by Herodotus of a Thracian tribe, who dwelt, in the year 520 B.C., in Prasias, a small mountain-lake of Paeonia, now part of modern Roumelia.[8]

Their habitations were constructed on platforms raised above the lake, and resting on piles. They were connected with the shore by a narrow causeway of similar formation. Such platforms must have been of considerable extent, for the Paeonians lived there with their families and horses. Their food consisted largely of the fish which the lake produced in abundance.

In rude and unsettled times, such insular sites afforded safe retreats, all communication with the mainland being cut off, except by boats, or by such wooden bridges as could be easily removed.

The Swiss lake-dwellings seem first to have attracted attention during the dry winter of 1853-54, when the lakes and rivers sank lower than had ever been previously known, and when the inhabitants of Meilen, on the Lake of Zurich, resolved to raise the level of some ground and turn it into land, by throwing mud upon it obtained by dredging in the adjoining shallow water. During these dredging operations they discovered a number of wooden piles deeply driven into the bed of the lake, and among them a great many hammers, axes, celts, and other instruments. All these belonged to the stone period with two exceptions, namely, an armlet of thin brass wire, and a small bronze hatchet.

Fragments of rude pottery fashioned by the hand were abundant, also masses of charred wood, supposed to have formed parts of the platform on which the wooden cabins were built. Of this burnt timber, on this and other sites, subsequently explored, there was such an abundance as to lead to the conclusion that many of the settlements must have perished by fire. Herodotus has recorded that the Paeonians, above alluded to, preserved their independence during the Persian invasion, and defied the attacks of Darius by aid of the peculiar position of their dwellings. "But their safety," observes Mr. Wylie,[9] "was probably owing to their living in the middle of the lake, (Greek) en mese te limne, whereas the ancient Swiss settlers were compelled by the rapidly increasing depth of the water near the margins of their lakes to construct their habitations at a short distance from the shore, within easy bowshot of the land, and therefore not out of reach of fiery projectiles, against which thatched roofs and wooden walls could present but a poor defence." To these circumstances and to accidental fires we are probably indebted for the frequent preservation, in the mud around the site of the old settlements, of the most precious tools and works of art, such as would never have been thrown into the Danish "kitchen-middens," which have been aptly compared to a modern dusthole.

Dr. Ferdinand Keller of Zurich has drawn up a series of most instructive memoirs, illustrated with well-executed plates, of the treasures in stone, bronze, and bone brought to light in these subaqueous repositories, and has given an ideal restoration of part of one of the old villages (see Plate 1 above),[10] such as he conceives may have existed on the lakes of Zurich and Bienne. In this view, however, he has not simply trusted to his imagination, but has availed himself of a sketch published by M. Dumont d'Urville, of similar habitations of the Papuans in New Guinea in the Bay of Dorei. It is also stated by Dr. Keller, that on the River Limmat, near Zurich, so late as the last century, there were several fishing-huts constructed on this same plan.[11] It will be remarked that one of the cabins is represented as circular. That such was the form of many in Switzerland is inferred from the shape of pieces of clay which lined the interior, and which owe their preservation apparently to their having been hardened by fire when the village was burnt. In the sketch (Plate 1), some fishing-nets are seen spread out to dry on the wooden platform. The Swiss archaeologist has found abundant evidence of fishing-gear, consisting of pieces of cord, hooks, and stones used as weights. A canoe also is introduced, such as are occasionally met with. One of these, made of the trunk of a single tree, fifty feet long and three and a half feet wide, was found capsized at the bottom of the Lake of Bienne. It appears to have been laden with stones, such as were used to raise the foundation of some of the artificial islands.

It is believed that as many as 300 wooden huts were sometimes comprised in one settlement, and that they may have contained about 1000 inhabitants. At Wangen, M. Lohle has calculated that 40,000 piles were used, probably not all planted at one time nor by one generation. Among the works of great merit devoted specially to a description of the Swiss lake-habitations is that of M. Troyon, published in 1860.[12] The number of sites which he and other authors have already enumerated in Switzerland is truly wonderful. They occur on the large lakes of Constance, Zurich, Geneva, and Neufchatel, and on most of the smaller ones. Some are exclusively of the stone age, others of the bronze period. Of these last more than twenty are spoken of on the Lake of Geneva alone, more than forty on that of Neufchatel, and twenty on the small Lake of Bienne.

