Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/January 1891/The Peopling of America

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IN acknowledgment of the unexpected honor that has been done me in calling me to this chair, I have first to perform the very pleasant duty of saluting the foreign and French scholars who have responded to the invitation of our committee. I shall do it in few words, but I affirm, in the name of all my colleagues, that they come from the heart. Welcome, gentlemen!

Unluckily, the same honor imposes on me another task, and a difficult one. It is the usage, in opening a session of the Congress, for the president to make an address to his colleagues respecting the questions that are to occupy them; and what can I say, concerning America, to learned men who make that continent the object of their habitual studies? I do not merit, as you do, the title of Americanist. Called by the duties of my teacher's office to deal with the history of all human populations, I can not undertake especially a study which is more than sufficient to absorb a whole lifetime. I have much to learn from you, and I thank you in advance for all that you are going to teach me.

Yet, it is hardly necessary to say, in looking from the point of view of the whole, which has usually been my practice, my thought could not fail to be often directed to that New World the discovery of which opened so many new horizons to nearly all the branches of human knowledge. The question of the origin of its inhabitants appears at the very head of the problems which it sets before the anthropologist. Are the indigenous Americans in any degree relatives of the populations of the other continents? Or, have they appeared on the lands where we have found them, without any ethnological connection with those populations?

You know that both of these opinions have been maintained, and still have their partisans; and I made known long ago the solution which I had reached. In my view, America was originally, and has always been, peopled by migrations from the Old World. At the risk of repeating myself, I will briefly sum up the grounds of my conviction.

Permit me first to recall the two rules which I have constantly followed in the solution of the questions, sometimes so ardently contested, which the history of man raises. The first is to put away absolutely every consideration borrowed from dogma or philosophy, and to invoke only science—that is, experiment and observation. The second is, never to isolate man from other organized beings; and to admit that he is subject, as to all that is not exclusively human, to all the general laws which control equally animals and plants. Hence, we can not regard as true any doctrine or opinion which makes man an exception among organized beings.

We make the application of these principles to the question which occupies us, but in a broader way; for it is only a special case of a more general problem which we may formulate in the terms—Man is everywhere now: did he appear everywhere in the beginning? If not absolutely cosmopolitan in its origin, did the race appear at an indefinite number of points? Or, rather, born at a single and limited spot, has it gradually taken possession of the whole earth by migration? At first thought we might suppose that the answer to these questions would be very different according as we admit the existence of one or many human species. That would be a mistake. We purpose to show that polygenists can shake hands with monogenists on this point, without involving themselves in any contradiction. We take, first, the monogenist view.

Physiology, which leads us to recognize the unity of the human race, teaches us nothing in reference to its primary geographical origin. It is otherwise with the science which concerns the distribution of animals and plants over the surface of the globe. The geography of organic beings has also its general facts, which we call laws. These facts—these laws—must be learned and interrogated in order to solve the problem of the manner in which the globe was peopled. The first result of this inquiry is a demonstration that real cosmopolitanism, as we attribute it to man, does not exist anywhere, either in the animal or the vegetable kingdom. I cite a few of the evidences in support of this affirmation.

Take, first, what De Candolle says, that "no phanerogamous plant extends over the whole surface of the earth. There hardly exist more than eighteen the areas of which reach over half the lands; and there is no tree or shrub among the plants of most considerable extension" The last remark touches an order of considerations on which I shall insist further on. In my lectures on this subject I have cited textually the words of the best authorities among men of science respecting the principal groups of fresh and salt water animals; I have passed in review the fauna of the air, beginning with insects; and have dwelt to some extent on fishes and reptiles. I will spare you the enumeration, and will speak of the bird the area of whose habitat is most extended. The peregrine falcon occupies all the temperate and warm regions of the Old and New Worlds, but does not reach the arctic regions, or Polynesia.

In his body, man is anatomically and physiologically a mammal—no more and no less. This class, therefore, interests us more than the others, and furnishes us with more precise knowledge. I will, for that reason, enter more into detail respecting it, taking as my guide the great work of Andrew Murray.

By virtue of their strength, their enormous locomotive powers, and of the continuity of the seas which they inhabit, the cetaceans should seem to be able to play a truly cosmopolitan part. They do not. Each species is cantoned within an area of greater or less extent, beyond which a few individuals may occasionally make excursions, but always to return soon within their bounds. Two exceptions to this general rule have been noted. A rorqual with large flippers, and a northern Balænopterus, natives of temperate and frigid seas, are said to have been found, the first at the Cape, the second at Java. Judging from what Van Beneden and Gervais, the two greatest authorities in cetology; say, these statements are at least doubtful. But, if we accept them as true, it is still the fact that neither species has been met in the seas that wash America and Polynesia. We find nothing else resembling the whales in cosmopolitism, even though it be narrow. Here, also, I spare you the details. You know as well as I do that the species of marsupials, edentates, and pachyderms have their respective countries clearly defined; and that, if the horse and hog are now in America, it is because they have been imported there by Europeans.

