Note: These materials are intended as supplements for students in Ant. 301. These pages are in development and will contain errors.



Cultural and Historical Antecedents of Science in Europe




The Beginnings of Evolutionary Thought

Development of Classification Systems

The Birth of Geology

The Beginnings of Archaeology

The Idea of Selection



History of Physical Anthropology


Questions for Review

Further Reading






Cultural and Historical Antecedents of Science in Europe

Some of the earliest written scientific works which survive in the Western world were created by Greek scholars. The beginnings of evolutionary thought and the continuity of the chain of being are expressed in Greek science. Though biology was an important part of those scientific writings, Greek scholarship generally emphasized abstract thought and had a low regard for experiment and observation. An exception was the attention that Greek medicine paid to botany and plant products of medical importance. These shortcomings were partly due to Greek dependence upon slaves. There was no need for science to be useful since there was no shortage of slaves and craftsmen to labor. Science became primarily an exercise of mind in the tradition of Socrates (470-399 BC) and Plato (429-347 BC). Since work with one's hands was considered both demeaning and contaminating to the mind, Greek science excelled in the invention of cosmologies and classification systems. The exceptional Aristotle (384-322 BC) was both a theorist and an observer who reveled in the study of nature, but like Plato, he was bound by an idea that a divine intelligence created all things. Aristotle devised a ladder of Nature on which living things were graded by differences too small to be detectable from inanimate matter to plants, invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, and humans. Although later Greek experimenters such as Strato of Lampsacus (286-268 BC) made significant discoveries, the texts of authorities such as Aristotle were more important to Greek science than observation.

In 500 BC, the most powerful political and economic force in the Western world was the Persian Empire, occupying Asia Minor, including Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Persia (Iran) and Anatolia (Turkey). The success of Persian King Darius in expanding westward into Europe brought him into conflict with the Greek city states. Without archers or cavalry, the Greeks were no match for the vast and well-equipped army of Persian invaders. The invaders were challenged first in hills overlooking the Greek village of Marathon in September of 490 BC. When the Persian command made the mistake of allowing the two armies to close without cavalry support, the outnumbered but well-armored Greeks turned the battle into a massacre (200 Greek vs. 6400 Persian dead). The marathon event in modern Olympic games celebrates a legendary Greek soldier who ran from Marathon to Athens with news of victory.

Philip II of Macedon (382-336 BC) united the quarrelsome Greek city states and organized a military corps to resist the Persians. He was ready to attack Persia when he was assassinated. Philip's son, Alexander III (356-323 BC), acceded his father's throne at age 19. By Greek standards, Alexander was well-educated. One of his personal tutors had been Aristotle, and his army included botanists, engineers, geographers, historians, and surveyors. An able leader and general, Alexander succeeded in invading and securing the Persian Empire, which at that time extended from the Black Sea on the north, to Egypt on the south, and the Punjab region of India on the east. Though the Greeks' hold over the Persian Empire was only temporary, it spread Greek language and Greek texts into Asia Minor. Alexander died in Babylon from typhoid fever and was buried in the city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. Alexander had planned to merge his Macedonian and Persian Empires by intermarriage and by law. This merger failed with his death, but the Old Persian Empire acquired the Greek language of commerce, Greek political ideas, Greek military organization and many Greek settlements. This Old Persian Empire remained, in one form or other, a powerful political and military force for most of the next 800 years.

Upon Alexander's death, another student of Aristotle, Ptolemy Soter (367-283 BC), began a dynasty of rulers in Egypt. Under the Ptolemies, Alexandria became an intellectual capital of the Western world, boasting a library of half a million scrolls and a museum that served both teaching and research. It housed botanical gardens, dissecting rooms, an observatory, and a zoo. The museum was a training place for engineers, physicians, and scientists for the Ptolemic world. Manuscripts and tediously hand-copied textbooks in the library were dispersed across the remnants of Alexander's empire to form a surviving legacy of Greek science.

For example, Eratosthenes of Cyrene (ca. 276-195 BC), a head librarian at Alexandria, separated representations of a globular earth into northern and southern hemispheres, drew north-south and east-west lines on it, and devised a method to estimate latitude (north-south) differences between localities. He used the difference in the shadow cast by the sun at Alexandria and Syene (known in modern times as Aswan) to compute the difference between latitude of the two cities as 7o 14', a value that matches modern measurements. On the assumption that the earth was a globe, he used this distance to accurately estimate the circumference of the earth. Hipparchus of Nicaea (ca. 190 -- ca. 120 BC) improved Eratosthenes' globe and provided geographers precise units to measure location by dividing longitude and latitude into 360 degrees.

Later Ptolemies, less sympathetic toward scholars, emphasized practical sciences. Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC), last of the Ptolemic rulers, gave many manuscripts to Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) as gifts. Most of the manuscripts survived the fires that accompanied the Roman conquest of Egypt in 48 BC, only to be destroyed by later Christian attacks on pagan institutions. The last Ptolemic scholar was a woman mathematician named Hypatia.. Scientific contributions from the museum ended in 415 AD when Hypatia was dragged from the museum by a Christian mob and beaten to death.

The Roman world spread Greek culture largely through slave tutors. Roman aristocrats who wished scientific education simply bought a tutor in a slave market. Roman recognition of the practical value of medicine encouraged study and progress in medicine. Pedanius Dioscorides (ca. 20-70 AD) compiled De Materia Medica, a five volume treatise describing drugs extracted from plants, animals, and minerals that remained the standard work on botany and pharmacology in the Western world for 1500 years. The last and most important scientist in the tradition of Greek medicine was Galen of Pergamon (ca. 130-200 AD), an active dissector and experimenter of great talent, who tried to study and understand all human anatomy and physiology. He found the marvels of the human body to be proof of the wisdom of the Creator and regarded the body as the perfect work of God. Unfortunately for anatomy, human dissection was not permitted, and Galen, whose anatomy texts were to be standard reference works for a millennium, never dissected an adult person. Animals, including monkeys, served as models for human anatomy.

Rome, having developed into a major Mediterranean power during the third century BC, had imperial ambitions that clashed with remnants of the Persian Empire. It was in this environment that two holy men, Jesus Christ and Mohammed, profoundly altered the course of Western history and development of Western science.



The first was Jesus Christ (4 BC-29 AD), son of a carpenter in Palestine. He and his disciples stimulated a religious movement that spread through the Roman Empire. It was a faith that built upon the Old Testament teachings of Abraham. Contemporary congregations were viewed as having adulterated or departed from the true faith, and the reform movement preached the beauty of humility, meekness, and poverty. The Roman emperor Constantine I (280-337 AD) credited the Christian God with his victory over a rival and granted privileges to the Christian church, who in turn directed the power of the state against scholars outside the Church. Because non-biblical works were considered heathen and dangerous, existing libraries were burned.

This was a period of instability for the Roman world. Agricultural productivity declined partly as a consequence of deforestation, erosion, neglect, and climate changes. Population centers were beset by diseases. Because western regions of the Roman empire were insecure, Constantine moved the capital of Rome to Constantinople (the ancient city of Byzantium) in 330. A short time later, in 395, the Empire split into eastern and western segments. Although the Eastern Empire remained strong, the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 475 and was abandoned. There remained two great powers in Europe during this period, the Eastern Roman and the Persian Empires. With the decline of the Western Roman Empire by the fifth century AD, Europe entered the Dark Ages, thus beginning a period of European history that illustrates a stark example of the truism that science is a process of intellectual growth, not a body of knowledge. Knowledge was locked in approved books and authority. It could neither be added to nor questioned.

Governments that replaced Roman rule had little place for scholarship since the emperors themselves often could neither read nor write. In the hands of the Church, the priority became saving the soul, not the body. An epidemic of plague (the plague of Justinian) spread from Alexandria to Palestine and then to the rest of the Western world in the sixth century. As tens of thousands died, the helplessness of physicians in this tragedy encouraged capitulation to the Church. Scholarship came to exist primarily in monasteries.