One of the sites first studied by the Swiss antiquaries was the small lake of Moosseedorf, near Berne, where implements of stone, horn, and bone, but none of metal, were obtained. Although the flint here employed must have come from a distance (probably from the south of France), the chippings of the material are in such profusion as to imply that there was a manufactory of implements on the spot. Here also, as in several other settlements, hatchets and wedges of jade have been observed of a kind said not to occur in Switzerland or the adjoining parts of Europe, and which some mineralogists would fain derive from the East; amber also, which, it is supposed, was imported from the shores of the Baltic.

At Wangen near Stein, on the Lake of Constance, another of the most ancient of the lake-dwellings, hatchets of serpentine and greenstone, and arrow-heads of quartz have been met with. Here also remains of a kind of cloth, supposed to be of flax, not woven but plaited, have been detected. Professor Heer has recognised lumps of carbonised wheat, Triticum vulgare, and grains of another kind, T. dicoccum, and barley, Hordeum distichum, and flat round cakes of bread; and at Robbenhausen and elsewhere Hordeum hexastichum in fine ears, the same kind of barley which is found associated with Egyptian mummies, showing clearly that in the stone period the lake-dwellers cultivated all these cereals, besides having domesticated the dog, the ox, the sheep, and the goat.

Carbonised apples and pears of small size, such as still grow in the Swiss forests, stones of the wild plum, seeds of the raspberry and blackberry, and beech-nuts, also occur in the mud, and hazel-nuts in great plenty.

Near Morges, on the Lake of Geneva, a settlement of the bronze period, no less than forty hatchets of that metal have been dredged up, and in many other localities the number and variety of weapons and utensils discovered, in a fine state of preservation, is truly astonishing.

It is remarkable that as yet all the settlements of the bronze period are confined to Western and Central Switzerland. In the more eastern lakes those of the stone period alone have as yet been discovered.

The tools, ornaments, and pottery of the bronze period in Switzerland bear a close resemblance to those of corresponding age in Denmark, attesting the wide spread of a uniform civilisation over Central Europe at that era. In some few of the Swiss aquatic stations a mixture of bronze and iron implements has been observed, but no coins. At Tiefenau, near Berne, in ground supposed to have been a battle-field, coins and medals of bronze and silver, struck at Marseilles, and of Greek manufacture, and iron swords, have been found, all belonging to the first and pre-Roman division of the age of iron.

In the settlements of the bronze era the wooden piles are not so much decayed as those of the stone period; the latter having wasted down quite to the level of the mud, whereas the piles of the bronze age (as in the Lake of Bienne, for example) still project above it.

Professor Rutimeyer of Basle, well-known to palaeontologists as the author of several important memoirs on fossil vertebrata, has recently published a scientific description of great interest of the animal remains dredged up at various stations where they had been embedded for ages in the mud into which the piles were driven. [13]

These bones bear the same relation to the primitive inhabitants of Switzerland and some of their immediate successors as do the contents of the Danish "kitchen-middens" to the ancient fishing and hunting tribes who lived on the shores of the Baltic.

The list of wild mammalia enumerated in this excellent treatise contains no less than twenty-four species, exclusive of several domesticated ones: besides which there are eighteen species of birds, the wild swan, goose, and two species of ducks being among them; also three reptiles, including the eatable frog and freshwater tortoise; and lastly, nine species of freshwater fish. All these (amounting to fifty-four species) are with one exception still living in Europe. The exception is the wild bull (Bos primigenius), which, as before stated, survived in historical times. The following are the mammalia alluded to:—The bear (Ursus arctos), the badger, the common marten, the polecat, the ermine, the weasel, the otter, wolf, fox, wild cat, hedgehog, squirrel, field-mouse (Mus sylvaticus), hare, beaver, hog (comprising two races, namely, the wild boar and swamp-hog), the stag (Cervus elaphus), the roe-deer, the fallow-deer, the elk, the steinbock (Capra ibex), the chamois, the Lithuanian bison, and the wild bull. The domesticated species comprise the dog, horse, ass, pig, goat, sheep, and several bovine races.

The greater number, if not all, of these animals served for food, and all the bones which contained marrow have been split open in the same way as the corresponding ones found in the shell-mounds of Denmark before mentioned. The bones both of the wild bull and the bison are invariably split in this manner. As a rule, the lower jaws with teeth occur in greater abundance than any other parts of the skeleton—a circumstance which, geologists know, holds good in regard to fossil mammalia of all periods. As yet the reindeer is missing in the Swiss lake-settlements as in the Danish "kitchen-middens," although this animal in more ancient times ranged over France, together with the mammoth, as far south as the Pyrenees.