A very small number of ruminants inhabit the north of both continents. It is generally agreed to regard the reindeer and the caribou as only races of the same species; Brandt, with some reservations, says as much of the bison and the aurochs, the argali and the big-horn. But none of these species are found in the warm regions of these two quarters, or in all Oceania.

The carnivorous order perhaps offers some similar facts to the preceding. But when we come to the Cheiroptera and the Quadrumana, we do not find a single species common to both continents, or to the rest of the world.

Thus there is not a cosmopolite, after the manner of man, among all organized beings, whether plants or animals. Now, it is evident that the area of the actual habitat of any animal or vegetable species includes the center where that species first appeared. By virtue of the law of expansion, the center should likewise be less in extent than the actual area. No plant and no anirnal, therefore, originated in all the regions of the globe. To suppose that man appeared in the beginning everywhere that we now see him would be to make a unique exception of him. The hypothesis can not, therefore, be received; and every monogenist must repel the conception of the initial cosmopolitism of the human species as false.

The same conclusion is imposed on polygenists, unless they refuse to apply to man the laws of botanical and zoölogical geography that govern all other beings. In fact, however much they have multiplied species of man—whether they assume that there are two, with Virey; fifteen, with Bery Saint-Vincent; or an undetermined but considerable number, with Gliddon—they have always united them into a single genus. A human genus can be no more cosmopolitan than a human species. Speaking of plants, De Candolle says, "The same causes have borne on genera and on species"; and this is as true of animals as of plants. Limiting ourselves to the animals—among the cetaceans, Murray thinks that the genera of the rorqual and the dolphin are represented in all the seas; Van Beneden and Gervais dispute this; we will, however, admit it, for it will not weaken our conclusions. Besides the cetaceans, there can be no question of generic cosmopolitism. Of the ruminants, the genera of the deer, the ox, etc.; of the carnivores, the cat, dog, bear, etc., have representatives in both worlds, but not in Australia or Polynesia. Further, as we examine the higher and higher groups, we see the number of these genera of large area diminishing. Finally, not a single genus of monkey is known to be common to the old and the new continents; and the simian type itself is wanting in the greater part of both worlds and Oceania.

Thus, whether we regard species or genera, the area of the habitat is the more restricted as the animals are more highly placed in the zoölogical scale. It is the same with plants. De Candolle says on this point, "The mean area of species is as much smaller as the class to which they belong has a more complete, more developed, or, in other words, more perfect organization."

Progressive cantonment, in proportion to the increasing perfection of the organisms, is then a general fact, a law, which is applicable to all organized beings, and which physiology easily accounts for. Now, this law disagrees absolutely with the hypothesis that there can exist a human race, comprehending several distinct species, which have appeared everywhere that we see men. This is easily comprehended. Invoking the authority of Murray, and the universality of habitat which he attributes to the genera of the rorqual and the dolphin, polygenists might be tempted to say: "Non-cosmopolitism already presents two exceptions; why may there not be a third? Two genera of cetaceans are naturally represented in all the seas; why may not the human genus have appeared at the start in every land?"

This reasoning fails at the base. The rorquals and the dolphins belong to the lowest order of mammalia. Men, if we regard the body alone, are the highest order. Unless we constitute them a single exception, they must obey the laws of the superior group; consequently, they can not escape the law of progressive cantonment. It follows, hence, that a human genus, as the polygenists understand it, must have occupied in its origin an area no more extended than that which has devolved on some genera of monkeys. But, among the monkeys themselves, all naturalists recognize a hierarchy; all place at their head the order of the anthropoid apes. It is, then, from the secondary groups of this family that polygenists should ask for indications of the possible extent of the area primarily accorded to the human genus; and you know how inconsiderable is the area of the genera gibbon, orang, gorilla, and chimpanzee. You see that, at whatever point of view we place ourselves, we have either to assume that man alone escapes the laws that have regulated the geographical distribution of all other organized beings, or to admit that the primitive tribes were cantoned upon a very restricted space. By judging from present conditions, by making the largest concessions, by neglecting the incontestable superiority of the human type over the simian type, all that the polygenist hypothesis permits is to regard that area as having been nearly equivalent to that occupied by the different species of gibbons, which range, on the continent, from Assam to Malacca; in the islands, from the Philippines to Java. Monogenism, of course, tends to restrict this area still more, and to make it equal at most to that of the chimpanzee, which extends nearly from Cairo to the Senegal. I am the first to recognize that we may perhaps have to enlarge these limits at some later time. I consider the existence of tertiary man to be demonstrated; and only the geographical distribution of the monkeys, his contemporaries, can furnish more precise information upon the primary extension of the center of man's appearance. Paleontology has taught us that the area formerly occupied by the simian type was evidently more considerable than it is now. It may have been the same with the anthropoid apes. But, till this time, no fossil is connected with that family. You know that the Dryopithecus, which was long regarded as belonging to them, has been shown by the examination of the best preserved specimens to be nothing more than a monkey of an inferior order.

