The Most Ancient Inhabitant of England:

the Newly-Found Sussex Man

W. P. Pycraft

Our Notebook

The Illustrated London News December 28, 1912


We are able to give here the first drawing of the restored jaw of the Sussex man, who lived, it is more than probable, in the very early Pleistocene period. Its most remarkable point is the exceptionally receding chin. The jaw, as may be seen, slopes backwards sharply from the base of the teeth, which had a pronounced forward thrust. For a human skull, the canines (judging from the restored jaw shown by Dr. Smith Woodward) were huge, though they did not approach the size of those of any of the great apes. The incisors must have been larger and more widely spread than in the human races which have succeeded. The molars, the only teeth recovered, resemble those of the Heidelberg jaw, and to that extent are human; but their grinding-surfaces are longer, a simian featue. In the drawing, the shaded portion represents the actual discovery; the outlined areas show the restored portion. Note should be made of the great breadth of the ascending ramus; the shallow sigmoid notch, and the large canine, which, together with the receding chin, are all ape-like characteristics.

Drawn by W. P. Pycraft.

Akin to the Ape: The Earliest Known Inhabitant of England–The Man of Sussex.

A Reconstruction of His Head.

On a double-page of this issue is given a full-length reconstruction of the Sussex man, the earliest inhabitant of England of whom remains have been found; and we deal further with the subject in a special article and on "Note-Book" page. Suffice it to say here, therefore, that the man (part of whose jaw and skull were found) was undoubtedly akin to the apes. The lower jaw is unmistakably ape-like, while presenting other features indubitably human. It is ape-like, for example, in its massiveness, in the absence of a chin, and in the shortness and great breadth of the upper branch whereby the jaw is hinged to the skull. In the making of the reconstructions, Mr. Forrester, our artist, was much indebted to Dr. A. Smith Woodward who was good enough to supervise the work, making Mr. Forrester's reconstruction of the man as accurate as it can be.

The Most Ancient Inhabitant of England:

the Newly-Found Sussex Man

W. P. Pycraft

The Illustrated London News December 1912



The Jaw of a Kaffir. The Jaw of a Chimpanzee. The Jaw of an Indian.

These photographs show the absence of the chin in the case of a chimpanzee (as in the Heidelberg jaw and that of the Sussex man); the slight development in the African; and the pronounced chin of the Indian.

A discovery of supreme importance to all who are interested in the history of the human race was announced at the Geological Society on Wednesday evening (Dec. 18), when Mr. Charles Dawson, of Lewes, and Dr. A. Smith Woodward, the Keeper of the Geological Department of the British Museum, displayed to an eager audience a part of the jaw and a portion of the skull of the most ancient inhabitant of England, if not in Europe.

The first of the remains were discovered more than a year ago by Mr. Dawson, in a gravel deposit near Pilt Down Common, close to Uckfield, Sussex. Mr. Dawson, who is a keen student of palæontology, soon made his great find known to Dr. Smith Woodward and the two worked together during the past summer, in a strenuous endeavour to recover, if possible, yet other parts of the skeleton, and especially the rest of the skull. But their efforts have only resulted in obtaining more parts of the skull, and half of the mandible.

Nevertheless, the remains thus far recovered leave no possible doubt but that they represent not merely a fossil man, but a man who must be regarded as affording us a link with our remote ancestors, the apes, and hence their surpassing interest.


The Celebrated Heidelberg Jaw to which the Newly Discovered Jaw of the Sussex Man

Bears a Striking Resemblance.

The evidence for the interpretation which has been placed on them is incontrovertible. In the first place, the lower jaw is unmistakably ape-like, while presenting other features indubitably human. It is apelike in its massiveness, in the absence of a chin, and in the absence of a peculiar ridge along the inner surface which in the typical human jaw is extremely well marked and serves for the attachment of muscles concerned with the act of swallowing. Another simian feature is the shortness and breadth of the upper branch whereby the jaw is hinged to the skull. As to the teeth of this Ancient Briton, it will suffice to remark that they resemble those of the celebrated Heidelberg jaw, and in so far are of the human type; but they are ape-like in the greater length of their grinding-surfaces. But there is reason to suspect that the canine or "eye" teeth projected, at any rate, slightly above the level of the rest–an ape-like character met with in savage races to-day, though never to the same extent as in the apes.

Another ape-like character is afforded by the trend of the grinders, which shows that the teeth in the complete jaw must have run in a straight, parallel series, not in a horse-shoe curve as in modern man.