The second holy man, an orphan, was a shepherd as child and a camel driver as young man in the Arab city of Mecca. At the age of 40, Mohammed, or Albulqasim Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Abd al-Muttalib ibn Hashim (570-632 AD), began to see visions of the Archangel Gabriel and began to preach. He appealed to Arabs to turn to the Old Testament teachings of Abraham, which he claimed had been distorted by the Israelites. Though recognizing Jesus as the Spirit of God, Mohammed argued that in the intervening five centuries, Jesus's teachings had been distorted by the contemporary church. Mohammed taught that believers must honor their parents, be honest, humble, charitable, and abstain from drinking alcohol.

The teachings of both of these holy men (Jesus and Mohammed) had similar attributes. There was only one God, the God of Abraham. Idols must be abandoned. After death, the dead would rise again according to whether they heeded God's word. The righteous would receive eternal happiness, others hell-fire. These two daughter sects of Judaism (Christianity and Islam) acquired repressive ideologies, dealt death for infractions, and converged on a collision course.

Arabic cultures expanded and with development of the Islamic Empire (850-1200), Europe was in some ways isolated from the rest of the world. Within a century of the death of Mohammed, the Islamic Empire included Egypt, Palestine, Persia, Phoenicia, Syria, the African Mediterranean coast, Gibraltar, Spain, and part of France. In 732, Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer) defeated a Moslem army in France at the battle of Tours and saved Western Europe from Islamic conquest. [The outcome of this battle is attributed by some scholars to the diffusion of the stirrup into Europe from the Asian Steppes. Stirrups allowed heavily armored cavalry to remain mounted in combat, thus routing Muslim troops.] Religious, political, and strategic conflict with Moslems partially isolated remnants of a relatively Christian Western Roman Empire. However, isolation was not total since commerce continued, Christian scholars were allowed to attend Arab universities, and pilgrims were tolerated on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

However, an Islamic barrier that restricted European influence to the Mediterranean area contributed to European poverty and intellectual stagnation. Arab ships carried commerce to East Africa, India, and the Far East. Active international commerce stimulated Islamic economies and cultures. The Islamic Empire (in one form or another) dominated the Western world for 600 years. Greek sciences, especially attitudes of discovery and criticism, were more palatable to Islamic cultures and Islamic teachings. The pursuit of knowledge was encouraged and literacy valued, even though a scholar might forfeit his life if he contradicted the Koran. Arabs assimilated sciences and knowledge in areas they conquered and translated older documents into Arabic. Those who could afford it, collected books, especially books of poetry.

A Persian, Al-Khwarizimi (ca. 830), is sometimes credited with the adoption of Arabic numerals from the Hindus and the use of the word "algebra" in its modern meaning. His works, along with those of Euclid, were translated from Arabic into Latin by Adelard of Bath (ca. 1090 - 1150). Loss of the library at Alexandria was somewhat offset by dispersal of Arabic translations of Greek texts. Greek thought, especially the works of Aristotle, was reintroduced into Europe from Arabic sources along with developing Arabic scientific traditions and mathematics.

Arabic science grew with new discoveries and new ideas during Europe's Dark Ages. Science in Christian Europe was a set of closed books. New ideas were heresy. In the area that had been the Western Roman Empire, the writings of Aristotle and the Bible were used to explain almost everything. Scholars were actively discouraged from adding to these sources of knowledge.

The northern part of the Persian Empire came under the control of the Seljuk Turks in the eleventh century when the Turks pushed south and overran Anatolia. Turks and Arabs fought for control of Syria and Palestine. Expansion by the Seljuks cut off pilgrim and trade routes from Europe and the warfare disrupted pilgrim traffic. Pope Urban II appealed for recruits to fight the Turks. The mission of this appeal was later broadened to include driving the Turks from Anatolia and recovering possession of Jerusalem. A tragedy of the Crusades was an inability of crusaders to distinguish between Christian, Arab, and Seljuk. Not only did crusaders attack Christians, an opportunity for Christians and Mohammedans to unite against a common Seljuk enemy was lost.

From the times of the Crusades until at least the 13th century invasion by the Mongols, some of the most civilized nations in the Western world were Islamic. In 1206, the Mongol chieftain Temujin (better known as Genghis Khan, "Lord of the Earth") succeeded in defeating his rivals and uniting the armies of Mongolia. His pattern of conquest, incredibly destructive and effective, involved having his army round up the local populace and use them as expendable labor to lay siege to fortified cities. Thus, most casualties in battles and sieges were prisoners from the local countryside. Once a city was defeated, it was plundered, demolished and burned; its citizens raped and butchered. The path behind the conquest was wasteland and adjacent country remained in Mongol control. North China was conquered and Beijing occupied in 1215. Temujin turned his attention westward, his army reducing much of the Eastern Persian Empire to uninhabited desert. The wealth, art, libraries, gardens and cities of 16 centuries of civilization vanished in orgies of pillage.



In unusual ways, this great destruction of Islamic culture stimulated commerce and culture in Western Europe. The legendary experiences of Marco Polo (1254-1324) are examples of travel that was possible for Europeans through the cooperation of the Mongol Empire. Between the Crusades and a breakup of the Islamic version of the Persian Empire, Europe was stimulated to become active in world commerce. World commerce required exploration and discovery stimulated conquest. Voyages of discovery also brought exciting knowledge of new ideas and new kinds of plants, animals, and peoples. One can imagine the interest stimulated by voyagers returning with new and unknown types of people and other living things. Museums and royal collections of the time began to be cluttered with multitudes of strange bones and stones from fields and backyards of an economically developing Europe.

Islamic universities in Spain were major channels for introduction of science, even Aristotelian science, into Europe. Indeed, the last stronghold of Islam in Spain to fall to Christian conquest was the Kingdom of Granada in 1492. However, part of the recoil and hesitancy of acceptance of Greek evolutionary thought that occurred in the Christian world was due to identification of these philosophies with Moorish religions. Christian philosophers labeled such evolutionary ideas as bad, destructive, and filled with heresy. Conventional belief in Europe was that each species had an independent creation, and careful examination of a specimen would reveal the ideal attributes for that species.

In fact, once introduced into Europe, a few Arab books in biology, mathematics, and geography remained standard textbooks for centuries. This is most evident in our mathematics from which come our Arabic forms of notation, algebra, and geometry. The very language of science in Europe today bears the stamp of translation from Arabic into Latin. Our language is replete with these words (... algebra, algorithm, amber, borax, cipher, root, sine, talc, zero,...).

Part of the fuel for the Renaissance was the spread of literacy. Arabs acquired paper-making skills from the Chinese and introduced them into Europe by way of Spain. The Mongol conquest carried Chinese inventions of gunpowder and printing to the Arab world. Finally, the idea of movable type came from Korea to Europe in the fifteenth century, and printed manuscripts fed a continent's hunger for books.

In 1522 a Basque navigator, Juan Sebastian de Elcano, completed a circumnavigation of the earth and demonstrated what sailors already knew -- the earth was round. The Italian mathematician Galileo Galilei's (1564-1642) argument for the importance of observations and mathematics in science established a modern experimental method. Unfortunately he fell into conflict with authority when he offered confirmation of the Copernican theory that the earth moved around the sun.

Since both Christian and Moslem scholars were handicapped by a prohibition against dissection of the human body, anatomists were bound by the textbooks of Galen. As this prohibition began to relax in Europe, early dissectors still relied on authority of texts rather than their own observations. A vital first step toward a modern human biology was taken by the anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514-1565) who later died during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Vesalius looked directly at dissections of human bodies rather than at pages of Galen. The idea to dissect and use observations to improve upon authoritative descriptions not only began a revolution in anatomy and medical science, Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543) and Epitome (1543) were new beginnings of observation and research. The anatomical revolution arrived with a theory of circulation of blood by William Harvey (1578-1657). The idea of scientific societies to promote scholarship grew and philosophers such as Francis Bacon (1561-1639) and René Descartes (1596-1650) provided a framework for the scientific method. The modern era of scientific discovery was well underway.

