Science in Christian Perspective



A Reading Course in General Anthropology


Instructor in Anthropology

Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

From: JASA 7 (March 1955): 11-13.

IV. Prehistoric Man

Returning once more to the "bibliographic comments" which this series started out to be, we take up a selection of general works which will introduce the reader to the subject of fossil man. In the last installment a discussion of the relation of evolution to the study of anthropology was attempted. This section will be devoted,only to a brief survey of the literature introductory to this division of general anthropology.

We are only interested here in those books which seem to be anthropologically rather than more strictly biologically oriented. However, there are a great number which deal particularly with non-human evolution or the dynamics of evolution in general which should at least be mentioned. Among the best in English in recent years are G. S. Carter, Anintal Evolution, (see bibliography for complete references.) Dobzhansky, T., Genetics and the Origin of Species, (3rd ed.), Huxley, J. Evolution, the Modern Synthesis, Jepson, Mayr, and Simpson, Genetics, Paleontology, and Evolution, Mayr, E., Systematics and the Origin of Species, Moody, P. A., Introduction to Evolution, Simpson, G. G., The Major Features of Evolution, (a complete re-writing of his Tempo and Mode of Evolution, and Shull, A. F., Evolution, 2nd ed.

G. G. Simpson's The Meaning of Evolution, a Study of the History of Life and its Significance for Man has been called "without question, the best general work on the meaning of evolution to appear in our time."l The book is divided into three parts ' "The Course of Evolution," "The Interpretation of Evolution," and "Evolution, Humanity and Ethics." Christian philosophers will have the most fun with Part III as Simpson really goes out on the proverbial limb to comply with the specifications of the Terry Lectures (of which it was the twenty-fifth series) ". . . on Religion in the Light of Science and Philosophy," delivered at Yale in November, 1948.

Part I describes the record of prehistoric life in some detail and in an extremely reliable and authoritative manner. Part II contains excellent chapters on some of the major problems such as orthogenesis, extinction, the concept of progress, and others, with a brief history of the evolutionary theory itself.

Simpson's style of writing has enlivened the literature on evolution by achieving a straightforward approach coupled with a facility for controversial communication of the most difficult theoretical problems. In addition he also stresses the practical problems not always discussed by most authorities. In a recent paper he is

"appalled at the extent of restoration indulged in by the anthropologists, some of whom seem quite wilag to reconstruct a face from a practical cranium, a whole skull from a piece of the lower jaw, and so on. Of course this temerity is induced by the great popular interest of the subject and the fact that fragments do not impress the public. Then too the worst examples are in popular publications and are not likely to impress the professionals, but still. . . !"2 

He then discusses the principle of morphological correlation with reference to legitimate reconstructions but concludes that "they cannot restore a whole animal from one bone unless they already have a complete skeleton of the same animal."3

Turning now to the treatment of fossil man and evolution in the text on physical and general anthropology, we find that at the present point in the impossible attempt to keep publication abreast of investigation, they can all be placed in one of two classes: pre-Piltdown and post-Piltdown! We will not take time here to discuss the significance of the discovery of the Piltdown fraud since it has been treated in an earlier number of this journal.4 None of the four or five best texts on physical anthropology have been written since it was discovered. So this is, after all, a rather superficial distinction and cannot be considered as mitigating the authority of the literature in any way.

Two new general works treat the*Piltdown finds in light of the recent discovery. They are Mischa Titiev's The Science of Man, an Introduction to Anthropology, and William Howells'Back of History, The Story of Our Own Origins, both published last year. Kroeber's Anthropology, (1948) and Beals and Hoijer's Introduction . . . (1953) both treat the subject in line with the present interpretation though published before the discovery was made. Melville Herskovits' new general text is expected any day from the publisher, and Hoebel is revising his Man in the Primitive World. Both of these will no doubt put the Piltdown matter once and for all into its proper place. An analysis of the original British Museum report may be found in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology for March, 1954, in an article be today to some who lump both Pithecanthropus and by J. S. Weiner and K. P. Oakley entitled "The Pilt down Fraud: Available Evidence Reviewed."

Perhaps the most up-to-date treatment of the whole picture of prehistoric man is Ashley Montagu's in the new edition of his Introduction to Physical Anthropology (1951). He represents the fullest account of the Fontechevade skulls found in 1947 which constitute the best evidence for pre-Neanderthal modern man. Dated in the third interglacial, more than 10,000 years old, these finds make up the basis of an excellent discussion of the antiquity of modern man, in relation to the Neanderthal race which, with so many more primitive characters, appeared considerably later.

Because of the strengthening evidence for Homo sapiens well back in the Pleistocene, Kroeber wrote, in summing up the field of Anthropology for the past f i f ty years,

"That great mysterious X of a generation ago, the famous 'missing link,' has been quite outmoded. The story leaves him stranded and forgotten, and its path is all the more intricate and dramatic for it."5

Hooton's famous and popular text, Up From The Ape 1946, remains probably the most well rounded and widely used physical anthropology text, a testimony to the fame and erudition of its late author. The sections on racial description and on anthropometry are much fuller than Ashley Montagu's.

. William Howells, who has taken Hooton's place at Harvard, writes simply and humorously, aiming to present the essence of his subject in rather broad outline without indulging in the detailed qualifications necessary in more technical works. His Mankind So Far (1944) is probably due for revision, but still remains the most elementary physical anthropology book available.