The fragments of the cranium reveal no less interesting features. Fortunately the hinge for the lower jaw is preserved, and this is emphatically human in type, since it forms a deep cavity, and not a shallow depression. Again, this region of the skull displays what among human anatomists is known as a "mastoid process," a large, rounded, or cone-shaped boss of bone to which is attached a large band-shaped muscle, serving to draw the head downwards upon the chest, or sideways towards the shoulder. In the apes this "mastoid process' is wanting.

Happily, enough of the skull has been found to allow of the restoration of the whole of the cranial portion, which encloses the brain. And this shows us that the beetling brows so excessively developed in the celebrated fossil man of Java discovered some years ago were in the Sussex man far less developed; while the brain capacity of this ancient man had just under two pints, which is nearly twice as much as that of the highest apes, though considerably less than that of the average European, which is, roughly, about two pints and a half.

Of the fore-part of the face–that is to say, of the eye-sockets, nose, and upper jaw–we as yet know nothing, nor have even traces been found of the trunk and limbs, and we fear that these have been lost beyond recall.

The Jaws of a Chimpanzee, a Torres Straits Islander, and a European.

This reproduction is to show the decreasing bony area behind the front teeth, enlarging the mouth cavity for the development of speech. In the European (right) it will be noticed that the chin projects in front of the front teeth, but does not appear either in the chimpanzee (left) or the Torres Straits Islander (centre). The Heidelberg jaw, and that of the newly discovered Sussex man, agree in this.

The Skull of a Torres Straits Islander

in the British Museum

This skull represents one of the lowest types of the human race yet met with among present-day peoples. The overhanging, ape-like brow-ridges are very pronounced. Note also the conical, downwardly directed mass of bone at the base of the skull. This is the "mastoid" process peculiar to man.

And now it will be asked how long ago did this man live, and what did he look like when alive? As to the first question, no definite answer can be given; we can only say, "several hundred thousand years ago," perhaps a million. But this much is certain: he lived during the early part of what is known as the Pleistocene age, and near enough to the period known as the Pliocene to make it certain that his immediate forbears must have lived during that period; thus justifying the forecasts of Pliocene man which authorities from time to time have made. Indeed, the celebrated Heidelberg jaw is regarded by some as belonging to the Pliocene; and the jaw of the Sussex man now under discussion is of a still more primitive character. It is enough, for the present, at any rate, to say that the gravel in which he has so long rested is of nearly the same age as the Norfolk Forest bed. And now a word or two as to his probable appearance and mode of life, and the creatures which he chased, and was occasionally, in turn, chased by. As to his personal appearance one would not like to dogmatize, but, with the help of Mr. Forrester, I have been enabled to make what is probably a near approximation to the truth. He was a man of low stature, very muscular, and had not yet attained that graceful poise of the body which is so characteristic of the human race to-day. But he was by no means lacking in intelligence. Living in a genial climate amid a luxurious vegetation, and surrounded by an abundance of game, he may be said to have led a life of comparative ease. Of clothing he had no need; nor was there any reason to bother much about housing accommodations; though, for safety's sake, he may have been forced to devise some kind of shelter by night. Elephants and rhinoceroses of species long since extinct roamed in herds all round him. These and the hippopotamuses no doubt he killed for food, and, besides, he must have hunted a species of horse long since extinct, while the lion, bear, and sabre-toothed tiger afforded him plenty of opportunities for hairbreadth escapes. He had probably inherited the use of fire from his forbears, and this useful ally served to harden the ends of his wooden spears, and perhaps to cook his food. His only other tools were furnished by flint stones chipped to the rough semblance of an axe, but used in the hand, not wielded by a shaft. From the peculiar character in which it was flaked from the rough nodule selected, this implement is known as of the "Chellean" type, and though one of the more primitive types of Palæolithic weapons, it showed better workmanship than is displayed by the still earlier "Strepyan" and "Mesvinian" types, and a great advance on the much-discussed "eoliths." These earlier weapons, it may be remarked, are the only evidence of the existence of men older than the makers of the "Chellean" implements, but they speak as surely as did the footprints found by Robinson Crusoe.

Finally, these fragments of man from the Sussex gravel tell us that already at this early period the human race had begun to split up into different peoples, which had spread far over the earth's surface, as is witnessed by the remains found in Java and Heidelberg. And these three, we must point out, belong, roughly, to the same period of time in the world's history; these three, more than any others, bear witness to man's kinship with the apes.