The Fossil Bones of Early Man

The Antiquity of Man in East Anglia 1927

J. Reid Moir

[41] .

. . . [T]he continued attacks of the waves have the effect of gradually breaking up the deposit, and of leaving only the hard, resistant flints and other similar objects intact, and these now form large flint "spreads" which can be examined when the tide is at its lowest. The bed in which these flints occur represents the base of the Cromer Forest Bed, and contains numerous examples of the handiwork of the people who lived about 400,000 years ago in what is now Norfolk. The majority of the Cromer flint implements are of very large size, and this may be accounted for, partially, by the huge masses of raw material which the ancient flint flakers had at their disposal. Some two or three years ago I discovered upon the foreshore at Cromer (Fig. 14), a place where by the large number of implements and flakes present, [42] I conclude that an actual workshop site of these remote people at one time existed. 1 Most of these specimens exhibit an arresting reddish yellow coloration upon their flaked surfaces, and this stain is due to the long sojourn of the

specimens in the deposit, very rich in salts of iron, to which I have referred. A very striking example, exhibiting the typical coloration of the Forest Bed artifacts was picked up, some years ago, by Mr Randall Johnson on the beach at Palling to the south-east of Cromer. The Palling specimen is a well-made example of a Chellean hand-axe, and is now in the [43] possession of Mr. A. C. Savin of Cromer. In the Bone Bed beneath the Red Crag the implements shaped at one end like the beak of a bird of prey are the dominant type, but in the later series from Cromer we see that

this form is rarely met with, and that a roughly flaked implement of pointed form for holding in the hand has taken its place. . . .

[122] Chapter 10 The Fossil Bones of Early Man

There is no doubt that, as compared with the vast number of flint implements found in ancient deposits throughout the world, the discoveries of the bones of the human beings who made these implements are exceedingly rare. It is, of course, only to be expected that flint implements would be numerous, because, in the first place, every prehistoric man must have made a great many in his lifetime, as do primitive people of the present day, and, secondly, these specimens are practically indestructible, and so have survived the drastic vicissitudes of the past. The comparative scarcity of ancient human bones is also not a very surprising fact, as the population of early prehistoric times could not have been large, and, further, it is probable that, when an individual died, his body was left out in the open slowly to decay, or to be eaten by carnivorous animals. The fossil bones of man that are found in ancient gravel beds, and other water-laid deposits, are almost certainly those of people who were drowned, or whose bodies, left lying in the open, were swept away by floods, and buried in the gravel and other deposits then being formed. But, though these precious remains of man are rare, yet enough have been found to enable us to form a clear idea of the type of people inhabiting the earth in remote times, and there cannot be any question that, as we go back into the past, so the type of man becomes more and more primitive, and shows an ever-increasing similarity to those of the higher apes. Though the presence of man at any given period can be ascertained with certainty by the finding of his flint implements in the deposits of that period, yet the discovery of human bones is always regarded as a crowning triumph of research in prehistoric archaeology, and as setting the seal upon the former finds of flint implements. In this chapter I propose to deal with some of the more important discoveries of human fossil bones that have been made, and of the great antiquity of these remains. About thirty-five years ago, a remarkable [123] discovery was made in Java by Professor Dubois, 2 who had been sent out by the Dutch government to explore certain deposits in that island which were known to be very rich in the fossil bones of animals. These researches were so fortunate as to result in the discovery of the upper portion of a skull, the thigh bone, and two teeth of a creature that, evidently, possessed both human, and ape-like, characteristics. The discoverer of these remains gave to them the name of Pithecanthropus erectus, or the "erect-walking, Man-ape", and there can be no doubt that, in many respects, this title is justified. The skull cap shows marked ape-like features, a great projecting, bony, ridge over the eye-sockets and very little "forehead", while the inside capacity of the skull has been shown to be intermediate between that of the higher apes, and the lowest type of man (Fig. 55). Though the skull-cap exhibits these remarkable characteristics, the thigh-bone and teeth, which must be referred to the same individual, approximate very closely to those of modern man. We thus see that, in this Javan discovery, there is placed before us a creature possessing both ape-like, and human, resemblances, and such as, in all probability, made the primitive Eolithic flint implements. The exact geological age of this fossil has been, as is often the case with the remains of ancient man, in dispute, but it belongs either to the close of the Tertiary epoch, or to the beginning of the Quaternary.