Even though scientific methods were maturing, the Christian Church had strong impact on western scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth century due to a doctrine of literal interpretation of the biblical story of creation. Fossils were rationalized as animals that died during the flood of Noah or were relegated to some inorganic source (demons, lightning, thunder, etc.). In 1654 James Ussher (1581-1656), Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, estimated the date of creation by counting backward through the generations enumerated in the Old Testament. Ussher's chronology placed the date of creation at the year 4004 BC. Biblical chronology implied that after the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity spread throughout the world for several thousand years. All of these people were destroyed in Noah's great flood in 2501 BC, and the present world repopulated since that date. This date of 2501 BC was to be a major obstacle to evolutionary thought, since 4500 years was a very short time to evolve the diversity of life seen on this planet. Much later, Dr. John Lightfoot (1828-1889), Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, set the day and hour of creation to match the traditional start of the Cambridge fall term - 9:00 a.m., October 23. Widespread acceptance of this viewpoint implied that the earth had no great antiquity and no prehistory other than that described in the Bible.




The Beginnings of Evolutionary Thought


Development of Classification Systems

The Reverend John Ray (1628-1705), attempting to bring order to the naming of animals, argued that all living things were fixed in their present form after the sixth day of creation, and that no matter how much they might appear to differ, individuals belonged to the same species if they were descended from the same parents. This indivisible unit, the species, was the cornerstone of Ray's taxonomy. Several species that resembled one another became a family. Similar families could be arranged together and so forth. Ray's works became a primary source for methods used in later classification systems. Ray's books were the most complete taxonomic survey of nature to that date, and his divisions were based upon anatomical characteristics, allowing precise identifications to others using his systems.

A young Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), devised a binomial system of nomenclature and a hierarchical classification that borrowed heavily from Ray. The term "binomial" means two names, a generic designation and a species designation, for example, Homo sapiens for humans. His first version, The System of Nature (1735), received acclaim and the expanded tenth edition (1758) is generally taken as the initial standard for scientific names of species. Names used prior to that date are not accepted in modern scientific nomenclature unless they were adopted by Linnaeus. The utility of his classification, based completely upon anatomical attributes, was that any scientist could use the structural features of his specimens to arrange them in similar fashion, thus readily reproducing Linnaeus' identifications.

Linnaeus' early philosophy espoused the idea that each species was a descendant of an entity or pair of entities created at the beginning of the world; thus all the animals and plants of the universe had always been exactly as they are now. Linnaeus, following Ray, distinguished a species from a race on the basis of the ability for the races within a species to interbreed. Under his concept of the fixity of species, a biological species then, if hybridized with another species, would prove infertile. Linnaeus put all of the living human races into the species Homo sapiens because they could cross-breed and produce fertile offspring. He realized in the later years of his life that hybrid plants could produce viable progeny, and that forms that appeared to be new species could be created by hybridization. Consequently, the thirteenth edition of The System of Nature, published a decade after Linnaeus' death, differs from earlier versions. In it he removed the concept of the fixity of species, an act of courage and a reflection of his intellectual integrity. However, few scientists took any notice of the revisions. The impact of his classification and the idea of fixity of species had been so profound that even the author of the classification system could not sway prevailing dogma.

The idea of a great chain of being was well established in the eighteenth century. This was a graded series of beings extending from God downward to the simplest of creatures. Man (meaning males) stood closer to the God end of the chain, and all other creatures (including women) existed to serve him, just as he existed to serve God. Since the omnipotent Creator created every possible organism, transitional forms were expected. Indeed, the scheme would be imperfect if there were gaps. Thus, the great chain provided intellectual resistance to evolutionary explanations. The evolutionary version of the great chain spread the appearance of species over time and produced speciation by natural processes.



The Birth of Geology

At Cambridge University, clergyman John Ray also became curious about the nature of the fossils that were so abundant in collections of museums. He perceived that fossils had to be of organic origin, that they were not from thunderclaps or essences of animals cast in stone, but he was puzzled as to how they came to be buried deep in the ground or imbedded in solid rock. In 1689 he published a series of sermons under the title Three Physico-Theological discourses, concerning, I. The Primitive Chaos and Creation of the World; II. The General Deluge, Its Causes and Effects; and III. The Dissolution of the World and the Future Conflagration. Ray proposed a series of catastrophic events (catastrophism) following the guidelines of the Bible to explain geology, beginning with a world covered in water. He visualized a cataclysmic subterranean steam explosion which thrust blocks of mountains to the surface. He postulated a hydrological cycle in which great quantities of water were passed from the ocean to the land, in the form of rains, to be percolated back to the ocean in a balanced circulatory system. Noah's flood, however, upset this hydrologic balance and created a catastrophic event that resulted in great disruption of the landscape and demise of many species, the washing of unknown species from the depths of the ocean up onto the continents, depositing waterborne materials high above the level of the ocean. Similar flood theories, promulgated by several other contemporary scientists and clergymen, were often implicitly believed.

A French botanist, Jean Etienne Guettard (1713-1786) noted that certain plants occurred only in association with certain minerals and rocks. His interest in plant distributions led him to begin drawing maps of the occurrence of various minerals and rocks. It became conspicuous to him from his maps that the rocks were not randomly distributed, but arranged in bands and could be followed from one area to another. His maps became larger and more detailed, documenting rocks, minerals, and fossil shells that were embedded in rock bands across France. He was surprised and delighted to find the same rock bands on both sides of the English Channel. The publication of his map in 1751 marks the beginning of the science of geology.

The British geologist, James Hutton (1726-1797) appreciated the idea of uniformitarianism, that geological processes of the past were the same agencies as those seen in the contemporary world. He also drew the revolutionary conclusion that geologic time spanned a great antiquity. A passage from his book, The Theory of the Earth with Proofs and Illustrations (1795), gives a vivid picture of Hutton's uniformitarianism:


"But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is vain to look for anything higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore of this physical inquiry is that we find no vestige of a beginning - no prospect of an end... Not only are no powers to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no actions to be admitted of except those of which we know the principle and no extraordinary events to be alleged in order to explain a common experience..."



A young surveyor and engineer, William Smith (1769-1839) developed stratigraphy, the technique of identifying and tracing geologic strata by their fossil contents. He applied this idea to the construction of stratigraphic maps of the British Isles, and his meticulous techniques were applied by other scholars outside England. The ideas of geologic stratigraphy and superposition developed out of Smith's work and became fundamental guides to the developing science of geology and later to archeology. Superposition refers to the idea that the fossils in any given stratum are older than those found above them and younger than those found in strata beneath them.

Over a 50 year period, one of Linnaeus' contemporaries, the French naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon (1707-1788), organized the jumbled array of information about the biological world into a 44 volume treatise entitled Natural History. It was the first important scientific synthesis of European biology. Though Buffon was very successful in French politics and scientific circles, he was repeatedly subjected to strong censorship to make sure that his writings did not contain anything offensive either to the clergy or to French politics. He adapted and used Linnaeus' classification absolutely, but his sense of humor emerged and at times brought him into the shadow of economic ruin and of the guillotine. For example, he felt it was humorous that the Linnaean system placed mankind in the same group as the monkeys and apes. He jokingly claimed that this caused him no problem, since humankind was in fact merely a decadent ape.

Buffon's research does hint at an appreciation of the magnitude of geologic time. He theorized that the earth itself had been derived from a cataclysmic event, perhaps the collision of a comet with the sun. The planets were solar materials ejected from this event that condensed and cooled into solid bodies. Buffon had a number of spheres constructed of different substances that he knew were part of the composition of the earth (limestone, copper, brass, iron). He heated them to red-hot temperatures in a blacksmith's furnace and timed the interval required for each to cool down to the temperature at which he could touch them without getting burned. From these data, Buffon calculated that the earth had been cooling for 74,832 years and estimated that the earth would have been cool enough for living things to exist about 40,000 years ago. It was at this time and at this temperature, he postulated, that life must have appeared upon the earth. He further suggested that there were several geologic ages in the past, perhaps six, which corresponded to the six days of creation described in Genesis. Projecting the calculations even further, he estimated that it would take a total of 168,123 years for a white-hot sphere the size of the earth to become frozen. Thus the world in the 18th century had at least 92,200 years left before life would become insupportable. He argued strongly for uniformitarianism, that the processes that created mountains and rivers in the past are the same processes that occur at the present time. Buffon denigrated the flood theories as being palatable only to those who believed opinions without investigation. Understandably there was an immediate response from the Theological Faculty at Paris, and Buffon was forced to recant, stating that he rejected everything in his book that would be contrary to the narration of Moses. These were politically troubled times in Paris and the lives of many prominent scientists were endangered.

