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7.4 The Piltdown Sub-Man

Editor’s Note

This article was written circa 1920. In 1953, work at Oxford University demonstrated that the Piltdown Man was a forgery comprising the bones of three different species. Read more about the Piltdown Hoax on Wikipedia.

We must turn over the Record for, it may be, another 100,000 years for the next remains of anything human or sub-human. Then in a deposit ascribed to the Third Interglacial period, which may have begun 100,000 years ago and lasted 50,000 years, the smashed pieces of a whole skull turn up. The deposit is a gravel which may have been derived from the washing out of still earlier gravel strata, and this skull fragment may be in reality as old as the First Glacial Period. The bony remains discovered at Piltdown in Sussex display a creature still ascending only very gradually from the sub-human.

The first scraps of this skull were found in an excavation for road gravel in Sussex. Bit by bit other fragments of this skull were hunted out from the quarry heaps until most of it could be pieced together. It is a thick skull, thicker than that of any living race of men, and. it has a brain capacity intermediate between that of Pithecanthropus and man. This creature has been named Eoanthropus, the dawn man. In the same gravel-pits were found teeth of rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and the leg-bone of a deer with marks upon it that may be cuts. A curious bat-shaped instrument of elephant bone has also been found.

There was moreover a jaw-bone among these scattered remains, which was at first assumed naturally enough to belong to Eoanthropus, but which it was afterwards suggested was probably that of a chimpanzee. It is extraordinarily like that of a chimpanzee, but Dr. Keith, one of the greatest authorities in these questions, assigns it, after an exhaustive analysis in his Antiquity of Man (1915), to the skull with which it is found. It is, as a jaw- bone, far less human in character than the jaw of the much more ancient Homo Heidelbergensis, but the teeth are in some respects more like those of living men.

Dr. Keith, swayed by the jaw-bone, does not think that Eoanthropus, in spite of its name, is a creature in the direct ancestry of man. Much less is it an intermediate form between the Heidelberg man and the Neanderthal man we shall presently describe. It was only related to the true ancestor of man as the orang is related to the chimpanzee. It was one of a number of sub-human running apes of more than ape-like intelligence, and if it was not on the line royal, it was at any rate a very close collateral.

After this glimpse of a skull, the Record for very many centuries gives nothing but flint implements, which improve steadily in quality. A very characteristic form is shaped like a sole, with one flat side stricken off at one blow and the other side worked. The archaeologists, as the Record continues, are presently able to distinguish scrapers, borers, knives, darts, throwing tones, and the like. Progress is now more rapid; in a few centuries the shape of the hand-axe shows distinct and recognizable improvements. And then comes quite a number of remains. The Fourth Glacial Ago is rising towards its maximum. Man is taking to eaves and leaving vestiges there; at Krapina in Croatia, at Neanderthal near Dusseldorf, at Spy, human remains have been found, skulls and bones of a creature that is certainly a man. Somewhen about 50,000 years ago, if not earlier, appeared Homo Neanderthalensis (also called Homo antiquus and Homo primigenius), a quite passable human being. His thumb was not quite equal in flexibility and usefulness to a human thumb; he stooped forward and could not hold his head erect, as all living men do; he was chinless and perhaps incapable of speech; there were curious differences about the enamel and the roots of his teeth from those of all living men; he was very thick-set; he was, indeed, not quite of the human species; but there is no dispute about his attribution to the genus Homo. He was certainly not descended from Eoanthropus, but his jaw-bone is so like the Heidelberg jaw-bone, as to make it possible that the clumsier and heavier Homo Heidelbergensis, a thousand centuries before him, was of his blood and race.

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