A careful comparison of the bones from different sites has shown that in settlements such as Wangen and Moosseedorf, belonging to the earliest age of stone, when the habits of the hunter state predominated over those of the pastoral, venison, or the flesh of the stag and roe, was more eaten than the flesh of the domestic cattle and sheep. This was afterwards reversed in the later stone period and in the age of bronze. At that later period also the tame pig, which is wanting in some of the oldest stations, had replaced the wild boar as a common article of food. In the beginning of the age of stone, in Switzerland, the goats outnumbered the sheep, but towards the close of the same period the sheep were more abundant than the goats.

The fox in the first era was very common, but it nearly disappears in the bronze age, during which period a large hunting-dog, supposed to have been imported into Switzerland from some foreign country, becomes the chief representative of the canine genus.

A single fragment of the bone of a hare (Lepus timidus) has been found at Moosseedorf. The almost universal absence of this quadruped is supposed to imply that the Swiss lake-dwellers were prevented from eating that animal by the same superstition which now prevails among the Laplanders, and which Julius Caesar found in full force amongst the ancient Britons.[14]

That the lake-dwellers should have fed so largely on the fox, while they abstained from touching the hare, establishes, says Rutimeyer, a singular contrast between their tastes and ours.

Even in the earliest settlements, as already hinted, several domesticated animals occur, namely, the ox, sheep, goat, and dog. Of the three last, each was represented by one race only; but there were two races of cattle, the most common being of small size, and called by Rutimeyer Bos brachyceros (Bos longifrons, Owen), or the marsh cow, the other derived from the wild bull; though, as no skull has yet been discovered, this identification is not so certain as could be wished. It is, however, beyond question that at a later era, namely, towards the close of the stone and beginning of the bronze period, the lake-dwellers had succeeded in taming that formidable brute the Bos primigenius, the Urus of Caesar, which he described as very fierce, swift, and strong, and scarcely inferior to the elephant in size. In a tame state its bones were somewhat less massive and heavy, and its horns were somewhat smaller than in wild individuals. Still in its domesticated form, it rivalled in dimensions the largest living cattle, those of Friesland, in North Holland, for example. When most abundant, as at Concise on the Lake of Neufchatel, it had nearly superseded the smaller race, Bos brachyceros, and was accompanied there for a short time by a third bovine variety, called Bos trochoceros, an Italian race, supposed to have been imported from the southern side of the Alps. (Caesar "Commentaries" lib 5 chapter 12.) This last-mentioned race, however, seems only to have lasted for a short time in Switzerland.

The wild bull (Bos primigenius) is supposed to have flourished for a while in a wild and tame state, just as now in Europe the domestic pig co-exists with the wild boar; and Rutimeyer agrees with Cuvier and Bell,[15] in considering our larger domestic cattle of northern Europe as the descendants of this wild bull, an opinion which Owen disputes.[16]

In the later division of the stone period, there were two tame races of the pig, according to Rutimeyer; one large, and derived from the wild boar, the other smaller, called the "marsh-hog," or Sus scrofa palustris. It may be asked how the osteologist can distinguish the tame from the wild races of the same species by their skeletons alone. Among other characters, the diminished thickness of the bones and the comparative smallness of the ridges, which afford attachment to the muscles, are relied on; also the smaller dimensions of the tusks in the boar, and of the whole jaw and skull; and, in like manner, the diminished size of the horns of the bull and other modifications, which are the effects of a regular supply of food, and the absence of all necessity of exerting their activity and strength to obtain subsistence and defend themselves against their enemies.

A middle-sized race of dogs continued unaltered throughout the whole of the stone period; but the people of the bronze age possessed a larger hunting-dog, and with it a small horse, of which genus very few traces have been detected in the earlier settlements—a single tooth, for example, at Wangen, and only one or two bones at two or three other places.

In passing from the oldest to the most modern sites, the extirpation of the elk and beaver, and the gradual reduction in numbers of the bear, stag, roe, and freshwater tortoise are distinctly perceptible. The aurochs, or Lithuanian bison, appears to have died out in Switzerland about the time when weapons of bronze came into use. It is only in a few of the most modern lake-dwellings, such as Noville and Chavannes in the Canton de Vaud (which the antiquaries refer to the sixth century), that some traces are observable of the domestic cat, as well as of a sheep with crooked horns and with them bones of the domestic fowl.