Buffon employed an ex-soldier, Jean Baptiste Pierre de Monet Lamarck (1744-1829) as a tutor and companion for his son, Georges Marie. Impressed with Lamarck's dichotomous key (each form had two names -- genus and species) for making botanical classifications, Buffon arranged to have him admitted to the French Academy of Sciences. Thus at the age of 49 Lamarck became a professor of invertebrate zoology in Paris, where he made substantial revisions and improvements to Linnaeus' classification that are reflected in modern taxonomies.

Lamarck was the only scientist affiliated with Buffon and his colleagues to survive the French Revolution. He was an evolutionist in doctrine, thinking that the earth must be older than 6,000 years. His books, Philosophie Zoologique (1809) and Natural History of the Invertebrates (1815), proposed mechanisms by which animals might evolve. Lamarck (a systematist) arranged the animals in a graduated sequence like stair steps that led from the mammals back through relatively minor modifications to reptiles, fish, invertebrates, and eventually down to the polyps. He argued that this hierarchy of descending complexity represented an evolutionary sequence; the simplest animals having been first formed by nature, and through small evolutionary changes, all animals evolved. All that was needed was some process by which changes could be acquired and passed on to new generations.

His attempt to formulate a process culminated in these four laws:

(1) The force of life tends to increase the volume of the body and to enlarge its parts.

(2) New organs can be produced in a body when a new want or need is present

(3) Organs develop in proportion to their use.

(4) Changes that occur in the organs of an animal are transmitted to their progeny.


According to Lamarck's second law, the altered needs of the individual modifies habits, and habits in turn result in the formation or restructuring of new organs or the modification of old ones. Lamarck's laws have been discredited by modern biology.

Lamarck assisted a young scientist, Georges Leopold Cuvier (1769-1832) to establish himself in French scientific circles in much the same way that he had been patronized by Buffon. Cuvier, a fiery young man with a brilliant mind, subscribed to the early Linnaean philosophy of the immutability of species. Cuvier was an excellent anatomist, and formulated what he described as the law of correlation. There is, Cuvier argued, a functional interdependence between the form of an organ and its purpose. Furthermore, anatomical adaptations can often be recognized in adaptive clusters. For example, reptiles with interlocking bites are carnivores, those with closed teeth are herbivores; animals with horns and hooves invariably possess vegetarian grinding teeth, etc. Cuvier was perhaps the leading vertebrate paleontologist of his time and could identify the familiar fossils of France from fragments of fossilized bone. He personally had identified over 150 fossil species, many of which had no living counterparts, and he had begun to arrange these fossil discoveries into stratigraphic units. As the fossils became better known, there was an attempt to reconcile the geological evidence with Church doctrine.

Cuvier became a leader in the developing science of comparative anatomy and France's strongest advocate of separate plans of creation. Retaining the early Linnaean idea of fixity of species, he rejected the notion that there had been a single creation, but argued that there was a series of creations. He explained that after animals were created, a series of catastrophes caused extinction of many species. The various geologic epochs therefore were independent acts of creation, each of which ended with catastrophic destruction, worldwide flooding, and upheaval. Each epoch had its own array of species, most of which perished with the catastrophe that ended the epoch. Surviving species joined the newly created fauna. The remarkable discovery of frozen elephants in Siberian ice promoted his idea of catastrophe. It was presumed that the ice had to have gripped the world with the speed of a blizzard in order to freeze the elephant carcasses before they decomposed.

According to Cuvier's philosophy of catastrophism, living humans and apes were creations of the last epoch, the present geologic period. Consequently, there could be neither human nor ape associated with another previous geological period. The declaration that "antediluvian (prior to the last flood) humans simply did not exist" settled the question of any human fossil record and any thought of humans evolving from another species.

Cuvier and Lamarck had radically different conceptualizations of human history. Lamarck clearly accepted the idea that humanity evolved from the higher apes and that one should expect the existence of a human fossil record. Cuvier regarded Lamarck's philosophy as a personal affront and purposefully destroyed his mentor's academic standing. Lamarck, slowly losing his sight at the time, was being led back and forth to his lectures by one of his children. For the next 20 years, Lamarck lived near poverty, but managed to dictate 11 volumes of his Natural History to his daughter, Cornelie, from memory. French science belonged to Cuvier, who thrived through the reign and fall of Napoleon.

One of the more important figures to contribute to the new visions of historical geology was Charles Lyell (1797-1875), an Oxford University student attracted to geology by the outspoken William Buckland. Early in his career, Lyell noted that the action of water, waves, and wind changed the form of our landscape. He became a very strong anti-catastrophist in interpretation of geologic structures. Lyell thus evoked the principle of uniformitarianism and with it the implication of a long geologic time needed for the slow processes of erosion and deposition to shape the modern world. He argued in his The Principles of Geology or the Modern Changes of the Earth and Its Inhabitants (1830):



"No causes whatever from earliest time to the present ever acted but those now acting; and they have never acted with different degrees of energy than that which they now exert."


Although Lyell's Principles followed some of the same ideas expressed by Hutton and other previous geologists, his book used informative examples and illustrations to show the slow processes of geologic change. Lyell became the leading geologist of Great Britain and was knighted in 1848. The Principles of Geology upset the geologic ideology of the day by producing a tradition of thinking about geologic time in terms of millions of years. It laid an important base for later evolutionary thought since it gave the evolutionists the gift of time.

A corollary of the dictum of Cuvier and the French Academy was that both humans and apes were products of the present epoch. The first person to disprove this was a young French lawyer, Edward Lartet (1801-1871), who became interested in fossils when mastodon teeth were found in his village. Fossil bone remains were frequent around his family estate and he became an active collector from about 1834 onward. In 1837 while searching in Southern France among the rich fossil deposits of Sansun, he discovered an arm bone and several fragments of a skull of an ape in deposits that were clearly associated with extinct animals of the Middle Tertiary Period. Its anatomy was reminiscent of a modern gibbon and Lartet gave it the scientific name Pliopithecus. In 1856, Lartet described another anthropoid ape from France, to which he gave the name Dryopithecus. As early as 1837, discoveries that were to challenge Cuvier's catastrophism were accumulating.



The Beginnings of Archaeology

Archaeology developed concurrently with geology. Both had many common participants and a common problem - the belief of most Western people that the earth was young, too young for a long prehistory.

In 1797 an Englishman, Sir John Frere (1740-1807), excavated some flint tools that were obviously of human manufacture from a deposit of bones containing several large, extinct animals near Suffolk. Though he recognized their prehistoric significance, his discovery went largely unnoticed. Collectors and museum curators began to appreciate the complexity of prehistory as they attempted to bring order to collections at the museum attached to the library of the Royal Commission for the Preservation of Danish Antiquities. Christian Jürgensen Thompson (1788-1865) divided prehistoric materials into stone, bronze, and iron ages for exhibit, an arrangement that became widely used and persists in nomenclature today. Academic circles of the Western world were becoming increasingly aware of prehistoric materials and of geological processes. Some responded with the belligerence of William Buckland (1784-1856), Dean of Westminster, who studied geology primarily to prove that the Genesis version of creation was fact. The predominantly Catholic French Academy of Sciences was restricted in the interpretations they were willing to allow to this developing science. Cuvier's catastrophism and the early Linnaean concept of the fixity of species were the prevailing ideas. It is noteworthy that the rising British Protestant movement was more liberal and, although much of the evidence for human antiquity came from France and French discoverers, the significance of those discoveries was largely ignored at first by the Academy. New disclosures and ideas emerged in the 19th century with such rapidity that both the most imaginative and the most dogmatic scientists were shaken as new visions of the world appeared.

Interest in paleontology and prehistory flared brightly both in England and continental Europe. In 1823, Dean William Buckland excavated a cave in Pavaland, on the Welsh coast, that was reputed to contain remains of many extinct forms of animals including elephant, rhinoceros, hyena, and bear. His excavations yielded astonishing materials: an abundance of flint implements, tools of bone and ivory, interspersed in layers containing bones of extinct animals. Buckland uncovered a human skeleton stained with red ochre that became somewhat infamous as the "Red Lady of Pavaland" although the skeleton is almost certainly that of a young male. Buckland's religious conscience dictated the stratigraphy, and he concluded that the skeleton dated to the Roman period and was an intrusion into the cave long after the flood. In his view, the human bones and tools could not possibly be as old as the extinct animals. Buckland's energy and publicity contributed to the demise of his cause since they attracted attention to prehistoric sites and to geology.

