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Scientific American Supplement, No. 365, December 30, 1882 by Various, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. OUR ORIGIN AS A SPECIES.


By Richard Owen, C.B., F.R.S.

There seems to be a manifest desire in some quarters to anticipate the looked for and, by some, hoped-for proofs of our descent, or rather ascent, from the ape.

In the September issue of the Fortnightly Review a writer cites, in this relation, the "Neanderthal skull, which possesses large bosses on the forehead, strikingly suggestive of those which give the gorilla its peculiarly fierce appearance;" and he proceeds: "No other human skull presents so utterly bestial a type as the Neanderthal fragment. If one cuts a female gorilla-skull in the same fashion, the resemblance is truly astonishing, and we may say that the only human feature in the skull is its size.”

In testing the question as between Linnæus and Cuvier of the zoological value of the differences between lowest man and highest ape, a naturalist would not limit his comparison of a portion of the human skull with the corresponding one of a female ape, but would extend it to the young or immature gorilla, and also to the adult male; he would then find the generic and specific characters summed up, so far, at least, as a portion or "fragment" of the skull might show them. What is posed as the "Neanderthal skull" is the roof of the brain-case, or "calvarium" of the anatomist, including the pent-house overhanging the eye-holes or "orbits." There is no other part of the fragment which can be supposed to be meant by the "large bosses" of the above quotation. And, on this assumption, I have to state that the super-orbital ridge in the calvarium in question is but little more prominent than in certain human skulls of both higher and lower races, and of both the existing and cave-dwelling periods. It is a variable cranial character, by no means indicative of race, but rather of sex.

Limiting the comparison to that on which the writer quoted bases his conclusions—apparently the superficial extent of the roof plate—its greater extent as compared with that of a gorilla equaling, probably, in weight the entire frame of the individual from the Neanderthal cave, is strongly significant of the superiority of size of brain in the cave-dweller. The inner surface moreover indicates the more complex character of the soft organ on which it was moulded; the precious "gray substance" being multiplied by certain convolutions which are absent in the apes. But there is another surface which the unbiased zoologist finds it requisite to compare. In the human "calvarium" in question, the mid-line traced backward from the super-orbital ridge runs along a smooth track. In the gorilla a ridge is raised from along the major part of that tract to increase the surface giving attachment to the biting muscles. Such ridge in this position varies only in height in the female and the male adult ape, as the specimens in the British Museum demonstrate. In the Neanderthal individual, as in the rest of mankind, the corresponding muscles do not extend their origins to the upper surface of the cranium, but stop short at the sides forming the inner wall or boundary of what are called the "temples," defined by Johnson as the "upper part of the sides of the head," whence our "biting muscles" are called "temporal," as the side-bones of the skull to which they are attached are also the "temporal bones." In the superficial comparison to which Mr. Grant Allen has restricted himself in bearing testimony on a question which perhaps affects our fellow-creatures, in the right sense of the term, more warmly than any other in human and comparative anatomy, the obvious difference just pointed out ought not to have been passed over. It was the more incumbent on one pronouncing on the paramount problem, because the "sagittal ridge in the gorilla," as in the orang, relates to and signifies the dental character which differentiates all Quadrumana from all Bimana that have ever come under the ken of the biologist. And this ridge much more "strikingly suggests" the fierceness of the powerful brute-ape than the part referred to as "large bosses." Frontal prominences, more truly so termed, are even better developed in peaceful, timid, graminivorous quadrupeds than in the skulls of man or of ape. But before noticing the evidence which the teeth bear on the physical relations of man to brute, I would premise that the comparison must not be limited to a part or "fragment" of the bony frame, but to its totality, as relating to the modes and faculties of locomotion.

Beginning with the skull—and, indeed, for present aim, limiting myself thereto—I have found that a vertical longitudinal section brings to light in greatest number and of truest value the differential characters between lowest Homo and highest Simia. Those truly and indifferently interested in the question may not think it unworthy their time—if it has not already been so bestowed—to give attention to the detailed discussions and illustrations of the characters in question in the second and third volumes of the "Transactions of the Zoological Society." The concluding memoir, relating more especially to points of approximation in cranial and denial structure of the highest Quadrumane to the lowest Bimane, has been separately published.

I selected from the large and instructive series of human skulls of various races in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons that which was the lowest, and might be called most bestial, in its cranial and dental characters. It was from an adult of that human family of which the life-characters are chiefly but truly and suggestively defined in the narrative of Cook's first voyage in the Endeavor.

