Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/715

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CORRESPONDENCE.

But let this pa?s. Major Powell writes on another page of a human skeleton alleged to have been found in a bluff excavated by the Mississippi River in the loess that borders its channel. He says:

"The loess is a formation contemporaneous with the glacial formation of the north. The discovery of a human skeleton in this situation was believed to prove that man dwelt in the valley of the Mississippi during the loess-forming period. The discovery seemed of so much importance that the site was visited by Sir C. Lyell, who, on examination, at once affirmed that the skeleton was not found in the loess itself, but in the 'overplacement,' or modified loess—that is, in the talus of the bluff—and all geologists and archæologists have accepted the decision."

We fear that this circumstantial story on examination will prove to be similar to some other evidence that has been brought forward in the current discussion, and it is with no little surprise that we see so prominent a geologist advancing arguments so weak and testimony so garbled. But we will for a moment waive this objection. Assuming that Sir C. Lyell did express the opinion here maintained by Major Powell, we may be allowed respectfully to remark in passing that if that geologist was able so easily and so long ago as 1846 to distinguish between the bluff and the "overplacement," it is a little late to claim the criteria of this distinction as a discovery of any geologist or any body of geologists in the present day. This is a discovery of the already discovered, an appropriation of the "finds" of other men, equal to any of the wonderful deeds related in the travels of the renowned Captain Brazier. Sir Charles must have been born too soon—at least forty years ahead of his time. The geological world of America has only just come up to him.

But returning to our main line, we can not even at this point allow Major Powell's argument to rest. A regard for logic compels us to tax him with carelessness and inaccuracy, if not with misrepresentation, in his references to Sir Charles Lyell. He refers as above to that author's Second Visit to the United States. How correctly this is done a comparison of his words with the following extracts will show.

Lyell writes, in the Antiquity of Man (p. 203):

"Mingled with the bones of mastodon, megalonyx, equus, and others, the pelvic bone of a man was obtained. It appeared to be in the same state of preservation and was of the same black color as the others, and was believed to have come like them from a depth of about thirty feet from the surface."

"In my Second Visit to America in 1846 I suggested, as a possible explanation of this association of a human bone with remains of a mastodon and megalonyx, that the former may possibly have been derived from the vegetable soil at the top of the cliff, whereas the remains of the extinct mammalia were dislodged from a lower position, and both may have fallen into the same heap or talus at the bottom of the ravine. Had the bone belonged to any recent mammifer other than man, such a theory would never have been resorted to."

Lyell's very words in the original work read thus: "I could not ascertain that the human pelvis had been actually dug out in the presence of a geologist or any practiced observer, and its position unequivocally ascertained. Like most of the other fossils, it was, I believe, picked up in the bed of the stream, which would simply imply that it had been washed out of the cliffs. But the evidence of the antiquity of the bone depends entirely on the part of the precipice from which it was derived. It was stained black, as if buried in a peaty or vegetable soil, and may have been dislodged from some old Indian grave near its top, in which case it may have been only five, ten, or twenty centuries old; whereas if it was really found in situ at the base of the precipice, its age would more probably exceed a hundred thousand years."—(Second Visit, chap, xxxi.)

The wide discrepancy between the language of Lyell and its interpretation by Major Powell is obvious. There is absolutely no justification for the assertion that Lyell "at once assigned the bone to the talus." He evidently resorted to this possible explanation to avoid what was in 1846 a yet more formidable difficulty—the admission of the great antiquity of man. Lyell's so-called evidence must therefore be thrown out of court. His decision on the point is purely fictitious, and the statement that "all geologists and archæologists have accepted it" is merely a fiction based on a fiction.

But the criticism must not in justice end even here. It is not fair in so rapidly advancing a science as geology to quote the words even of a leader published nearly fifty years ago, without any intimation that he afterward changed his opinion. Lyell was a man who grew with the times in which he lived. The palæoliths from the gravels at Amiens were cardinal evidence to him, and supported as they then were by similar though less conclusive testimony from other places, they worked his conversion to the doctrine of the great antiquity of the human race, a belief in which he never afterward wavered. His belief found a place in his writings. He revised or even recanted his former opinions wherever he thought them erroneous, and his great work, The Antiquity of Man, is at once a monument of his candor and of his progress. Had Major Powell taken the trouble to consult this volume, with which we must suppose that he is familiar, he would scarcely have dared so completely to misrepresent its author as he has done. He has laid himself open to at least