Other clergymen were exploring similar caves. In 1820, Reverend John McHenery, a Roman Catholic priest, investigated a cave on the Devon coast of England known as Kent's Cavern. His discoveries were similar to those at Pavaland, but McHenery concluded that humanity did indeed have a prehistory that extended long before biblical times. Kent's Cavern was remarkable in the quantity of mammoth, rhinoceros, cave bear, wild horse, and other extinct animals it contained. Excavation indicated that humans camped in the cave and piled up the bones from these extinct animals into trash middens. English geologists, both amateurs and professionals, made repeated visits to Kent's Cavern, and most of them came away excited about prehistoric research and the validity of human prehistory.

The Belgian naturalist, Dr. P.C. Schmerling, excavated in extensive limestone caves near Liege in Belgium. He worked systematically through more than 40 caves, revealing an amazing quantity of implements of bone and stone. In 1833 he made his most famous find in Engis Cave. Conditions were hostile, involving rope descents inside the cave and difficult crawling through wet and muddy subterranean passages. In the depths of the cave, under the worst conditions, he uncovered a complete human skull imbedded under five feet of breccia that contained elephant, hyena, bear, tiger, rhinoceros, reindeer, and other extinct species. The world was not yet ready for the direct evidence of man's association with extinct animals. Even Lyell, who visited Engis Cave and examined the materials, did not at first accept the antiquity which Schmerling proposed.

But the tide of discovery carried events toward that acceptance. Official recognition of prehistory is to be credited to the efforts of two amateurs, Jacques Boucher Crêvecoeur de Perthes (1788-1868) of France and William Pengelly (1812-1894) of England. Director of Customs at Abbeville, Boucher de Perthes collected "diluvial axes" as a hobby. He picked up flints that were obviously of human manufacture from the quarries and gravel pits around Abbeville and gradually put together a substantial array of flint implements and bones of extinct animals. His ideas about the association between ancient humans and extinct animals, presented in a paper before the Paris Institute in 1838, received nothing but skepticism. He wrote five volumes on the topic, but they too were rejected. Although he was viewed more as a crank than as an expert, the church reacted to his theories with accusations of heresy. He stood abused and obstinate about his collections and ideas. As a result of Boucher de Perthes' ideas, Abbeville attracted scholars interested in prehistory from both England and Europe. Boucher de Perthes sought to find human bones in stratigraphic association with extinct animals. Unable to excavate personally, he made the mistake of offering rewards to workmen who unearthed human remains and artifacts. Perhaps predictably, some workmen sold him faked fossils and planted flints. When visiting British scientists discovered the fakes, it was a blow to Boucher de Perthes and it provided ammunition to French scientists who scoffed at his ideas of fossil humans. In 1858 and 1859, a contingent of noted British scientists, including paleontologists Hugh Faulkner and Albert Gaudrey, geologists Joseph Prestwich and Charles Lyell, archaeologist John Evans,, and anatomist W.H. Flower visited the diggings at Amines, France. They examined the stratigraphy and excavated flints themselves. Gaudrey, in particular, reported digging up hand axes in association with rhinoceros, hippopotamus and mammoth.

William Pengelly began more excavations in Kent's Cavern in 1846. Previous workers had been unable to convince the scientific world that there was no possibility that modern humans had dug holes into the lower levels of the cavern and introduced modern artifacts with extinct animals. Pengelly was convinced of the validity of the association, but he sought an opportunity to demonstrate the stratigraphy. His chance came in 1858 when the entrance to a new cave was found on Windmill Hill above Brixham harbor. The Royal Society and the Geological Society asked Pengelly to excavate the new site under the supervision of a committee of eminent geologists. Pengelly and his workman carefully uncovered a layer of cave stone that sealed the site. The layer was fully exposed to verify that it contained no breaks or holes from modern excavations. When they broke through the layer, they found bones of cave lion, cave bear, hyena, mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, reindeer, and numerous flint tools. There could be no doubt of the stratigraphy or the association.

In 1859, scholars from England had visited Abbeville and verified Boucher de Perthes' claims. In subsequent meetings of the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquaries, and the British Association, the findings of both Pengelly and Boucher de Perthes were given full acceptance. From the point of view of British geology, the existence of prehistoric humans had been verified. Pengelly was elected to the Royal Society and made President of the Geological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. France however, remained skeptical. Cuvier's catastrophism was still the mainstream of French science.

It should be noted that the anatomy of the prehistoric people described from Kent's Cavern and Engis Cave was modern. At least one fossil, a human skull found in an excavation in Forbes Quarry on Gibraltar in 1848, differed greatly in form from contemporary Frenchmen or Englishmen. This was the first complete Neanderthal skull to be discovered, but it was not recognized as such until 1907. It lay unnoticed in the bone collection of the Museum of the College of the Physicians and Surgeons of London. Since it had been removed from the site by workmen and there were no known artifacts associated with it, there was no direct evidence for its antiquity. The paleontologist Hugh Faulkner described it as a savage and low type of humanity of extreme antiquity, but he did not recognize its significance.

Although the other apes had long been known to Western scientists, the gorilla was first recognized by an American medical missionary, Thomas Savage, who acquired skulls and bones of gorillas. Assisted by Jeffries Wyman of Harvard, Savage published a description of the Western lowland gorilla in the Boston Journal of Natural History and gave it a scientific name, Gorilla gorilla gorilla (Savage and Wyman, 1847).

The remarkable anatomy of the newly described gorilla played a role in the first recognition of a fossilized human species that was anatomically different from modern people. In August of 1856, workmen in a limestone quarry discovered some human bones in a cave locally known as the Feldhoffer Grotto near Dusseldorf in the Neander Valley of Germany. The bones were acquired by Yohann Karl Fuhlrott, a natural science teacher at Elberfeld High School. Fuhlrott recognized the materials as human, but thought he saw a similarity between its massive eyebrow ridges and long, low skull and the skull of the newly described gorilla. He thought he had found an ancient and unknown human species, perhaps an intermediate form between Gorilla and Homo sapiens. Fuhlrott took careful steps to preserve the fossils and contacted other German scholars to secure their opinions, particularly that of his friend, Herman Schaafhausen, professor of anatomy at the University of Bonn. Schaafhausen considered the Neanderthal discovery unmistakable proof of human evolution. Their interpretations raised a storm of protest in Germany. Experts pointed out that there was no evidence of antiquity. The anatomist Mayer identified the materials as the bones of a Mongolian Cossack from the Napoleonic War of 1814. They were variously labeled as belonging to an old Dutchman, a Celt, and a simple-minded person who suffered from water on the brain.

The most damning criticism of all came from the great German pathologist, Rudolph Virchow (1821-1902), professor of pathological anatomy at the University of Berlin and founder of the field of cellular pathology. His hobby was archeology and he was to found the German Anthropological Society in 1869. Virchow's influence in Germany through the second half of the 19th century was comparable to Cuvier's in France through the first half of the same era. Virchow believed that people of the Stone Age were identical in biology to modern humans and he attributed the different anatomy of the Neanderthal to a combination of severe rickets, repeated fractures, and severe arthritis. The Neanderthal specimen thus was relegated to controversy. In Germany at this time, Cuvier's ideas remained strongly entrenched.

Lyell traveled to Germany to examine the site and returned to England with a cast of the skull. Professor William King examined the cast, concluded that it did indeed represent a previously unrecognized type of human, and named it Homo neanderthalensis King, 1864.

Thus, in mid-nineteenth century England, the stage was set for a monumental debate between paleontologists, geologists, and prehistorians, who were proposing geologic antiquity and prehistoric humans versus the opposing scholars, who either denied geologic antiquity completely or at best, relegated humanity in the tradition of Cuvier to the present geologic epoch.