Not to trespass further on the patience of my readers, I may refer to the "Memoir on the Gorilla," 4to, 1865. Plate xii. gives a view, natural size, of the vertical and longitudinal section of an Australian skull; plate xi. gives a similar view of the skull of the gorilla. Reduced copies of these views may be found at p. 572, figs. 395, 396, vol. ii, of my "Anatomy of Vertebrates."

As far as my experience has reached, there is no skull displaying the characters of a quadrumanous species, as that series descends from the gorilla and chimpanzee to the baboon, which exhibits differences, osteal or dental, on which specific and generic distinctions are founded, so great, so marked, as are to be seen, and have been above illustrated, in the comparison of the highest ape with the lowest man.

The modification of man's upper limbs for the endless variety, nicety, and perfection of their application, in fulfillment of the behests of his correspondingly developed brain—actions summed up in the term "manipulation"—testify as strongly to the same conclusion. The corresponding degree of modification of the human lower limbs, to which he owes his upright attitude, relieving the manual instruments from all share in station and terrestrial locomotion—combine and concur in raising the group so characterized above and beyond the apes, to, at least, ordinal distinction. The dental characters of mankind bear like testimony. The lowest (Melanian), like the highest (Caucasian), variety of the bimanal order differs from the quadrumanal one in the order of appearance, and succession to the first set of teeth, of the second or "permanent" set. The foremost incisor and foremost molar are the earliest to appear in that scries; the intermediate teeth are acquired sooner than those behind the foremost molar.

In the gorilla and chimpanzee, the rate or course of progress is reversed; the second true molar, or the one behind the first, makes its appearance before the bicuspid molars rise in front of the first; and the third or last of the molars behind the first comes into place before the canine tooth has risen. This tooth, indeed, which occupies part of the interval between the foremost incisor and foremost molar, is the last of the permanent set of teeth to be fully developed in the Quadrumana; especially in those which, in their order, rank next to the Bimana. To this differential character add the breaks in the dental series necessitated for the reception of the crowns of the huge canines when the gorilla or chimpanzee shuts its mouth.

But the superior value of developmental over adult anatomical characters in such questions as the present is too well known in the actual phase of biology to need comment.

In the article on "Primeval Man," the author states that the Cave-men "probably had lower foreheads, with high bosses like the Neanderthal skull, and big canine teeth like the Naulette jaw."

The human lower jaw so defined, from a Belgian cave, which I have carefully examined, gives no evidence of a canine tooth of a size indicative of one in the upper jaw necessitating such vacancy in the lower series of teeth which the apes present. There is no such vacancy nor any evidence of a "big canine tooth" in that cave specimen. And, with respect to cave specimens in general, the zoological characters of the race of men they represent must be founded on the rule, not on an exception, to their cranial features. Those which I obtained from the cavern at Bruniquel, and which are now exhibited in the Museum of Natural History, were disinterred under circumstances more satisfactorily determining their contemporaneity with the extinct quadrupeds those cave-men killed and devoured than in any other spelæan retreat which I have explored. They show neither "lower foreheads" nor "higher bosses" than do the skulls of existing races of mankind.

Present evidence concurs in concluding that the modes of life and grades of thought of the men who have left evidences of their existence at the earliest periods hitherto discovered and determined, were such as are now observable in "savages," or the human races which are commonly so called.

The industry and pains now devoted to the determination of the physical characters of such races, to their ways of living, their tools and weapons, and to the relations of their dermal, osteal, and dental modifications to those of the mammals which follow next after Bimana in the descensive series of mammalian orders, are exemplary.

The present phase of the quest may be far from the bourn to yield hereafter trustworthy evidence of the origin of man; but, meanwhile, exaggerations and misstatements of acquired grounds ought especially to be avoided.

Grant Allen, "On Primitive Man," p. 314.

"Oseteological Contributions to the Natural History of the Orangs (Pithecus) and Chimpanzees (Troglodites niger and Trog. gorilla)."

Hawkesworth's 4th ed., vol. iii., 1770, pp. 86, 137, 229. The skull in question is No 5,394 of the "Catalogue of the Osteology" in the above Museum, 4to, vol. ii, p. 823, 1853.

"Odontography," 4to, 1840-44, p. 454, plates 117, 118, 119.

Fortnightly Review, September, p. 321.

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