After the sixth century, no extinction of any wild quadruped nor introduction of any tame one appears to have taken place, but the fauna was still modified by the wild species continuing to diminish in number and the tame ones to become more diversified by breeding and crossing, especially in the case of the dog, horse, and sheep. On the whole, however, the divergence of the domestic races from their aboriginal wild types, as exemplified at Wangen and Moosseedorf, is confined, according to Professor Rutimeyer, within narrow limits. As to the goat, it has remained nearly constant and true to its pristine form, and the small race of goat-horned sheep still lingers in some alpine valleys in the Upper Rhine; and in the same region a race of pigs, corresponding to the domesticated variety of Sus scrofa palustris, may still be seen.

Amidst all this profusion of animal remains extremely few bones of Man have been discovered; and only one skull, dredged up from Meilen, on the Lake of Zurich, of the early stone period, seems as yet to have been carefully examined. Respecting this specimen, Professor His observes that it exhibits, instead of the small and rounded form proper to the Danish peat-mosses, a type much more like that now prevailing in Switzerland, which is intermediate between the long-headed and short-headed form. (Rutimeyer "Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten in der Schweiz" page 181.)

So far, therefore, as we can draw safe conclusions from a single specimen, there has been no marked change of race in the human population of Switzerland during the periods above considered.

It is still a question whether any of these subaqueous repositories of ancient relics in Switzerland go back so far in time as the kitchen-middens of Denmark, for in these last there are no domesticated animals except the dog, and no signs of the cultivation of wheat or barley; whereas we have seen that, in one of the oldest of the Swiss settlements, at Wangen, no less than three cereals make their appearance, with four kinds of domestic animals. Yet there is no small risk of error in speculating on the relative claims to antiquity of such ancient tribes, for some of them may have remained isolated for ages and stationary in their habits, while others advanced and improved.

We know that nations, both before and after the introduction of metals, may continue in very different stages of civilisation, even after commercial intercourse has been established between them, and where they are separated by a less distance than that which divides the Alps from the Baltic.

The attempts of the Swiss geologists and archaeologists to estimate definitely in years the antiquity of the bronze and stone periods, although as yet confessedly imperfect, deserve notice, and appear to me to be full of promise. The most elaborate calculation is that made by M. Morlot, respecting the delta of the Tiniere, a torrent which flows into the Lake of Geneva near Villeneuve. This small delta, to which the stream is annually making additions, is composed of gravel and sand. Its shape is that of a flattened cone, and its internal structure has of late been laid open to view in a railway cutting 1000 feet long and 32 feet deep. The regularity of its structure throughout implies that it has been formed very gradually, and by the uniform action of the same causes. Three layers of vegetable soil, each of which must at one time have formed the surface of the cone, have been cut through at different depths. The first of these was traced over a surface of 15,000 square feet, having an average thickness of 5 inches, and being about 4 feet below the present surface of the cone. This upper layer belonged to the Roman period, and contained Roman tiles and a coin. The second layer, followed over a surface of 25,000 square feet, was 6 inches thick, and lay at a depth of 10 feet. In it were found fragments of unvarnished pottery and a pair of tweezers in bronze, indicating the bronze epoch. The third layer, followed for 35,000 square feet, was 6 or 7 inches thick and 19 feet deep. In it were fragments of rude pottery, pieces of charcoal, broken bones, and a human skeleton having a small, round and very thick skull. M. Morlot, assuming the Roman period to represent an antiquity of from sixteen to eighteen centuries, assigns to the bronze age a date of between 3000 and 4000 years, and to the oldest layer, that of the stone period, an age of from 5000 to 7000 years.

Another calculation has been made by M. Troyon to obtain the approximate date of the remains of an ancient settlement built on piles and preserved in a peat-bog at Chamblon, near Yverdun, on the Lake of Neufchatel. The site of the ancient Roman town of Eburodunum (Yverdun), once on the borders of the lake, and between which and the shore there now intervenes a zone of newly-gained dry land, 2500 feet in breadth, shows the rate at which the bed of the lake has been filled up with river sediment in fifteen centuries. Assuming the lake to have retreated at the same rate before the Roman period, the pile-works of Chamblon, which are of the bronze period, must be at the least 3300 years old.