The Idea of Selection

A credible mechanism that could produce evolutionary changes was formulated independently by two British naturalists, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913). Both men were stimulated by observations of diversity of life in the tropics and by a treatise, An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (1798). The essay, written by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) but published anonymously, argued that a human population will always tend to outrun the growth of production. Consequently human populations will always expand until famine, war, vice, or disease limits growth. Both figures who were to fuel the evolution controversy had most undramatic early lives.




Inept at learning foreign languages and unwilling to memorize the extensive verse, Charles Darwin proved to be a rather mediocre scholar during his early education. He had a great love for animals and the outdoors. He entered Edinburgh University to study medicine in 1825, but did not have the stomach for surgery in those years before chloroform. His main achievement in medical school was to develop a fondness for natural science, especially marine zoology. When it became clear that he did not want to become a physician, he changed from Edinburgh to Cambridge, preparing to enter the clergy. Though he did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible, he did have reservations about some dogmas of the Church of England. He worked hard at Cambridge and passed the necessary exams in mathematics, classics, and religion.

His interest in natural history matured and he began passionately to collect beetles. The most important contribution Cambridge made to his career was the influence and friendship of Professor Henslow, whose knowledge and interests spanned botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. Henslow persuaded Darwin, upon completion of his final exams and graduation, to begin a study of geology. He arranged for young Darwin to accompany Professor Sedgwick on a field trip through North Wales. This geology field trip crystallized Darwin's perception of scientific thinking:


"...Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realize, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists of grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them."(Darwin, 1898, page 48)


After this field trip, Henslow extended Darwin an invitation from Captain FitzRoy to take a berth as a volunteer, without pay, as naturalist on the voyage of the Beagle, a survey ship that was about to leave on a round-the-world mapping and collecting expedition. Although his father was reluctant to let him accept, Darwin interviewed with Captain FitzRoy for the job and signed on for the voyage. Because of his new-found interest in geology, he took with him Lyell's The Principles of Geology, and read it during the early weeks of the voyage. That book, with his recent field experience with geology, prepared Darwin to investigate the geology of places that the ship visited, and established in his mind the slow passage of geologic time. Darwin collected fossil bones and faunal specimens during the voyage. Between 1831 and 1836, Darwin visited the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia, Chile, Argentina, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, the Cocos Islands, Mauritius, St. Helena, Ascension, and the Azores. He was thrilled by the glories of the tropics, great deserts of Patagonia, forested mountains of Tierra del Fuego, geologic structure of the island of Santa Elena and the diversity of animals inhabiting the Galapagos Archipelago. He was less enthusiastic about the people that he encountered in their native lands.

Darwin's journal, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), sold well. He appears acquired a tropical disease on his voyage and he was unable to work for long periods. This was the first of five volumes he produced from the Beagle's notes and collections. Darwin started his first notebook on his ideas of transmutation of species in 1837. He perceived that selection was the keystone to success in breeding domestic plants and animals, but he wondered how selection could be applied in nature. In October 1838 he read Malthus' essay on population:


"I happened to read for amusement Malthus' On Populations and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species." (Darwin, 1898, page 68)


He wrote the first abstract of a paper expanding on this idea in 1842 and by 1856, he began to write a book which surveyed the subject and summarized his views on the origin of species.



In contrast to Darwin, Alfred Wallace came from a family of modest means. His education was limited and he worked at various jobs (construction, surveying, assistant to a watchmaker, school teacher,...). He was a friend of Henry Walter Bates, (1825-1892) who was later to become famous for his studies of insect mimicry. Wallace loved natural history and the outdoors. Wallace and Bates decided to embark on a great adventure. They would travel to Brazil, explore the Amazon, and support themselves with the sale of collections of biological specimens, especially insects.

They sailed for South America in 1848. They were very successful and Wallace's younger brother, Herbert, joined them in Brazil in 1849. Wallace was again successful in accumulating large collections, but Herbert died of yellow fever in 1851. Wallace sailed back to England in 1852, but disaster struck during the voyage. The ship caught fire and sank three weeks into the voyage, and although the passengers were rescued, his collections were lost. Bates remained in Brazil until 1859 to accumulate a collection of more than 14,000 species.

After a brief respite, Wallace sailed in 1854 to make collections in the Malay Archipelago. He was successful in his collecting and he enjoyed the primitive life of a field naturalist. He recognized that the Archipelago was biologically divided by a narrow strait into an Oriental fauna and an Australian fauna, a division still recognized as Wallace's Line.

He applied the geological idea of uniformitarianism to biology. Small intermediate changes could slowly bring about new species. If so, a primitive type might give rise to several newer species. Charts of the history of a species might look more like a tree than a straight line. He proposed that no species came into existence unless it coexisted with another similar species that was its predecessor. Hampered in collecting activities by rains in February of 1855, he wrote a paper, "On the law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species." The paper was submitted to the Annals and Magazine of Natural History. Wallace, convinced of the evolution of species, searched for a mechanism. While recovering from inflamed insect bites on his feet, he wrote Charles Darwin and asked his opinion. Wallace suffered more frequent bouts of illness and spent much of his time convalescing. It was on one of these days that he was thinking about Malthus:


"...evidently do not increase regularly every year, as otherwise the world would long ago have been densely crowded with those that breed most quickly. Vaguely thinking over the enormous and constant destruction which this implied, it occurred to me to ask the question, Why do some die and some live? And the answer was clearly, that on the whole the best fitted live... it suddenly flashed upon me that this self-acting process would necessarily improve the race, because in every generation the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would remain - that is the fittest would survive." (Wallace, 1905)


As soon as the fever subsided enough for him to write, Wallace drafted his thoughts and sent them in a letter to Darwin.

Wallace's letter and manuscript arrived in June 1858, and Darwin was shattered. It duplicated Darwin's theory, the basis for the book on which Darwin was working. Darwin sent the manuscript to Lyell with the comment:


"My Dear Lyell, - Some year or so ago you recommended me to read a paper by Wallace in the "Annals," which had interested you, and, as I was writing to him I knew this would please him much so I told him. He has today sent me the enclosed, and asked me to forward it to you. It seems to me well worth reading. Your words have come true with a vengeance-that I should be forestalled. You said this, when I explained to you here very briefly my views of "Natural Selection" depending on the struggle for existence. I never saw a more striking coincidence; if Wallace had my MS. sketch written out in 1842, he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters. Please return me the MS., which he does not say he wishes me to publish, but I shall of course at once write and offer to send to any journal. So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed, though my book, if it will ever have any value, will not be deteriorated; as all the labour consists in the application of the theory.

I hope you will approve of Wallace's sketch, that I may tell him what you say." (Darwin, 1898, page 473)


Through the intervention of Joseph Hooker and Charles Lyell, a dispute between Darwin and Wallace was avoided and the theory of natural selection was announced to the Linnaean Society in July 1858. Joint credit was given to Darwin and Wallace. Documents reflecting Darwin's previous unpublished work on the topic and Wallace's essay "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type" were presented. The announcement attracted no particular scientific or public attention. Darwin worked intensely for the next year on his manuscript, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). It sold out on the day of publication.

The theory of natural selection was based upon three observations and two deductions:


Observation 1 - Organisms reproduce in a geometric ratio (Author's note: Actually Malthus was wrong; reproduction is exponential, not geometric)

Observation 2 - The numbers of any given species tend to remain more or less constant through time.

Observation 3 - All living things vary.

Deduction 1 - There is a universal struggle for survival. More organisms of each kind are born than can possibly obtain food and survive.

Deduction 2 - Individuals with some kind of advantage have the best chance of surviving and reproducing their own kind.


More simply stated, natural selection proposed that some individuals are more successful at reproducing than others. When this success reflects heritable advantageous characters, those characters become numerous at the expense of less favorable characteristics. This idea provided a mechanism for transmuting a species from one form to something else by altering its characteristics. Given a natural process that could produce the formation of a new species, evolution became a central organizing concept in biology.

Although Darwin carefully omitted discussion of the human species in his 1859 treatise, he makes it clear in the concluding paragraphs that humanity does not escape from the evolutionary process:


"When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled. Judging from the past, we may safely infer that not one living species will transmit its unaltered likeness to some distant futurity. And of the species now living very few will transmit progeny of any kind to a far distant futurity; for in the manner in which all organic beings are grouped, shows that the greatest number of species in each genus, and all the species in many genera, have left no descendants, but have become utterly extinct... As all the living forms of life are the lineal descendants which lived long before the Cambrian Epoch, we may feel certain that the ordinary succession by generation has never once been broken, that no cataclysm has desolated the whole world. Hence we may look with some confidence to a secure future of some great length...