For treatment of the Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus finds Franz Weidenreich's Apes, Giants, and Man, (1946) is still the best outside of his more technical accounts in the periodical literature. Weidenreich was intimately familiar with all of the details concerning the morphology of the Java and China material and, except for a neglect of geology and an insistance on morphological dating, his Apes, Giants, and Man remains the most authoritative statement available for the general reader. Weidenreich was of the opinion that "not only the living forms of man kind but also the past forms at least those whose remains have been recovered-must be included in the same species."6 Pithecanthropus Erectus represents "true man and a creature far above the stage of an ape." One wonders just what his reaction would Sinanthropus into the same species with the South African Australopithecinae, calling them Homo trasvaalensis.8

There is as yet no substantial agreement on the interpretation of the Australopithecinae, the man-apes of South Africa. Ever since the early reaction against Dr. Robert Broom's claims of Pliocene date for them, the various attempts at explaining the finds have ranged between placing them as ancestral to man and connecting them taxonomically with other early hominids on the one hand, and on the other, claiming that they were too recent to be ancestral to man, and therefore interpreting them as an extinct family of apes. This is the old controversy between morphological and geological dating again. For a competent presentation of the evidence for the former position, see T. J. Robinson, "The Genera and Species of the Australopithecinae"; for the latter case, K. P. Oakley, "The Dating of the Australopithecinae of Africa."

The true position of these controversial finds may not be decided for years. One thing that is sure is that their relation to humans will depend, first of all, upon the dating-Pleistocene or Pliocene?-and secondly, and infinitely more important, upon the finding of any associated cultural remains, whatever the morphological facts may be. Perhaps until that time, our approach should be that of Simpson who, after mentioning the inadequacy of the data on human origins concludes:

 "It is highly probable that they will always be inadequate because they must remain ambiguous in the sense that they will be consistent with more than one possible interpretation. Our task, then, is to take inadequate data, to reject interpretations that definitely do not fit these data, and then to judge the probability of the usually still multiple possible interpretations that remain."9

For prehistoric man in North America the best reference is H. M. Wormington's Ancient Man in North America. This subject cannot be adequately comprehended today without reference to Carbon-14 dating since all of the prehistoric remains in this hemisphere are well within the range of this, the most reliable dating technique for material less than 50,000 years old. Libby's Radiocarbon Dating should be in the hands of all those who have occasion to study the prehistory of this country.

The only adequate treatment of human paleontology by a Christian scholar is Marie Fetzer Reyburn's section of "A Christian View of Anthropology" in Modern Science and Christian Faith. A brief discussion of the age of man, theories of human evolution, and other problem-s relevant to the Christian student precede a more thorough analysis of selected fossil remains. Particularly important is her examination of what is known of the geology of the Pithecanthropus and Heidelberg sites, showing conclusively that geological chronology, not morphology, must be the criterion for age determination.

Next installment: readings on Race.

1. Bernard Mishkin, in The New York Times, December 4, 1949.
2. Simpson, 1951, p. 57
3. Ibid., p. 58
4. Vol. 6, No. 1, (March, 1954) p. 29
5. Kroeber, A. L., "Anthropology" in Scientific American, Nov., -1950, reprinted as "A Half-Century of Anthropology" in Kroeber, 1952, p. 142.
6. Weidenreich, 1946, p. 3
7. Ibid., p. 27
8. See Robinson, 1954, p. 181
9. Simpson, 1951, p. 55

Beals, R., and H. Hoijer, 1953 An Introduction to Anthropology. New York: Macmillan 

Carter, G. S., 1951 Animal Evolution. Londons Sidgwick and Jackson

 Dobzhansky, T., 1951 Genetics ' and the Origin of Species. New York: Columbia, 3rd ed. 

Hoebel, E. A., 1949 Man in the Primitive World. New York: McGraw-Hill 

Hooton, E. A., 1946 Up From the Ape. New York: Macmillan, revised ed. 

Howells, W., 1944 Mankind So Far. New York: Doubleday 1954 Back of History, The Story of Our Own Origins. New York: Doubleday      

Huxley, J., 1942 Evolutions the Modern Synthesis. New York and London:

Harper Jepsen, G. L., Mayr, E., and G. Simpson, 1949 Genetics, Paleontology, and Evolution. Princeton: Univ. Press 

Kroeber, A. L., 1948 Anthropology, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co. 1952 The Nature of Culture. Chicago: Univ. Press

Libby, W. F., 1952 Radiocarbon Dating. Chicago: Uni. Press 

Mayr, E., 1942 Systematics and the Origin of Species. New York: Columbia Modern Science and Christian Faith. 1950, revised ed. Wheaton: Van Kampen Montagu, 

M. F. Ashley, 1951 An Introduction to Physical Anthropology. Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas, revised ed. 

Moody, P. A., 1953 Introduction to Evolution. New York: Harper 

Oakley, K. P., 1954 "Dating of the Australopithecinae of Africa." American Journal of Physical Anthropology' vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 9-27. 

Robinson, T. J., 1954 "The Genera and Species of the Australopithecinae". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Vol. 12. no. 2, pp. 181-200.

Shull, A. F., 1951 Evoluiton. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed. 

Simpson, G. G., 1949 The Meaning of Evolution. New Haven: Yale Umv. Press 1951 "Some Principles of Historical Biology Bearing on Human Origins". Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, Vol. XV, "Origin and Evolution of Man".
Titiev, M., 1954 The Science of Man An Introduction to Anthropology. New York: Holt

Weidenreich, F., 1946 Apes, Giants, and Man, Chicago: Univ. Press

Weiner, J. S., and K. P. Oakley, 1954 "The Piltdown Fraud: Available Evidence Reviewed". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Vol. 12 no. 1, pp. 1-7.

Wormington, H. M., 1949 Ancient Man in North America, 3rd ed. Denver: Museum of Natural History