Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/70

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
60
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

DIFFICULTIES OF DEVELOPMENT AS APPLIED TO MAN.[1]
By ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE, F. R. S.

AS my own knowledge of and interest in anthropology are confined to the great outlines, rather than to the special details of the science, I propose to give a very brief and general sketch of the modern doctrine as to the Antiquity and Origin of Man, and to suggest certain points of difficulty which have not, I think, yet received sufficient attention.

Many now present remember the time (for it is little more than twenty years ago) when the antiquity of man, as now understood, was universally discredited. Not only theologians, but even geologists, then taught us that man belonged altogether to the existing state of things; that the extinct animals of the Tertiary period had finally disappeared, and that the earth's surface had assumed its present condition, before the human race first came into existence. So prepossessed were even scientific men with this idea—which yet rested on purely negative evidence, and could not be supported by any arguments of scientific value—that numerous facts which had been presented at intervals for half a century, all tending to prove the existence of man at very remote epochs, were silently ignored; and, more than this, the detailed statements of three distinct and careful observers were rejected by a great scientific society as too improbable for publication, only because they proved (if they were true) the coexistence of man with extinct animals![2]

But this state of belief in opposition to facts could not long continue. In 1859 a few of our most eminent geologists examined for themselves into the alleged occurrence of flint implements in the gravels of the north of France, which had been made public fourteen years before, and found them strictly correct. The caverns of Devonshire were about the same time carefully examined by equally eminent observers, and were found fully to bear out the statements of those who had published their results eighteen years before. Flint implements began to be found in all suitable localities in the south of England, when carefully searched for, often in gravels of equal antiquity with those of France. Caverns, giving evidence of human occupation

  1. From the opening address of Mr. Wallace, as President of the Biological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, given at its recent meeting in Glasgow.
  2. In 1854 (?) a communication from the Torquay Natural History Society, confirming previous accounts by Mr. Godwin-Austen, Mr. Vivian, and the Rev. Mr. McEnery, that worked flints occurred in Kent's Hole, with remains of extinct species, was rejected as too improbable for publication.