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Somme is a formation which, in all likelihood, took thousands of years for its growth. But no change of a marked character has occurred in the mammalian fauna since it began to accumulate. The contrast of the fauna of the ancient alluvium, whether at high or low levels, with the fauna of the oldest peat is almost as great as its contrast with the existing fauna, the memorials of Man being common to the whole series ; hence we may infer that the interval of time which separated the era of the large extinct mammalia from that of the earliest peat, was of far longer duration than that of the entire growth of the peat. Yet we by no means need the evidence of the ancient fossil fauna to establish the antiquity of Man in this part of France. The mere volume of the drift at various heights would alone suffice to demonstrate a vast lapse of time during which such heaps of shingle, derived both from the Eocene and the cretaceous rocks, were thrown down in a succession of river-channels. We observe thousands of rounded and half-rounded flints, and a vast number of angular ones, with rounded pieces of white chalk of various sizes, testifying to a prodigious amount of mechanical action, accompanying the repeated widening and deepening of the valley, before it became the receptacle of peat; and the position of many of the flint tools leaves no doubt on the mind of the geologist that their fabrication preceded all this reiterated denudation.
On the Absence of Human Bones in the Alluvium of
the Somme. It is naturally a matter of no small surprise that, after we have collected many hundred flint implements (including knives, many thousands), not a single human bone has yet been met with in the alluvial sand and gravel of the Somme. This dearth of the mortal remains of our species holds true
ABSENCE OF HUMAN BONES EXPLAINED.
equally, as yet, in all other parts of Europe where the toolbearing drift of the post-pliocene period has been investigated in valley deposits. Yet in these same formations there is no want of bones of mammalia belonging to extinct and living species. In the course of the last quarter of a century, thousands of them have been submitted to the examination of skilful osteologists, and they have been unable to detect among them one fragment of a human skeleton, not even a tooth. Yet Cuvier pointed out long ago, that the bones of Man found buried in ancient battle-fields were not more decayed than those of horses interred in the same graves. We have seen that in the Liége caverns, the skulls, jaws, and teeth, with other bones of the human race, were preserved in the same condition as those of the cave-bear, tiger, and mammoth.
That ere long, now that curiosity has been so much excited on this subject, some human remains will be detected in the older alluvium of European valleys, I confidently expect. In the mean time, the absence of all vestige of the bones which belonged to that population by which so many weapons were designed and executed, affords a most striking and instructive lesson in regard to the value of negative evidence, when adduced in proof of the non-existence of certain classes of terrestrial animals at given periods of the past. It is a new and emphatic illustration of the extreme imperfection of the geological record, of which even they who are constantly working in the field cannot easily form a just conception.
We must not forget that Dr. Schmerling, after finding extinct mammalia and flint tools in forty-two Belgian caverns, was only rewarded by the discovery of human bones in three or four of those rich repositories of osseous remains. In like manner, it was not till the year 1855 that the first skull of the musk buffalo (Bubalus moschatus) was detected in the fossiliferous gravel of the Thames, and not till 1860, as will be seen in the next chapter, that the same quadruped
was proved to have co-existed in France with the mammoth. The same theory which will explain the comparative rarity of such species would no doubt account for the still greater scarcity of human bones, as well as for our general ignorance of the post-pliocene terrestrial fauna, with the exception of that part of it which is revealed to us by cavern researches.
In valley drift we meet commonly with the bones of quadrupeds which graze on plains bordering rivers. Carnivorous beasts, attracted to the same ground in search of their prey, sometimes leave their remains in the same deposits, but more rarely. The whole assemblage of fossil quadrupeds at present obtained from the alluvium of Picardy is obviously a mere fraction of the entire fauna which flourished contemporaneously with the primitive people by whom the flint hatchets were made.
Instead of its being part of the plan of nature to store up enduring records of a large number of the individual plants and · animals which have lived on the surface, it seems to be her chief care to provide the means of disencumbering the habitable areas lying above and below the waters of those myriads of solid skeletons of animals, and those massive trunks of trees, which would otherwise soon choke up every river, and fill every valley, To prevent this inconvenience she employs the heat and moisture of the sun and atmosphere, the dissolving power of carbonic and other acids, the grinding teeth and gastric juices of quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, and fish, and the agency of many of the invertebrata. We are all familiar with the efficacy of these and other causes on the land; and as to the bottoms of seas, we have only to read the published reports of Mr. MacAndrew, the late Edward Forbes, and other experienced dredgers, who, while they failed utterly in drawing up from the deep a single human bone, declared that they scarcely ever met with a work of art even after counting tens of thousands of shells and zoophytes, collected on a coast line
CHAP. VIII. HUMAN BONES NOT FOUND IN LAKE OF HAARLEM.
of several hundred miles in extent, where they often approached within less than half a mile of a land peopled by millions of human beings.
Lake of Haarlem.
It is not many years since the Government of Holland resolved to lay dry that great sheet of water formerly called the Lake of Haarlem, extending over 45,000 acres. They succeeded, in 1853, in turning it into dry land, by means of powerful pumps constantly worked by steam, which raised the water and discharged it into a canal running for twenty or thirty miles round the newly-gained land. This land was depressed thirteen feet beneath the mean level of the ocean. I travelled, in 1859, over part of the bed of this old lake, and found it already converted into arable land, and peopled by an agricultural population of 5000 souls. Mr. Staring, who had been for some years employed by the Dutch Government in constructing a geological map of Holland, was my companion and guide. He informed me that he and his associates had searched in vain for human bones in the deposits which had constituted for three centuries the bed of the great lake.
There had been many a shipwreck, and many a naval fight in those waters, and hundreds of Dutch and Spanish soldiers and sailors had met there with a watery grave. The population which lived on the borders of this ancient sheet of water numbered between thirty and forty thousand souls. In digging the great canal, a fine section had been laid open, about thirty miles long, of the deposits which formed the ancient bottom of the lake. Trenches, also, innumerable, several feet deep, had been freshly dug on all the farms, and their united length must have amounted to thousands of miles. In some of the sandy soil recently thrown out of the trenches, I observed
specimens of fresh-water and brackish-water shells, such as Unio and Dreissena, of living species; and in clay brought up from below the sand, shells of Tellina, Lutraria, and Cardium, all of species now inhabiting the adjoining sea.
As the Dreissena is believed by conchologists to have been introduced into Western Europe in very modern times, brought with foreign timber in the holds of vessels from the Wolga and other rivers flowing into the Black Sea, the layer of sand containing it in the Haarlem lake is probably not more than a hundred years old.
One or two wrecked Spanish vessels, and arms of the same period, have rewarded the antiquaries who had been watching the draining operations in the hope of a richer harvest, and who were not a little disappointed at the result. In a peaty tract on the margin of one part of the lake a few coins were dug up; but if history had been silent, and if there had been a controversy whether Man was already a denizen of this planet at the time when the area of the Haarlem lake was under water, the archæologist, in order to answer this question, must have appealed, as in the case of the valley of the Somme, not to fossil bones, but to works of art embedded in the superficial strata.
Mr. Staring, in his valuable memoir on the Geological Map of Holland,' has attributed the general scarcity of human bones in Dutch peat, notwithstanding the many works of art preserved in it, to the power of the humic and sulphuric acids to dissolve bones, the peat in question being plentifully impregnated with such acids. His theory may be correct, but it is not applicable to the gravel of the Valley of the Somme, in which the bones of fossil mammalia are frequent, nor to the uppermost fresh-water strata forming the bottom of a large part of the Haarlem Lake, in which it is got pretended that such acids occur.
The primitive inhabitants of the Valley of the Somme