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THE EXTINCT MAMMALIA OF THE OLD WORLD.
ALTHOUGH it may seem somewhat out of place to begin the systematic treatment of our subject with extinct rather than with living animals, it is necessary to do so in order that we may see the meaning and trace the causes of the existing distribution of animal forms. It is true, that the animals found fossil in a country are very generally allied to those which still inhabit it; but this is by no means universally the case. If it were, the attempt to elucidate our subject by Palæontology would be hopeless, since the past would show us the same puzzling diversities of faunas and floras that now exist. We find however very numerous exceptions to this rule, and it is these exceptions which tell us of the past migrations of whole groups of animals. We are thus enabled to determine what portion of the existing races of animals in a country are descendants of its ancient fauna, and which are comparatively modern immigrants; and combining these movements of the forms of life with known or probable changes in the distribution of land and sea, we shall sometimes be able to trace approximately the long series of changes which have resulted in the actual state of things. To gain this knowledge is our object in studying the “Geographical Distribution of Animals,” and our plan of study must be determined, mainly, by the facilities it affords us for attaining this object. In discussing the countless details of distribution we shall meet with in our survey of the zoological regions, we shall often find it useful to refer to the evidence we possess of the range of the group in question in
past times; and when we attempt to generalise the phenomena on a large scale, with the details fresh in our memory, we shall find a reference to the extinct faunas of various epochs to be absolutely necessary.
The degree of our knowledge of the Palæontology of various parts of the world is so unequal, that it will not be advisable to treat the subject under each of our six regions. Yet some subdivision must be made, and it seems best to consider separately the extinct animals of the Old and of the New Worlds. Those of Europe and Asia are intimately connected, and throw light on the past changes which have led to the establishment of the three great continental Old World regions, with their various subdivisions. The wonderful extinct fauna recently discovered in North America, with what was previously known from South temperate America, not only elucidates the past history of the whole continent, but also gives indications of the mutual relations of the eastern and western hemispheres.
The materials to be dealt with are enormous; and it will be necessary to confine ourselves to a general summary, with fuller details on those points which directly bear upon our special subject. The objects of most interest to the pure zoologist and to the geologist—those strange forms which are farthest removed from any now living—are of least interest to us, since we aim at tracing the local origin or birthplace of existing genera and families; and for this purpose animals whose affinities with living forms are altogether doubtful, are of no value whatever.
The great mass of the vertebrate fossils of the tertiary period consist of mammalia, and this is precisely the class which is of inost value in the determination of zoological regions. The animals of the secondary period, though of the highest interest to the zoologist are of little importance to us; both because of their very uncertain affinities for any existing groups, and also because we can form no adequate notion of the distribution of land and sea in those remote epochs. Our great object is to trace back, step by step, the varying distribution of the chief forms of life; and to deduce, wherever possible, the physical changes which must have accompanied or caused such changes.
The natural division of our subject therefore is into geological periods. We first go back to the Post-Pliocene period, which includes that of the caves and gravels of Europe containing flint implements, and extends back to the deposit of the glacial drift in the concluding phase of the glacial epoch. Next we have the Pliocene period, divided into its later portion (the Newer Pliocene) which includes the Glacial epoch of the northern hemisphere; and its earlier portion (the Older Pliocene), represented by the red and coralline crag of England, and deposits of similar age in the continent. During this earlier epoch the climate was not very dissimilar from that which now prevails; but we next get evidence of a still earlier period, the Miocene, when a warmer climate prevailed in Europe, and the whole fauna and flora were very different. This is perhaps the most interesting portion of the tertiary deposits, and furnishes us with the most valuable materials for our present study. Further back still we have the Eocene period, with apparently an almost tropical climate in Europe; and here we find a clue to some of the most puzzling facts in the distribution of living animals. Our knowledge of this epoch is however very imperfect; and we wait for discoveries that will elucidate some of the mystery that still hangs over the origin and migrations of many important families. Beyond this there is a great chasm in the geological record as regards land animals; and we have to go so far back into the past, that when we again meet with mammalia, birds, and land-reptiles, they appear under such archaic forms that they cease to have any local or geographical significance, and we can only refer them to wide-spread classes and orders. For the purpose of elucidating geographical distribution, therefore, it is, in the present state of our knowledge, unnecessary to go back beyond the tertiary period of geology.
