Review of The Antiquity of Man

By A. Keith, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S., Hunterian Professor R.C.S. 513 pp., 189 illus. 1915 Williams and Norgate. 10s. 6d. net.

William Wright

Man August 1916

[124] In The Antiquity of Man Professor Keith addresses himself to what is surely one of the most enthralling problems which can ever engage our attention. Were this doubted, we venture to think readers of the book will doubt it no longer.

Of the many different motifs of the book, perhaps the chief is the forcible and persistent plea which the author makes for the consideration of evidence on its merits, with a mind untrammeled by tradition and unclouded by preconceived ideas. It is a plea well worth making, for a narrow dogmatism is not in these later days by any means the peculiar prerogative of the theologian.

On the other hand, if a theory is oftentimes a bad master, it is frequently a good servant, and no one who has worked at such problems as are discussed in this book, and certainly not the author, is likely to underestimate the value of theory in any attempt to unravel the torn and twisted skein of the Past.

The four great arguments of the book are the feasibility of reconstructing a skull from its fragments, the specific distinction which exists between Homo primigenius and Homo sapiens, the priority in time in Western Europe of Homo sapiens, and the possibility of the combination in a single individual of such anthropoid and human features as are to be found in the Piltdown skull.

As to the first of these, the test to which Professor Keith so courageously and characteristically submitted himself, and from which he emerged so creditably, leaves the critic almost silent; but there are a few things which should be always borne clearly in mind: firstly, one should be extremely cautious in applying data obtained from the examination of human skulls in the reconstruction of skulls belonging to [125] animals which are presumed to be not human, e.g., Eoanthropus; secondly, no reconstruction can ever have the value of a perfect skull, and it is unwise to base any elaborate theories upon it; and, lastly, there must be, of course, some limit to the parts necessary for reconstruction to be possible. For example, we confess, we are not impressed by the outline drawings accompanying the Bury St. Edmunds and Trenton fragments.

As to the specific distinction between Homo primigenius and Homo sapiens, we are not disposed to admit the claim with anything like the same confidence which possesses Professor Keith. It is true that the term "species" does not permit of clear definition, and that being so, what the author regards as a specific feature, the present writer, and possibly others, might perhaps reasonably be allowed to consider of less value. That Homo primigenius, to give him his modern title, was a distinct type, a type which, moreover, in its purest form, is now extinct, we will readily admit, but we desire other reasons than those given before singling him out for exclusion from the community of modern Man. The character of the extremely variable supra-orbital ridges, the form of the temporal articular surface so far as it can be judged from the very few specimens available, the size of the dental pulp cavities, seem to us quite insufficient for so drastic and unparalleled a measure. In cranial measurements, in cranial capacity, and, so far as we can judge, in the proportions and modelling of the face, he falls well within the range of modern man. In size of brain and in the use to which that organ was put , there is admittedly no justification for any separation. Were there any such specific distinction as Professor Keith believes, we think it would almost certainly have been reflected in the implements, but the palæolithics found with or associated with Homo primigenius seem to be every whit as high workmanship as those found with Homo sapiens. Perhaps, however, we are to extend Klaatsch's theory–propounded to explain the presence in the same cave of two species–that Homo primigenius kept Homo sapiens in a state of subjection, in which case it would be only natural that the latter should be the munition worker of the period.

Whatever credit is due to Professor King, of Galway, we imagine the separation of Man into two species will be chiefly identified with the name of Schwalbe. The latter, however, never seems to us to have fully appreciated the great variation which exists, on his own showing, between the various members of the so-called species between, for example, Spy I and Spy II. Moreover, the example of modern Man which he chose for his comparisons was not by any means the lowest form available.

This question is not one which should be left, or need to be left, in its present unsatisfactory position. We have simply to place side by side the highest examples of Homo primigenius and the lowest and highest examples of modern Man, and we venture to think the unprejudiced anatomists will show at least considerable hesitation before he selects the two which are most akin. If, on the other hand, we take the lowest form of Homo primigenius which can be imagined, and place it side by side with the highest form of Homo sapiens, as the author does in Fig. 53, it is not difficult to create an impression in the not anatomically-minded of a specific or even a generic difference. All we will as is, if Neanderthal Man was as he is portrayed in this figure, who made his implements–those masterpieces of flintcraft for which the Mousterian period is so justly famous? Denying, as we think we may, the existence of any specific distinction between the two, we remove from Professor Keith's path, in spite of himself, one great stumbling-block to the acceptance of his main thesis, the thesis with which is peculiarly and closely identified–the priority of Homo sapiens : for all we have to imagine is that Homo primigenius is an aberrant type of Homo sapiens whom possibly the movements of the ice in the Pleistocene period brought into Central and Western Europe.

[126] It is in arguing for the priority of Homo sapiens that Professor Keith is at his best, and we think that in the present state of our knowledge we have no option but to accept his view, particularly as it has received recently such striking support from the discovery at Piltdown.