For the third calculation, communicated to me by M. Morlot, we are indebted to M. Victor Gillieron, of Neuveville, on the Lake of Bienne. It relates to the age of a pile-dwelling, the mammalian bones of which are considered by M. Rutimeyer to indicate the earliest portion of the stone period of Switzerland, and to correspond in age with the settlement of Moosseedorf.

The piles in question occur at the Pont de Thiele, between the lakes of Bienne and Neufchatel. The old convent of St. Jean, founded 750 years ago, and built originally on the margin of the Lake of Bienne, is now at a considerable distance from the shore, and affords a measure of the rate of the gain of land in seven centuries and a half. Assuming that a similar rate of the conversion of water into marshy land prevailed antecedently, we should require an addition of sixty centuries for the growth of the morass intervening between the convent and the aquatic dwelling of Pont de Thiele, in all 6750 years. M. Morlot, after examining the ground, thinks it highly probable that the shape of the bottom on which the morass rests is uniform; but this important point has not yet been tested by boring. The result, if confirmed, would agree exceedingly well with the chronological computation before mentioned of the age of the stone period of Tiniere. As I have not myself visited Switzerland since these chronological speculations were first hazarded, I am unable to enter critically into a discussion of the objections which have been raised to the two first of them, or to decide on the merits of the explanations offered in reply.

IRISH LAKE-DWELLINGS OR CRANNOGES.[edit]

The lake-dwellings of the British isles, although not explored as yet with scientific zeal, as those of Switzerland have been in the last ten years, are yet known to be very numerous, and when carefully examined will not fail to throw great light on the history of the bronze and stone periods.

In the lakes of Ireland alone, no less than forty-six examples of artificial islands, called crannoges, have been discovered. They occur in Leitrim, Roscommon, Cavan, Down, Monaghan, Limerick, Meath, King's County, and Tyrone.[17] One class of these "stockaded islands," as they have been sometimes called, was formed, according to Mr. Digby Wyatt, by placing horizontal oak beams at the bottom of the lake, into which oak posts, from 6 to 8 feet high, were mortised, and held together by cross beams, till a circular enclosure was obtained.

A space of 520 feet diameter, thus enclosed at Lagore, was divided into sundry timbered compartments, which were found filled up with mud or earth, from which were taken "vast quantities of the bones of oxen, swine, deer, goats, sheep, dogs, foxes, horses, and asses." All these were discovered beneath 16 feet of bog, and were used for manure; but specimens of them are said to be preserved in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy. From the same spot were obtained a great collection of antiquities, which, according to Lord Talbot de Malahide and Mr. Wylie, were referable to the ages of stone, bronze, and iron.[18]

In Ardekillin Lake, in Roscommon, an islet of an oval form was observed, made of a layer of stones resting on logs of timber. Round this artificial islet or crannoge thus formed was a stone wall raised on oak piles. A careful description has been put on record by Captain Mudge, R.N., of a curious log-cabin discovered by him in 1833 in Drumkellin bog, in Donegal, at a depth of 14 feet from the surface. It was 12 feet square and 9 feet high, being divided into two stories each 4 feet high. The planking was of oak split with wedges of stone, one of which was found in the building. The roof was flat. A staked enclosure had been raised round the cabin, and remains of other similar huts adjoining were seen but not explored. A stone celt, found in the interior of the hut, and a piece of leather sandal, also an arrow-head of flint, and in the bog close at hand a wooden sword, give evidence of the remote antiquity of this building, which may be taken as a type of the early dwellings on the Crannoge islands.

"The whole structure," says Captain Mudge, "was wrought with the rudest kind of implements, and the labour bestowed on it must have been immense. The wood of the mortises was more bruised than cut, as if by a blunt stone chisel."[19] Such a chisel lay on the floor of the hut, and by comparing it with the marks of the tool used in forming the mortises, they were found "to correspond exactly, even to the slight curved exterior of the chisel; but the logs had been hewn by a larger instrument, in the shape of an axe. On the floor of the dwelling lay a slab of freestone, 3 feet long and 14 inches thick, in the centre of which was a small pit three quarters of an inch deep, which had been chiselled out. This is presumed to have been used for holding nuts to be cracked by means of one of the round shingle stones, also found there, which had served as a hammer. Some entire hazel-nuts and a great quantity of broken shells were strewed about the floor."