The remains of Mammalia being so much more numerous and important than those of other classes, we shall at first confine ourselves almost exclusively to these. What is known of the birds, reptiles, and fishes of the tertiary epoch will be best indicated by a brief connected sketch of their fossils in all parts of the globe, which we shall give in a subsequent chapter.
Historic Period.--In tracing back the history of the organic world we find, even within the limits of the historical period, that some animals have become extinct, while the distribution of others has been materially changed. The Rytina of the North Pacific, the dodo of Mauritius, and the great auk of the North Atlantic coasts, have been exterminated almost in our own times. The kitchen-middens of Denmark contain remains of the capercailzie, the Bos primigenius, and the beaver. The first still abounds farther north, the second is extinct, and the third is becoming so in Europe. The great Irish elk, a huge-antlered deer, probably existed almost down to historic times.
Pleistocene or Post-Pliocene Period.-We first meet with proofs of important changes in the character of the European fauna, in studying the remains found in the caverns of England and France, which have recently been so well explored. These cave-remains are probably all subsequent to the Glacial epoch, and they all come within the period of man's occupation of the country. Yet we find clear proofs of two distinct kinds of change in the forms of animal life. First we have a change clearly traceable to a difference of climate. We find such arctic forms as the rein-deer, the musk-sheep, the glutton, and the lemming, with the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros of the Siberian ice-cliffs, inhabiting this country and even the south of France. This is held to be good proof that a sub-arctic climate prevailed over all Central Europe ; and this climate, together with the continental condition of Britain, will sufficiently explain such a southward range of what are now arctic forms.
But together with this change we have another that seems at first sight to be in an exactly opposite direction. We meet with numerous animals which now only inhabit Africa, or South Europe, or the warmer parts of Asia. Such are, large felines some closely related to the lion (Felis spelæa), others of altogether extinct type (Machairodus) and forming the extreme development of the feline race ;-hyænas ; horses of two or more species; and a hippopotamus. If we go a little further back, to the remains furnished by the gravels and brick-earths, we still find the same association of forms. The reindeer, the glutton,
the musk-sheep, and the woolly rhinoceros, are associated with several other species of rhinoceros and elephant; with numerous civets, now abundant only in warm countries; and with antelopes of several species. We also meet here with a great extension of range of forms now limited to small areas. The Saiga antelope of Eastern Europe occurs in France, where wild sheep and goats and the chamois were then found, together with several species of deer, of bear, and of hyæna. A few extinct genera even come down to this late period, such as the great sabre-toothed tiger, Machairodus; Galeotherium, a form of Viverridæ; Palæospalax, allied to the mole; and Trogontherium, a gigantic form of beaver.
We find then, that even at so early a stage of our inquiries we meet with a problem in distribution by no means easy to solve. How are we to explain the banishment from Europe in so short a space of time (geologically speaking) of so many forms of life now characteristic of warmer countries, and this too during a period when the climate of Central Europe was itself becoming warmer? Such a change must almost certainly have been due to changes of physical geography, which we shall be better able to understand when we have examined the preceding Pliocene period. We may here notice, however, that so far as we yet know, this great recent change in the character of the fauna is confined to the western part of the Palæarctic region. In caves in the Altai Mountains examined by Prof. Brandt, a great collection of fossil bones was discovered. These comprised the Siberian rhinoceros and mammoth, and the cave hyæna; but all the others, more than thirty distinct species, are now living in or near the same regions. We may perhaps impute this difference to the fact that the migration of Southern types into this part of Siberia was prevented by the great mountain and desert barrier of the Central Asiatic plateau ; whereas in Europe there was at this time a land connection with Africa. Postpliocene deposits and caverns in Algeria have yielded remains resembling the more southern European types of the Postpliocene period, but without any admixture of Arctic forms; showing, as we might expect, that the glacial cold did not