The latter event naturally has special prominence given to it. Dr. Smith Woodward's first model is examined in detail, and the reasons why it cannot be accepted by anatomists are clearly and firmly stated. It is unfortunate that Professor Symington's criticism of Professor Elliot Smith's interpretation of the endocranial cast was not published in time to be incorporated in the volume, for only in a less degree than Professor Keith's criticism does it succeed in finally disposing of the ill-fated first essay at reconstruction and of many of the opinions based thereon.

In the account of the discovery, we note that Professor Keith rightly admits that we cannot exclude the possibility of the cranium and mandible having belonged to separate individuals, a did, for instance, the fragmentary teeth of the Mastodon and Stegodon.

It has been pointed out that it would be strange if they were parts of two different and previously unknown animals, but now that we learn from Professor Keith's reconstruction of Eoanthropus that the cranium falls within the range of human variation, we have only to suppose that, with parts of Man was found part of an unknown anthropoid ape–after all, surely not a very high flight of imagination. Certain parts of a tooth of Stegodon were found for the first time in Western Europe in the same deposit. Mandibles have a habit of appearing apart from the rest of the animals to which they belonged, for instance, those found at Naulette, Malarnaud, and Heidelberg, and, further, it was quite time that representatives of our modern anthropoid ape were appearing.

Professor Keith, deserting, as it seems to us, the stable ground of biological experience for that treacherous country in which reign the co-efficients of chance, argues well and ingeniously for the mandible belonging to the cranium, for a temporo-maxillary joint of the human pattern, and for a dentition of which the cheek teeth are human and the front teeth anthropoid. He is not, however, to our mind, convincing, and we think that while further discussion is useful in stimulating examination and inquiry, we must wait for additional material evidence before we can arrive at a universal agreement, on this, as on so many other dark problems.

The remains of Pleistocene Man are so numerous that the author no doubt found it impossible to refer separately to each, and rightly or wrongly, he has chosen his examples in a very large measure from those most recently found. The consequence is that the book, while it has the great advantage of including those specimens which have come under the eye of the author, has not that nicety of balance which some of us would have liked to have seen. Little, if any, mention is made of certain important discoveries, while many of which the authenticity is a matter of doubt are treated at considerable length.

We might, in passing, remark that at a time when we know much of the cranium of Pleistocene Man and but relatively little of his face, it is curious that so little attention should be paid to the two almost complete facial portions found in the stalagmite on the floor of a cave at Cattledown, and described by Dr. Beddoe in the Transactions of the Plymouth Institution.

Enough has surely been said to testify to the extraordinary interest of the questions discussed–an interest which gains not a little from the vivid literary style of the author. Professor Keith can reconstruct more than skulls, and on many pages he brings scenes and incidents before us with telling effect.

He has evidently exerted himself to the utmost to get at the truth of the various problems considered, and whether or not he has succeeded in every case the [127] future alone can decide. In the meantime we, as British Anthropologists, stand indebted to him for much–a debt which it is our pleasure to avow–in that he corrected the misshapen, reconstructed model of the Piltdown skull almost before it had left our shores, and in that he has carried through in the teeth of strong opposition and to what at the moment appears to be a successful issue, his fight for the priority of the Homo sapiens type.

There are other fights ahead, and since he accepts the Galley Hill skeleton of pure Neolithic type, as of Pleistocene date, we hope that some day he will look into the tradition that the long, oval-headed Neolithic people of Southern England came to our country from the Mediterranean basin. There appears to be an insurmountable difficulty for some Anthropologists to imagine that a type can have appeared where it is found–it must always for them be introduced from elsewhere, preferably from the East.

The book is one which not only adds to the high reputation of the author, but reflects no little honour on the Institute over whose affairs he has presided for so long with such distinction.


The Endocranial Cast of the Piltdown Skull.

William Wright.

Man Oct. 1916

[158] In the last number of Man, Professor Elliot Smith prefers a charge of inaccuracy against the present writer, but does not stay to establish it except for the statement that "Professor Symington has not discussed the mode of reconstruction." It is quite true that Professor Symington has not discussed the mode of reconstruction of the skull, nor was it stated that he had, but he has criticised the mode of reconstructing the brain by taking a cast of the interior of the cranium, and with such effect that we notice Professor Elliot Smith has now discarded the term brain-cast, and writes of cranial-cast, whereas formerly he used the two terms in a manner which seemed to imply that they were synonymous.

Professor Symington has further shown that even when an endocranial cast is taken under the most favourable conditions, such a cast can only convey a general idea of the external appearance of the brain. When, however, the cranium is fragmentary, and its reconstruction admittedly faulty, most of us, we imagine, will not be disposed to attach much importance to "the obviously expanding area" at the posterior end of the second temporal convolution as it can be recognised on an endocranial cast; the more so as a considerable portion of the cranium in this region is wanting, and, further, the region is one where skulls under pressure have a marked tendency to burst.

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