WHILE the view of chronology based upon the literal acceptance
of Scripture texts was thus shaken by researches in Egypt,
another line of observation and thought was slowly developed,
even more fatal to the theological view.
From a very early period there had been dug from the earth, in
various parts of the world, strangely shaped masses of stone,
some rudely chipped, some polished: in ancient times the larger
of these were very often considered as thunderbolts, the smaller
as arrows, and all of them as weapons which had been hurled by
the gods and other supernatural personages. Hence a sort of
sacredness attached to them. In Chaldea, they were built into
the wall of temples; in Egypt, they were strung about the necks
of the dead. In India, fine specimens are to this day seen upon
altars, receiving prayers and sacrifices.
Naturally these beliefs were brought into the Christian
mythology and adapted to it. During the Middle Ages many of
these well-wrought stones were venerated as weapons, which
during the "war in heaven" had been used in driving forth
Satan and his hosts; hence in the eleventh century an Emperor of
the East sent to the Emperor of the West a "heaven axe"; and
in the twelfth century a Bishop of Rennes asserted the value of
thunder-stones as a divinely- appointed means of securing success
in battle, safety on the sea, security against thunder, and
immunity from unpleasant dreams. Even as late as the seventeenth
century a French ambassador brought a stone hatchet, which
still exists in the museum at Nancy, as a present to the
Prince-Bishop of Verdun, and claimed for it health-giving virtues.
In the last years of the sixteenth century Michael Mercati tried
to prove that the "thunder-stones" were weapons or implements
of early races of men; but from some cause his book was not
published until the following century, when other thinkers had
begun to take up the same idea, and then it had to contend with
a theory far more accordant with theologic modes of reasoning in
science. This was the theory of the learned Tollius, who in 1649
told the world that these chipped or smoothed stones were
"generated in the sky by a fulgurous exhalation conglobed in a
cloud by the circumposed humour."
But about the beginning of the eighteenth century a fact of
great importance was quietly established. In the year 1715 a
large pointed weapon of black flint was found in contact with
the bones of an elephant, in a gravel bed near Gray's Inn Lane,
in London. The world in general paid no heed to this: if the
attention of theologians was called to it, they dismissed it
summarily with a reference to the Deluge of Noah; but the
specimen was labelled, the circumstances regarding it were
recorded, and both specimen and record carefully preserved.
In 1723 Jussieu addressed the French Academy on The Origin and
Uses of Thunder-stones. He showed that recent travellers from
various parts of the world had brought a number of weapons and
other implements of stone to France, and that they were
essentially similar to what in Europe had been known as
"thunder-stones." A year later this fact was clinched into the
scientific mind of France by the Jesuit Lafitau, who published
a work showing the similarity between the customs of aborigines
then existing in other lands and those of the early inhabitants
of Europe. So began, in these works of Jussieu and Lafitau, the
science of Comparative Ethnography.
But it was at their own risk and peril that thinkers drew from
these discoveries any conclusions as to the antiquity of man.
Montesquieu, having ventured to hint, in an early edition of his
Persian Letters, that the world might be much older than had
been generally supposed, was soon made to feel danger both to
his book and to himself, so that in succeeding editions he
suppressed the passage.
In 1730 Mahudel presented a paper to the French Academy of
Inscriptions on the so-called "thunder-stones," and also
presented a series of plates which showed that these were stone
implements, which must have been used at an early period in
In 1778 Buffon, in his Epoques de la Nature, intimated his
belief that "thunder-stones" were made by early races of men;
but he did not press this view, and the reason for his reserve
was obvious enough: he had already one quarrel with the
theologians on his hands, which had cost him dear - public
retraction and humiliation. His declaration, therefore,
attracted little notice.
In the year 1800 another fact came into the minds of thinking
men in England. In that year John Frere presented to the London
Society of Antiquaries sundry flint implements found in the clay
beds near Hoxne: that they were of human make was certain, and,
in view of the undisturbed depths in which they were found, the
theory was suggested that the men who made them must have lived at
a very ancient geological epoch; yet even this discovery and theory
passed like a troublesome dream, and soon seemed to be forgotten.
About twenty years later Dr. Buckland published a discussion of
the subject, in the light of various discoveries in the drift
and in caves. It received wide attention, but theology was
soothed by his temporary concession that these striking relics
of human handiwork, associated with the remains of various
extinct animals, were proofs of the Deluge of Noah.
In 1823 Boue, of the Vienna Academy of Sciences, showed to
Cuvier sundry human bones found deep in the alluvial deposits of
the upper Rhine, and suggested that they were of an early
geological period; this Cuvier virtually, if not explicitly,
denied. Great as he was in his own field, he was not a great
geologist; he, in fact, led geology astray for many years.