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us... Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved." (Darwin, 1859)



History of Physical Anthropology

Questions about the nature and origins of human races stimulated early physical anthropology. Seventeenth century western scholars presumed that humans belonged to a single species, all descendants of Noah and his family. As explorers brought Europeans into contact with human phenotypes that were more and more diverse, it became evident that humanity was more variable than earlier scholars had imagined. Debates rose over the meaning and importance of these variants. Traditionally, all humans descended (or degenerated, since the Western European groups considered themselves biologically superior) from the original type. Johann Frederich Blumenbach (1752-1840), German naturalist, founder of physical anthropology, and inventor of craniology, divided mankind into 5 races (American, Caucasian, Ethiopian, Malayan, and Mongolian). According to Biblical tradition, all contemporary human races were monogenic, that is, they were derived from Adam and Eve. If humans were created in the image of God, then God is an Englishman (or Frenchman, or German,... depending on the author's ethnic identity). An exception to this way of thinking was James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848), an English anthropologist who proposed that Adam had been black. Prichard argued that as the descendants of Adam became lighter-skinned they acquired higher intellects and civilization. Given enough time, all races would become similar to Western Europeans, the race that in his view, had progressed farther or more rapidly.

The idea that races were polygenic became popular in scientific circles of Europe (especially France) and America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Proponents of polygenism argued that differences between human races were too great to be a consequence of environmental differences and too great for humanity to be attributed to a single species. Therefore God must have created several human species. A Philadelphia physician and advocate of polygenism, Samuel George Morton (1799-1844), was widely quoted in European anthropological circles of the later nineteenth century. Morton used anthropometric measurements (anthropometry) to study human variation.

The world's first anthropology society, the Anthropological Society of Paris, was founded in 1859 by a French surgeon, Paul Broca (1824-1880). He had established an anthropological laboratory the previous year, which later became the site of a training program for anthropologists. Broca attempted to make physical anthropology scientific in the tradition of Samuel Morton. Many of the activities of these early physical anthropologists could be classified as racial craniology. Anthropometry flourished and spread rapidly from Broca's laboratory to other institutions. The conflict between polygenism and monogenism became clearer. The polygenists felt that their position was more acceptable with the tradition of the fixity of species. Broca also argued that it would be degrading to consider the diversity of racial variation as a degeneration from a single superior species. John Ray's criterion, that a species could be defined by its members' ability to interbreed, was called into question by those who resisted the idea of a single human species.

European primate studies begin with Edward Tyson [1650-1708], a London physician and member of the Royal Society, who dissected a chimpanzee and published a comparison (Tyson, 1699) between the animal, humans, and monkeys. Although people were greatly interested in behavior of monkeys and apes, most early scientific investigations were primarily anatomical. Thomas Henry Huxley's Man's Place in Nature (1863) attempted to apply Darwinism to understand the origins of humanity. Primatology became primarily concerned with anatomy and the understanding of the paleontological record of primate evolution. In Germany, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) produced an encyclopedia of primate anatomy and drew the first scientific phylogenetic trees. Since we knew the current products of human evolution, contemporary primates were seen as windows into our past and sources of understanding that could "flesh out" the fossil bones of paleontology. Anatomy was the primary focus until after 1900.

After the turn of the century, anthropometry became more quantitatively sophisticated under the leadership of Karl Pearson (1857-1936), co-founder and editor of the journal, Biometrika. Pearson developed much of the mathematics (statistics) that made measuring bones and bodies appear scientific, including computations for variation and correlation, and tests of significance for comparing samples. Anthropology, and certainly physical anthropology, in the last half of the nineteenth century was strongly committed to racial determinism, a philosophy that assumed the superiority of Caucasoids.

In this philosophical climate, the first Americans who were to become known as physical anthropologists appeared. Frank Russell (1868-1903) received the first Ph.D. in physical anthropology in America in 1898 at Harvard for his dissertation on Eskimo crania. Ales Hrdlicka (1860-1943), a migrant medical student from Bohemia, was employed by the state of New York as an associate in anthropology and pathology. In 1896, he spent a brief period in Paris studying with Leonce Manouvrier in Broca's laboratory. Hrdlicka was hired as an anthropologist by the United States National Museum in 1903, where he remained a major personality in American physical anthropology until his death in 1943. Hrdlicka established the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 1918 and the journal still bears his name on each issue. He was a forceful figure who argued that American Indian aboriginal populations came across the Bering Straits from Asia in recent times. There was not, in his view, evidence of Paleolithic peoples in the New World. Hrdlicka, perhaps because of his Bohemian background, rejected the ideas of racial superiority and worked hard to counter Nazi war-time dogma about race. He wanted to establish a center or institute similar to Broca's famous laboratory that would be a training ground and the home of a national society of physical anthropologists. Though never able to realize his ambition to create the "American Institute of Physical Anthropology," he was able to stimulate the organization of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1930.

Most charter members of the society were anatomists, and many of them were insightful, prolific scientists whose work laid part of the foundations for current physical anthropology (especially Franz Boas, Juán Comas, W.K. Gregory, Earnest A. Hooton, Ales Hrdlicka, William Krogman, Dudley Morton, Adolph Schultz, Harry Shapiro, William Straus, T. Dale Stewart, Robert J. Terry, T. Wingate Todd, Mildred Trotter,...). Earnest A. Hooton (1887-1954) earned a Ph.D. from Wisconsin (1911) and traveled to Oxford where he received a Diploma in Anthropology in 1912. Hooton was convinced of the validity of the attitudes of racial superiority and biological determinism that were strongly imbedded (perhaps from Morton) in the traditions of both Broca and Keith. Hooton was appointed to the anthropology department at Harvard in 1913, where he established the first major training program in the United States for physical anthropology. His first graduate was Harry L. Shapiro (1902-1990) in 1926, and most of the programs in other American universities for the next 30 years were staffed with Hooton graduates. Even today, lecture notes of American anthropology students bear the strong stamp of Hooton's outlines and interests. As Harvard began to train physical anthropologists, the discipline began to diversify. Its roots were strongly grounded in anatomy and medicine, but there was much more to human biology than anthropometry and more interesting questions than those concerning racial origins. One of Hooton's students, J. N. Spuhler, was one of the first physical anthropologists to use discrete traits instead of anatomical typologies to compare human populations.

Dudley Morton utilized comparative functional anatomy to study the primate foot and William K. Gregory applied the same principles to primate teeth. Primate phylogenies began to assume relatively modern configurations.

Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), a gestalt psychologist who studied chimpanzees at the Anthropoid Station at Tenerife, Canary Islands from 1913 to 1917, conducted the first truly modern behavioral study of a nonhuman primate. His excellent book, The Mentality of Apes (Köhler, 1927), is still in print and still important. About the same time (1913-1916), a Russian scientist, Nadine Kohts kept an infant chimpanzee in her home and compared its behavior to her own infant son, Roody.

Two important laboratories were established that used primates in biomedical research, the Pasteur Institute in 1923 and the Institute for the Study of Experimental Pathology and Therapeutics at Sukhumi on the Black Sea in 1927.

Robert M. Yerkes, a Yale psychologist who became interested in the psychology of apes, founded the first major American primate breeding laboratory, the Laboratory of Primate Biology at Orange Park, Florida in 1929. His students shaped the field of primate behavior in America, even though there were many other scientists studying monkeys. Two of his students attempted unsuccessful field studies of apes, Harold Bingham (in 1929) of the gorilla, and Henry W. Nissen (in 1930) of the chimpanzee. Clarence Ray Carpenter, another Yerkes student, began his study of the howler monkey of Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal Zone on Christmas Day, 1931. Carpenter's was to be the first successful naturalistic study and it set the model for modern fieldwork.

