Supposed Cases of Fossil Human Bones.
BEFORE we enter on the consideration of the fossil remains of other animals, it may be right to enquire whether any traces of the human species have yet been found in the strata of the earth.
The only evidence that has been yet collected upon this subject is negative; but as far as this extends, no conclusion is more fully established, than the important fact of the total absence of any vestiges of the human species throughout the entire series of geological formations.* Had the case been otherwise, there would indeed have been great difficulty in reconciling the early and extended periods which have been assigned to the extinct races of animals with our received chronology. On the other hand, the fact of no human remains having as yet been found in conjunction with those of extinct animals, may be alleged in confirmation of the hypothesis that these animals lived and died before the creation of man.
* See Lyell's Principles of Geology, voL i. pp. 153 and 159, first edit. 1830.
[104 HUMAN BONES] The occasional discovery of human bones and works of art in any stratum, within a few feet of the surface, affords no certain evidence of such remains being coeval with the matrix in which they are deposited. The universal practice of interring the dead, and frequent custom of placing various instruments and utensils in the ground with them, offer a ready explanation of the presence of bones of men in situations accessible for the purposes of burial.
The most remarkable and only recorded case of human skeletons imbedded in a solid limestone rock, is that on the shore of Guadaloupe.*
* One of these skeletons is preserved in the British Museum, and has been described by Mr. König, in the Phil. Trans. for 1814, vol. civ. p. 101. Accordingto General Ernouf, (Lin. Trans. 1818, vol. xii. p. 53), the rock in which the human bones occur at Guadaloupe, is composed of consolidated sand, and contains also shells, of species now inhabiting the adjacent sea and land, together with fragments of pottery, arrows, and hatchets of stone. The greater number of the bones are dispersed. One entire skeleton was extended in the usual position of burial; another, which was in a softer sandstone, seemed to have been buried in the sitting position customary among the Caribs. The bodies thus differently interred, may have belonged to two different tribes. General Ernouf also explains the occurrence of the scattered bones, by reference to a tradition of a battle and massacre on this spot, of a tribe of Gallibis by the Caribs, about the year 1710. These scattered bones of the massacred Gallibis were probably covered, by the action of the sea, with sand, which soon after be came converted to solid stone.
On the west coast of Ireland, near Killery Harbour, a sand bank, which is surrounded by the sea at high water, is at this time employed by the natives as a place of interment.
[105 IN STRATA OF RECENT FORMATION.] There is, however, no reason to consider these bones to be of high antiquity, as the rock in which they occur is of very recent formation, and is composed of agglutinated fragments of shells and corals which inhabit the adjacent water. Such kind of stone is frequently formed in a few years from sand-banks composed of similar materials, on the shores of tropical seas.
Frequent discoveries have also been made of human bones, and rude works of art, in natural caverns, sometimes inclosed in stalactite, at other times in beds of earthy materials, which are interspersed with bones of extinct species of quadrupeds. These cases may likewise be explained by the common practice of mankind in all ages, to bury their dead in such convenient repositories. The accidental circumstance that many caverns contained the bones of extinct species of other animals, dispersed through the same soil in which human bodies may, at any subsequent period have been buried, affords no proof of the time when these remains of men were introduced.
Many of these caverns have been inhabited by savage tribes, who, for convenience of occupation, have repeatedly disturbed portions of soil in which their predecessors may have been buried. Such disturbances will explain the occasional admixture of fragments of human skeletons, and the bones of modern quadrupeds, with
[106 ORGANIC REMAINS] those of extinct species, introduced at more early periods, and by natural causes.
Several accounts have been published within the last few years of
remains discovered in the caverns of France, and the province of Liege,
which are described as being of the same antiquity with the bones of
and other extinct quadrupeds, that accompany them. Most of these may
admit of explanation by reference to the causes just enumerated. In the
case of caverns which form the channels of subterranean rivers, or
are subject to occasional inundations, another cause of the ad mixture
of human bones, with the remains of animals of more ancient date, may
found in the movements occasioned by running water.