Moreover, he lived in a time of reaction; it was the period of
the restored Bourbons, of the Voltairean King Louis XVIII,
governing to please orthodoxy. Boue's discovery was, therefore,
at first opposed, then enveloped in studied silence.
Cuvier evidently thought, as Voltaire had felt under similar
circumstances, that "among wolves one must howl a little"; and
his leading disciple, Elie de Beaumont, who succeeded, him in
the sway over geological science in France, was even more
opposed to the new view than his great master had been. Boue's
discoveries were, therefore, apparently laid to rest forever.
In 1825 Kent's Cavern, near Torquay, was explored by the Rev.
Mr. McEnery, a Roman Catholic clergyman, who seems to have been
completely overawed by orthodox opinion in England and
elsewhere; for, though he found human bones and implements
mingled with remains of extinct animals, he kept his notes in
manuscript, and they were only brought to light more than thirty
years later by Mr. Vivian.
The coming of Charles X, the last of the French Bourbons, to the
throne, made the orthodox pressure even greater. It was the
culmination of the reactionary period - the time in France when
a clerical committee, sitting at the Tuileries, took such
measures as were necessary to hold in check all science that was
not perfectly "safe"; the time in Austria when Kaiser Franz
made his famous declaration to sundry professors, that what he
wanted of them was simply to train obedient subjects, and that
those who did not make this their purpose would be dismissed;
the time in Germany when Nicholas of Russia and the princelings
and ministers under his control, from the King of Prussia
downward, put forth all their might in behalf of "scriptural
science"; the time in Italy when a scientific investigator,
arriving at any conclusion distrusted by the Church, was sure of
losing his place and in danger of losing his liberty; the time
in England when what little science was taught was held in due
submission to Archdeacon Paley; the time in the United States
when the first thing essential in science was, that it be
adjusted to the ideas of revival exhorters.
Yet men devoted to scientific truth laboured on; and in 1828
Tournal, of Narbonne, discovered in the cavern of Bize specimens
of human industry, with a fragment of a human skeleton, among
bones of extinct animals. In the following year Christol
published accounts of his excavations in the caverns of Gard; he
had found in position, and under conditions which forbade the
idea of after-disturbance, human remains mixed with bones of the
extinct hyena of the early Quaternary period. Little general
notice was taken of this, for the reactionary orthodox
atmosphere involved such discoveries in darkness.
But in the French Revolution of 1830 the old
politico-theological system collapsed: Charles X and his
advisers fled for their lives; the other continental monarchs
got glimpses of new light; the priesthood in charge of education
were put on their good behaviour for a time, and a better era began.
Under the constitutional monarchy of the house of Orleans in
France and Belgium less attention was therefore paid by
Government to the saving of souls; and we have in rapid
succession new discoveries of remains of human industry, and
even of human skeletons so mingled with bones of extinct animals
as to give additional proofs that the origin of man was at a
period vastly earlier than any which theologians had dreamed of.
A few years later the reactionary clerical influence against
science in this field rallied again. Schmerling in 1833 had
explored a multitude of caverns in Belgium, especially at Engis
and Engihoul, and had found human skulls and bones closely
associated with bones of extinct animals, such as the cave bear,
hyena, elephant, and rhinoceros, while mingled with these were
evidences of human workmanship in the shape of chipped flint
implements; discoveries of a similar sort had been made by De
Serres in France and by Lund in Brazil; but, at least as far as
continental Europe was concerned, these discoveries were
received with much coolness both by Catholic leaders of opinion
in France and Belgium and by Protestant leaders in England and
Holland. Schmerling himself appears to have been overawed, and
gave forth a sort of apologetic theory, half scientific, half
theologic, vainly hoping to satisfy the clerical side.
Nor was it much better in England. Sir Charles Lyell, so devoted
a servant of prehistoric research thirty years later, was still
holding out against it on the scientific side; and, as to the
theological side, it was the period when that great churchman,
Dean Cockburn, was insulting geologists from the pulpit of York
Minster, and the Rev. Mellor Brown denouncing geology as "a
black art," "a forbidden province" and when, in America, Prof.
Moses Stuart and others like him were belittling the work of
Benjamin Silliman and Edward Hitchcock.
In 1840 Godwin Austin presented to the Royal Geological Society
an account of his discoveries in Kent's Cavern, near Torquay,
and especially of human bones and implements mingled with bones
of the elephant, rhinoceros, cave bear, hyena, and other extinct
animals; yet this memoir, like that of McEnery fifteen years
before, found an atmosphere so unfavourable that it was not published.