Fig. 55. Reconstruction of the skull of the Java Man, about 1/3 natural size. The portions actually found are represented by the area above the dotted line. (After Dubois.)

Another very important find, of a human jaw-bone, in a fossilised condition, was made at Mauer, near Heidelberg in Germany, in 1907, at a depth of about 90 feet from the present surface of the ground. 3 The geological age of the [124] specimen is well known, and, from the animal remains found with it, is almost certainty of the same period as that of the Cromer Forest Bed of Norfolk, from which I have obtained a large number of humanly-flaked flints. The Heidelberg jaw-bone is a most impressive relic of early man (Fig. 56). Not only is its antiquity profound, but its massive size and brutal appearance at once rivet the attention of anyone examining it. The specimen shows no sign of a chin and the ascending rami, those portions of the jaw which branch upwards from behind the rearmost molar teeth, are of extraordinary width and strength. It is obvious that the being who possessed a jaw-bone of this character must have been of almost gorilla-like proportions, in fact the jaw-bone itself, if the teeth had been missing, would have

Fig. 56. Superimposed outlines of Heidelberg Fig. 57. Reconstruction of the skull and

Jaw-bone (continuous line) and of Modern Man the jaw-bone of the Piltdown Man. (After

(dotted line). Smith-Woodward.)

almost certainly been regarded as that of an ape. But, nearly all the teeth are present, and these are of a definitely human type. Thus in the Heidelberg jaw-bone we see again a strange combination of human and ape-like characters. We will now turn to a discovery made in our own country, namely, at Piltdown in Sussex. 4 Some years ago, the late Mr. Charles Dawson of Lewes, when visiting a shallow pit, where gravel was being raised, obtained from a workman some portions of a very thick and fossilised human skull. This important find induced him to conduct diggings in the gravel pit, and eventually half of a lower jaw-bone, and a large canine tooth were discovered (Fig. 57). The gravel in which these [125] remains occurred is not far from the valley of the River Ouse in Sussex, and is evidently a very ancient deposit. Unfortunately, the gravel is not of great depth, nor is it covered by any other bed which would enable us to "date" it geologically. Thus the exact age of the Piltdown deposit, though unquestionably very ancient, is not known, but the flint implements found in the gravel are of very early types such as we know occur in beds of the Late Tertiary, and Early Quaternary, periods in East Anglia. The skull and jaw-bone have been described by Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, and by Sir Arthur Keith, and show us, once more, and individual with human and ape-like characteristics. The skull is of definitely human form and shows no trace of the projecting ridge above the eye-sockets, such as is so prominent a feature in some early types of man. The bones of this skull are very thick, but, otherwise, in its general outline, there is nothing very ape-like about it. But when we turn to the jaw-bone we see a very different picture, for it possesses many ape-like characters. There is the usual absence of a chin, and the whole aspect of the specimen is very primitive. But, the most outstanding peculiarity about it is the fact that the canine teeth stick up, above the level of the others, in the same way in which the apes' canines project. Never before has an individual been discovered with a definitely human skull, and with jaws showing canine teeth of this kind, and the Piltdown discovery is thus of great importance to all those interested in man's ancestry. It is possible that the fossil remains I have described, viz. those of Java, Heidelberg, and Piltdown, lived during the warm climatic phase, intervening between the First and Second Glacial periods, to which I referred in the previous chapter, and are possibly 500,000 years old. . . .



1 Moir, J. Reid, Journ. Roy. Anthr. Inst. vol. xli, 1921, July to December; The Great Flint Implements of Cromer, Norfolk, Harrison, Ipswich; Journ. Roy. Anthr. Inst. vol. lv, 1925, July to December.

2 Dubois, E., Pithecanthropus erectus, eine menschenähnliche Urbergausform aus Java, Batavia, 1894, 4to, p. 44.

3 Schoetensack, O., Der Unterkeifer des Homo Heidelbergensis, aus dem Sanden von Mauer, bei Heidelberg, Leipzig, 1908.

4 Dawson, Chas. and Woodward, A.S., Q.J.G.S. March 1913, vol. xlix.