The foundations of the house were made of fine sand, such as is found with shingle on the seashore about 2 miles distant. Below the layer of sand the bog or peat was ascertained, on probing it with an instrument, to be at least 15 feet thick. Although the interior of the building when discovered was full of "bog" or peaty matter, it seems when inhabited to have been surrounded by growing trees, some of the trunks and roots of which are still preserved in their natural position. The depth of overlying peat affords no safe criterion for calculating the age of the cabin or village, for I have shown in the "Principles of Geology" that both in England and Ireland, within historical times, bogs have burst and sent forth great volumes of black mud, which has been known to creep over the country at a slow pace, flowing somewhat at the rate of ordinary lava-currents, and sometimes overwhelming woods and cottages, and leaving a deposit upon them of bog-earth 15 feet thick.

None of these Irish lake-dwellings were built, like those of Helvetia, on platforms supported by piles deeply driven into the mud. "The Crannoge system of Ireland seems," says Mr. Wylie, "well nigh without a parallel in Swiss waters."


Footnotes[edit]

  1. An excellent account of these researches of Danish naturalists and antiquaries has been drawn up by an able Swiss geologist, M.A. Morlot, and will be found in the "Bulletin de la Societe Vaudoise des Sci. Nat." tome 6 Lausanne 1860.
  2. A similar succession of forest-beds, five in number, has been observed in the peat of the Fenland, near Ely. Each bed consists for the most part of a single species of tree, and a definite succession of oak, yew, Scotch fir, alder, and willow has been made out. The forest beds are supposed to indicate temporarily drier conditions, due either to changes of climate or to slight uplift of the land, the growth of peat being renewed during periods of damp climate or of depression of the land. (See Clement Reid, "Submerged Forests," Cambridge, 1913.)
  3. Morlot "Bulletin de la Societe Vaudoise des Sci. Nat." tome 6 page 292.
  4. Since the "Stone Age," in the sense in which the term is here employed, obviously occupied an enormous lapse of time and embraced very different stages of culture, it has been found convenient to subdivide it into two primary subdivisions. For these Lord Avebury proposed in 1865 the terms Palaeolithic and Neolithic. (" Prehistoric Times," London, 1865, page 60.) The first comprises the ages during which man fabricated flint implements solely by chipping, whereas the implements of Neolithic Age are polished by rubbing. But there is another and more fundamental distinction. Palaeolithic man was exclusively a hunter, and consequently nomadic in his habits; Neolithic man possessed domesticated animals and cultivated crops. A pastoral and agricultural life implies a settled abode, and these are found, for example, in the lake-villages of Switzerland. The "kitchen-middens" of Denmark also indicate long continuance in one place, in this instance the seashore.
  5. Mr. John Lubbock published, after these sheets were written, an able paper on the Danish "Shell-mounds" in the October number of the "Natural History Review" 1861 page 489, in which he has described the results of a recent visit to Denmark, made by him in company with Mr. Busk.
  6. See "Principles of Geology" chapter 30.
  7. See Morlot "Bulletin de la Societe Vaudoise des Sci. Nat." tome 6.
  8. Herodotus lib. 5 cap. 16. Rediscovered by M. de Ville "Natural History Review" volume 2 1862 page 486.
  9. W.M. Wylie "Archaeologia" volume 38 1859, a valuable paper on the Swiss and Irish lake-habitations.
  10. Keller "Pfahlbauten, Antiquarische Gesellschaft in Zurich" Bd. 12 and 13 1858-1861. In the fifth number of the "Natural History Review" January 9, 1862, Mr. Lubbock has published an excellent account of the works of the Swiss writers on their lake-habitations.
  11. Keller "Pfahlbauten, Antiquarische Gesellschaft in Zurich" Bd. 9 page 81 note.
  12. "Sur les Habitations lacustres."
  13. "Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten in der Schweiz" Basel 1861.
  14. "Commentaries" lib 5 chapter 12.
  15. "British Quadrupeds" page 415.
  16. "British Fossil Mammal." page 500.
  17. W.M. Wylie "Archaeologia" volume 38 1859 page 8.
  18. W.M. Wylie "Archaeologia" volume 38 1859 page 8, who cites "Archaeological Journal" volume 6 page 101.
  19. Mudge "Archaeologia" volume 26.