The Pleistocene Mammalia of the British Isles

and Their Bearing upon the Date of the Glacial Period 1

Martin A. C. Hinton (British Museum, Natural History)

Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society 1926


[325] The problems which we are about to discuss have engaged my attention, both as a geologist and as a zoologist, for nearly thirty years. When in 1895 1 began as a boy to study the Pleistocene deposits of the Thames I came "devoted and sincere" like the student in Faust, with implicit trust in my text-book and in the teachings of my elders. And in 1899 when rash enough to write my first paper on this subject, 2 I said in reference to the writings of Professor James Geikle: "In my opinion his conclusions are incontestable in so far as they relate to the Palæolithic era, and have never been satisfactorily answered by those holding contrary views."

In the course of time, as my geological work led me further afield, and as my knowledge of the Pleistocene Mammalia became more exact, it became apparent that even the best text-books are very imperfect mirrors for the face of nature, that the best reasoning is sometimes wasted on faulty premises, and that we must not take anything for granted. In attempting to solve the British Pleistocene riddle one of the first steps must be to find a suitable time-scale. Ordinary stratigraphical method, surest of guides when dealing with older formations or with individual Pleistocene sections, here fails us because we have to deal with a great many scattered and isolated deposits. . . .

[330] The enthusiastic collection for many years of the Mammalian fossils of the Forest Bed series by Mr. Savin, of Cromer, and the many collecting trips to the Norfolk Coast [331] which Mr. G. White and I made, have greatly increased the material now available from Cromerian deposits. Studies of this material have enabled the late Dr. Forsyth Major and me to go far beyond the admirable pioneer results which Mr. E. T. Newton obtained in 1882. It is now definitely shown that no single one of the sixty three terrestrial mammalian species known to occur in the Forest Bed, and represented by adequate material, can be identified with a living species; and the probability is that all, when satisfactory material comes to hand, will prove to be extinct forms. The larger mammals have been found chiefly in the middle Cromerian horizons; while the smaller species have been chiefly collected from the Upper Fresh-water Bed at West Runton.

The fauna includes a Monkey of the genus Macaca; six extinct insectivores, viz:–a Mole, two species of Socex (brown-toothed Shrews), a Water Shrew, a Desman, and a Hedgehog all of extinct species; sixteen rodents (of which fourteen are certainly extinct) including the Trogontherium., two species of beaver (one extinct, the other approaching the living European species), an extinct Rabbit, and ten species of vole, all extinct and belonging to four different genera, of which one, Mimomys, is now extinct. The Carnivora are represented by 13 species, including a Sabre-Toothed-Tiger. The Artiodactyles include a hippopotamus, two species of extinct pig, species of Bos and Bison, the remarkable Laprovis savini, and 13 species of Deer, of which nearly all are extinct. The Perissodactyles are two species of horse and two species of Rhinoceros all now extinct; in each of these two genera one species is allied to the corresponding species of the Upper Pliocene of the Val D'Arno, while the other is allied to or identical with that occurring in the earlier High Terrace and Middle Terrace deposits. Lastly, remains of three Elephants (E. meridionalis, E. antiquus, and E. primigenius ) are associated in Cromerian Beds; of these E. meridionalis and E. antiquus are rare. The specific determination of the elephants is, however, far from satisfactory; probably, when each of the three nominal species becomes better known, each will be found to represent not a species but a genus. . . .

[334] Let me remind you before proceeding further, that the famous deposit at Piltdown occupies a very similar position, in relation to its local stream, to that occupied by the High Terrace in relation to the Thames. At Piltdown, in my opinion, we see dim indications of what the fauna of the South of England was in the earliest part of the High Terrace stage; whilst at Ingress Vale we have representatives of the fauna at the close of High Terrace time. Eoanthropus himself is surely as primitive a mammal as one could wish to find in a post-glacial deposit; too primitive probably to be associated with Chellean implements, but possibly responsible for the Eoliths. Mastodon takes us back to Norwich Crag times; the primitive elephant Stegodon to an even older, perhaps middle Pliocene horizon (if we were to judge the case by Indian standards), while the Hippopotamus , red deer, horse, and beaver of recent European type, can all be matched in Cromerian deposits.

On comparing the mammals recovered from the High Terrace with those found in what, judging by the associated flint implements, are corresponding deposits abroad, we are struck with the archaic character of the British fauna. It looks as though at each moment in that long period, Britain stood in relation to continental Europe very much as Madagascar does to Africa today; that is to say that it was then one [335] of the refuges for old types of mammalian life–a land of living fossils. Some other elements of the fauna of the High Terrace, such as the extinct fluviatile mollusc, Neritina grateloupiana , known otherwise only from the Miocene deposits of France, but occurring in great abundance at Ingress Vale, led to the same conclusion. . . .


1 This paper was read before the British Association at Southampton, Sept. 1st 1925. And before the Yorkshire Geological Society November 28th, 1925.

2 Proc. Geol. Assoc. , Vol. xvi, 1900, p. 271.

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