At any rate, the general laws of the geographical distribntion of beings, and especially that of progressive cantonment, permit us to affirm that man primarily occupied only a very limited part of the globe; and that, if he is now everywhere, it is because he has covered the whole earth with his emigrant tribes.

I know that this thought of the peopling of the globe by migrations troubles many minds. It puts us in the face of an immense unknown; it raises a world of questions, a large number of which may appear to be inaccessible to our research. Thus, I have often been asked: "Why create all these difficulties? It is much more natural to confine ourselves to the popular movements attested by history, and accept autochthonism, especially in the case of the lowest savages. How could the Hottentots and the Fuegians reach their present countries, starting from some undetermined point which you place in the north of Asia? Such voyages are impossible; these peoples were born at the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn."

To these conclusions, if not received, I will first answer by an anecdote borrowed from Livingstone, the bearing of which is easy to comprehend. The illustrious traveler tells how in his youth he used to make with his brothers long excursions devoted to natural history. "In one of these exploring tours" he says, "we went into a limestone quarry, long before the study of geology had become as common as it has since. It is impossible to express with what joy and astonishment I set myself to picking out the shells which we found in the carboniferous rock. A quarryman looked at me with that air of compassion which a kindly man takes on at the sight of a person of unsound mind. I asked him how the shells came in the rocks. He answered, 'When God created the rocks, he made the shells and put them there'" Livingstone adds: "What pains geologists might have spared themselves by adopting the Ottoman philosophy of that workman!" I will ask, in turn, Where would geology have been if men of science had adopted that philosophy? I ask the anthropologists to imitate the geologists; I invite them to inquire how and by what way the most distant peoples have radiated from the center of the first appearance of man to the extremities of the globe. I am not afraid to predict brilliant discoveries to those who will set themselves seriously to the study of numerous well-marked migrations. In this the past permits a glimpse into the future.

Some years ago, when they talked to me in such language as I have just repeated, they did not fail to add Polynesia to the list of regions which men destitute of all our perfected arts could not reach. You know how completely such assertions have been refuted. Adding his personal researches to those of his predecessors, Hale first drew up the map of Polynesian migrations. Twenty years afterward I was able to complete the work of the learned American by the aid of documents collected after the appearance of that, the fundamental study. Now, as has been said by our lamented Gaussin, so competent for all that relates to Oceania, the peopling of Polynesia by migrations starting from the Indian Archipelago is as clearly demonstrated as the invasion of Europe by barbarians in the middle ages.

Like Polynesia, America was peopled by colonists from the Old World. Their point of departure is to be found and their tracks are to be followed. The labor will indeed be more difficult and longer upon the continent than in Oceania, principally because the migrations were more numerous and go back to a higher antiquity. The first Indonesian pioneers, who, departing from the island of Bouro, landed in the Samoan and Tongan Archipelagoes, probably made the passage toward the end of the fifth century, or near the time of the conversion of Clovis. The peopling of New Zealand by emigrants from the Manaias goes back, at most, to the earlier years of the fifteenth century. Thus, the peopling of Polynesia was all accomplished during our middle ages, while the first migrations to America date from geological times.

Two investigators to whom we owe some valuable discoveries, MM. Ameghino and Whitney, have traced the existence of American man back to the Tertiary age. But this opinion, as you know, has been contested by men of equal repute, and I believe that the view of the latter is confirmed by the comparison of the fossil faunas of the pampas, Brazil, and the Californian gravels. Hence, judging by the little that we know, man reached Lombardy and the Cantal when he had not yet penetrated to America. It is undoubtedly necessary at this point to make the most formal reserves with reference to the future; but, if the fact is confirmed, it seems to me to admit of easy explanation. Everything leads me to think that America and Asia were separated previous to the Quaternary age as they are now. Had it been otherwise, the species of mammalia common to the north of both continents would surely have been more numerous. The men and the land animals of the shores of Bering's Sea would have been stopped there. But when the great geological winter rapidly brought in a polar temperature in place of a mild climate like that of our California, the ancient Tertiary tribes were forced to migrate in every direction. A certain number of them embarked upon the bridge of ice which the cold had cast between the two shores, and arrived in America with the reindeer, as their Western congeners arrived in France with the same animal. From that moment the era of migrations to America was opened. It has never been closed since. Every year the winter rebuilds the bridge which connects East Cape with Cape Prince of Wales; every year a road, comparatively easy for hardy pedestrians, stretches from one continent to the other; and we know that the coast populations of the opposite shores take advantage of it to maintain relations.