In England, Le Gros Clark [1895-1971], the first biologist of repute to devote his entire career to the study of primates, concentrated his talents on primate anatomy, developing his concept of the total morphological pattern to understand and recognize major adaptive complexes in anatomy. Another British anatomist, Sir Solly Zuckerman, applied mathematical models to anatomical problems. A major rift took place in British anatomical sciences, Le Gros Clark's morphological patterns on one hand and Zuckerman's mathematics on the other. Zuckerman, after traveling to Africa and the United States, spent some time observing baboons at London's Regent's Park Zoo. His interest in anatomy and behavior led to his publication of The Social Life of Monkeys and Apes (1932), a book that was to be a major source of popular ideas about monkey behavior for thirty years. The growing use of monkeys in the psychology laboratory is evidenced by the publication of Heinrich Klüver's Behavior Mechanisms in Monkeys (1933)

Forensic anthropology, the estimation of age, gender, race, stature, and personal characteristics from human skeletal remains, is largely a development of anatomy departments where cadavers were being collected and studied. The first anthropological publication in forensic science was "Guide to the Identification of Human Skeletal material", an FBI pamphlet prepared by W.M. Krogman in 1939.

In the years right after the second world war, especially between 1952 and 1954, some Japanese scientists began provisioning and keeping longitudinal genealogical and behavioral records on Japanese monkey troops. The projects were so successful that more than twenty separate troops were provisioned and studied. Denzaburo Miyadi and Kinji Imanishi formed a Primate Research Group at Kyoto University and in 1956 established a Japan Monkey Centre at Inuyama, Aichi. The Japanese studies constitute the earliest longitudinal research on free-ranging nonhuman primates anywhere in the world.

European primatology in the tradition of Haeckel continued with activities of anatomists W.C. Osman Hill, Helmut Hofer, Adolph Schultz, and D. Stark. In the 1950s, physical anthropologists broadened their interests to investigate relationships between evolution and genetic variation among humans. Watershed analyses were published by Alice Brues on the ABO blood groups in 1954 and by Frank Livingstone on the relationships between sickle-cell anemia and malaria in 1958. Physical anthropology was beginning to merge modern ideas of evolution, medicine, genetics, and ecology.

The late 1950's and the decade of the 1960's saw a rediscovery of field work. One of the personalities behind this trend was an anatomist, S.L. Washburn. Another contributor to this trend toward longitudinal naturalistic studies was the anthropologist L.S.B. Leakey who sponsored numerous scientists, including Jane Goodall at the Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania to study chimpanzees; Dian Fossey at Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans to study gorillas; and B.M.F. Galdikas in Indonesia to study orangutans. Japanese scientists expanded their studies of their native monkey species to field studies of primate biology all over the world. The table below is a partial list of the first generation of field workers who published naturalistic studies of ecology and behavior.

A Partial List of Major Naturalistic Studies of Primate Ecology and Behavior Conducted Prior to 1965 (dates for beginning of study)

C.R. Carpenter - howler and spider monkeys in Panama
C.R. Carpenter - gibbon in Thailand

A.J. Haddow and others - redtail guenon in Africa

C. Asami, J. Frisch, Y. Furuya, K. Imanishi, J. Itani, M. Kawai, S. Kawamura, D. Miyadi, R. Takeda, K. Tokuda, M. Yamada and others - Japanese monkeys
W. Ullrich - black and white colobus monkey in East Africa
P. Jay Dolhinow - langur in India
C.H. Southwick - rhesus monkeys in India
G.B. Schaller (with J. T. Emlen) - mountain gorilla in Africa
K.R.L. Hall - baboons and patas monkeys in East and South Africa

A. Kortlandt - chimpanzees in Central Africa
S.A. Altmann - rhesus monkeys on Cayo Santiago Island, Puerto Rico
I. DeVore (with S. L. Washburn) - baboons in East Africa
D. Miyadi, M.D. Parathasarathy, S. Kawamura, Y. Sugiyama and K. Yoshiba - langur in India
P.E. Simonds - bonnet monkeys in India
H. Kummer - hamadryas baboons in North Africa
S. Ripley - langur in Ceylon
T. Struhsaker - vervet monkeys in East Africa
J. Altmann and S.A. Altmann - baboons in East Africa
J. Goodall - chimpanzees in East Africa
C. Koford and D.S. Sade - rhesus monkeys on Cayo Santiago Island, Puerto Rica
T.E. Rowell - baboons in East Africa
J.S. Gartland and C.K. Brain - guenons in East and South Africa.
V. Reynolds - chimpanzee in East Africa
W.A. Mason - Titis in Colombia
J.O. Ellefson - gibbon in Malaysia
A. Jolly - ringtailed lemur and sifaka in Madagascar


Physical anthropology emerged in its modern form in the 1950s. Its transformation from disciplines of craniometry and somatology is largely due to discoveries in genetics that expanded our focus beyond the question of human origins. S.L. Washburn, an anatomist in the tradition of the British scientist Le Gros Clark, proposed in a paper, "The New Physical Anthropology" (1951) that physical anthropology should turn away from its focus on racial history and emphasis upon typology. Rather, physical anthropology should adopt a more modern scientific methodology, including experimentation and analysis of cause and effect. That article reflected the attitude of a new generation of scientists who brought modern research design to physical anthropology. Washburn was one many anthropologists who followed contemporary trends in biology and science and who created the modern biosocial science of physical anthropology.



Ideas have a phylogeny too. As in biology, ideas have precursors and must have environments that tolerate them. The interplay of political and historical events that shape our society also influences the availability and practice of science. Science as a way of knowing is relatively recent in popular western thought. An awareness of geological time, a mechanism for an evolutionary process, and the demonstration that there are fossil antecedents for humanity all date to the 19th century. Modern physical anthropology was formed in the 1950's by scientists who brought a modern perspective on science to the anthropological study of human biology.


Questions for Review

1. Why would the idea of a great chain of being provide intellectual resistance to evolutionary explanations?

2. What did John Ray contribute to science?

3. Why is Hutton's idea of uniformitarianism important?

4. Were Buffon's experiments with heated spheres a logical way to estimate the age of the earth? How did he know the size of the earth?

5. Which scientist's view of the history of life is most like the Darwinian view, Lamarck of Cuvier? Explain your answer.

6. What is Cuvier's law of correlation?

7. What was the evidence for catastrophism? How was that model of geological history falsified?

8. What contribution did archeology make toward the establishment of Darwinian evolutionary theory?

9. Define natural selection.

10. What does the concept of selection contribute to evolutionary theory?

11. What role did Primatology contribute to 19th century anthropology?

12. How does Broca's anthropology differ from the paradigm of physical anthropology today?


Further Reading

Asimov, Isaac 1989. Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery. New York: Harper & Row.

Barrett, Paul H. (editor) 1977. The Collected Papers of Charles Darwin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Beddall, Barbara, G. (editor) 1969. Wallace and Bates in the Tropics: An Introduction to the Theory of Natural Selection. London: The Macmillan Company

Brackman, Arnold C. 1980. A Delicate Arrangement: The Strange Case of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace. New York: Times Books.

Darwin, Charles 1859. On the Origin of Species. A Facsimile of the First Edition, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press (1964)

Darwin, Francis (editor) 1898. The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. New York: D. Appleton and Co. (2 volumes)

Glub, Sir John 1969. A Short History of the Arab Peoples. New York: Dorset Press.

Haraway, Donna 1989. Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. New York: Routledge.

Kiple, Kenneth F (editor). 1993. The Cambridge World History of Human Disease. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Lamarck, J.B. 1984 Zoological Philosophy: An Exposition with Regard to the Natural history of Animals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Translated by Hugh Elliot, with essays by Richard W. Burkhardt, Jr. and David L. Hull. Including a Biographical Memoir by Georges Cuvier.)

Lyell, Charles 1830 Principles of Geology. London: J. Murray. Reprinted 1990 Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Singer, Charles 1959. A Short History of Scientific Ideas To 1900. London: Oxford University Press

Spencer, Frank (editor) 1982. A History of American Physical Anthropology 1930-1980. New York: Academic Press.

Stone, Irving 1980. The Origin: A Biographical Novel of Charles Darwin. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Wallace, Alfred Russell 1905. My Life: a Record of Events and Opinions. New York: (2 volumes)

Home | General | Research | Instruction | World
Table of Contents


11 May 2006
Department of Department of Anthropology, College of Liberal Arts , UT Austin
Comments to