Is it not evident that, whenever one of those great movements which we know have agitated Asia made its shocks felt away in distant countries, whenever political or social revolutions overwhelmed them, fugitive or conquered people would have taken this route, of the existence of which they were aware? To get rid of the idea of migrations over the frozen sea, we should have to assume that all the corresponding regions have enjoyed a perpetual peace from the beginning of Quaternary times; but such a peace, you know, is not of this world.

This sea can have been only the principal route followed by the American immigrations. Farther south, the chain formed by the Aleutian Islands and Alaska opens a second route to tribes which have a little skill in navigation. The Aleuts occupy, in Dall's ethnological chart, the whole extremity of the peninsula. By these ways may have taken place what we might call the normal peopling of America. But, bathed on either side by a great ocean, that continent could not fail to profit by the chances of navigation; and we perceive more and more how this must have been the case. We are now justified in saying that Europe and Africa on one side, and Asia and Oceania on the other, have sent to America a number of involuntary colonists, more considerable, probably, than one would be ready to suppose.

The immigrations, in America as in Europe, have been intermittent, and separated sometimes by centuries. America has been peopled as if by a great human river, which, rising in Asia, has traversed the continent from north to south, receiving along its course a few small tributaries. This river resembles the torrent streams of which we have examples in France. Usually, and occasionally for years at a time, their bed is nearly dry. Then some great storm comes, and a liquid avalanche descends from the mountains where their sources lie, covers and ravages the plain, turning over the ancient alluviums, stirring up and mixing the old and new materials, and carrying farther each time the débris it has torn up on its passage. Like this has been the career of our ethnological river. Its floods have, besides, often been diverted to the right or left, and it has opened new derivations. It has also had its eddies. But its general direction has not changed, and we can trace it down to the present.

One of the highest tasks of Americanists will be to ascend to the sources of this river; to determine the succession of its freshets; to define the origin and nature of the elements which they have brought down; to follow these elements from stage to stage, and thus discover the road which each of them has followed to its landing-place—in other words, to construct the history of the migrations of the different American peoples.

The accomplishment of this task will, as I have already said, present other and more difficulties in America than in Polynesia. Those who approach it will have recourse to nothing like the historical charts and the genealogies of which are composed the oral archives religiously preserved in all the islands of the Pacific. But modern science has resources of which we are gaining better and better comprehension of the power. Joining the data furnished by the study of the strata and their fossils, by comparative craniology, linguistics, and ethnography, we can enter on the mass of problems and foresee their solution. Serious efforts have been already made in this direction, and they have not been unfruitful. From this time we shall be able to indicate on the map a considerable number of itineraries, but they are so far partial and local. They are as yet no more than fragments, like those which Hale's predecessors could point to in Oceania.

The time may be long in coming, but let not Americanists lose heart. Every new discovery, of however little importance it may seem at first, will bring them nearer to the end. From year to year these fragments, now isolated and scattered, will join and be co-ordinated with one another; and some day the map of American migrations will be delineated, from Asia to Greenland and Cape Horn, as the map of Polynesian migrations has been drawn, from the Indian Archipelago to Easter Island, and from New Zealand to the Sandwich Islands.—Translated for The Popular Science Monthly from the Revue Scientifique.


According to M. J. Roche, the telephone was fore-fancied by Charles Bourseul, who said, in 1854: " Imagine that one can speak at a mobile plate so flexible as to lose none of the vibrations produced by the voice, and that this plate in succession establishes and interrupts the communication in an electric pile, and that you have another plate at a distance to execute the same vibrations at exactly the same times. . . . I believe it is certain that, in a more or less distant future, speech will in some such way as this be transmitted to a distance by electricity."

The theory of the European origin of the Aryan race is supported by Canon Isaac Taylor in his book on the origin of the Aryans. Inquiring which of the many races speaking the Aryan languages is the one in which the Aryan form of speech may be presumed to have originated, he numbers four such. They are the Iberians; the race represented by the Swedes and North Germans; the Ligurians, including the Auvergnats and the French Basques; and the Celto Slavic race. As among these, he decides upon the Celto-Slavs as the nearest to the primitive Aryan stock.

  1. Address before the eighth meeting of the Congress of Americanists.