Page images

tribes inhabiting it had no knowledge or tradition of any preceding race of higher civilisation than themselves. Yet we find that such a race existed ; that they must have been populous and have lived under some established government; while there are signs that they practised agriculture largely, as, indeed, they must have done to have supported a population capable of executing such gigantic works in such vast profusion ; for it is stated that the mounds and earthworks of various kinds in the state of Ohio alone, amount to between eleven and twelve thousand. In their habits, customs, religion, and arts, they differed strikingly from all the Indian tribes; while their love of art and of geometric forms, and their capacity for executing the latter upon so gigantic a scale, render it probable that they were a really civilised people, although the form their civilisation took may have been very different from that of later peoples, subject to very different influences and the inheritors of a longer series of ancestral civilisations. We have here, at all events, a striking example of the transition, over an extensive country, from comparative civilisation to comparative barbarism, the former leaving no tradition and hardly any trace of its influence on the latter.

As Mr. Mott well remarks :-Nothing can be more striking than the fact that Easter Island and North America both give the same testimony as to the origin of the

savage life found in them, although in all circumstances and surroundings the two cases are so different. If no stone monuments had been constructed in Easter Island, or mounds containing a few relics saved from fire, in the United States, we might never have suspected

the existence of these ancient peoples. He argues, therefore, that it is very easy for the records of an ancient nation's life entirely to perish or to be hidden from observation. Even the arts of Nineveh and Babylon were unknown only a generation ago, and we have only just discovered the facts about the mound-builders of North America.

But other parts of the American continent exhibit parallel phenomena. Recent investigations show that in Mexico, Central America, and Peru the existing race of Indians has been preceded by a distinct and more civilised race.

This is proved by the sculptures of the ruined cities of Central America, by the more ancient terra-cottas and paintings of Mexico, and by the oldest portrait-pottery of Peru. All alike show markedly non-Indian features, while they often closely resemble modern European types. Ancient crania, too, have been found in all these countries, presenting very different characters from those of any of the existing indigenous races of America.1

The Great Pyramid.—There is one other striking example of a higher being succeeded by a lower degree of knowledge, which is in danger of being forgotten because it has been made the foundation of theories which seem wild and fantastic, and are probably in great part erroneous. I allude to the Great Pyramid of Egypt, whose form, dimensions, structure, and uses have recently been the subject of claborate works by Prof. Piazzi Smyth. Now the admitted facts about the pyramid are so interesting and so apposite to the subject

1 Wilson's Prehistoric Man, 3rd edit. vol. ii. pp. 125, 144.

we are considering, that I beg to recall them to your attention. Most of you are aware that this pyramid has been carefully explored and measured by successive Egyptologists, and that the dimensions have lately become capable of more accurate determination, owing to the discovery of some of the original casing-stones, and the clearing away of the earth from the corners of the foundation showing the sockets in which the cornerstones fitted. Prof. Smyth devoted many months of work with the best instruments, in order to fix the dimensions and angles of all accessible parts of the structure; and he has carefully determined these by a comparison of his own and all previous measures, the best of which agree pretty closely with each other. The results arrived at are >

1. That the pyramid is truly square, the sides being equal and the angles right angles.

2. That the four sockets on which the four first stones of the corners rested, are truly on the same level.

3. That the directions of the sides are accurately to the four cardinal points.

4. That the vertical height of the pyramid bears the same proportion to its circumference at the base, as the radius of a circle does to its circumference.

Now all these measures, angles, and levels are accurate, not as an ordinary surveyor or builder could make them, but to such a degree as requires the very best modern instruments and all the refinements of geodetical science to discover any error at all. In addition to this we have the wonderful perfection of the workmanship in the interior of the pyramid, the passages and chambers being lined with huge blocks of stones fitted with the

utmost accuracy, while every part of the building exhibits the highest structural science.

In all these respects this largest pyramid surpasses every other in Egypt. Yet it is universally admitted to be the oldest, and also the oldest historical building in the world.

Now these admitted facts about the Great Pyramid are surely remarkable, and worthy of the deepest consideration. They are facts which, in the pregnant words of the late Sir John Herschel, “according to received theories ought not to happen,” and which, he tells us, should therefore be kept ever present to our minds, since“ they belong to the class of facts which serve as the clue to new discoveries.” According to modern theories, the higher civilisation is ever a growth and an outcome from a preceding lower state ; and it is inferred that this progress is visible to us throughout all history and in all material records of human intellect. But here we have a building which marks the very dawn of history, which is the oldest authentic monument of man's genius and skill, and which, instead of being far inferior, is very much superior to all which followed it. Great men are the products of their age and country, and the designer and constructors of this wonderful monument could never have arisen among an unintellectual and half-barbarous people. So perfect a work implies many preceding less perfect works which have disappeared. It marks the culminating point of an ancient civilisation, of the early stages of which we have no trace or record whatever.

The three cases to which I have now adverted (and there are many others) seem to require for their satis

factory interpretation a somewhat different view of human progress from that which is now generally accepted. Taken in connection with the great intellectual power of the ancient Greeks--which Mr. Galton believes to have been far above that of the average of any modern nation—and the elevation, at once intellectual and moral, displayed in the writings of Confucius, Zoroaster, and the Vedas, they point to the conclusion that, while in material progress there has been a tolerably steady advance, man's intellectual and moral development reached almost its highest level in a very remote past. The lower, the more animal, but often the more energetic types have, however, always been far the more numerous; hence such established societies as have here and there arisen under the guidance of higher minds have always been liable to be swept away by the incursions of barbarians. Thus in almost every part of the globe there may have been a long succession of partial civilisations, each in turn succeeded by a period of barbarism ; and this view seems supported by the occurrence of degraded types of skull along with such as might have belonged to a philosopher,” at a time when the mammoth and the reindeer inhabited southern France.

Nor need we fear that there is not time enough for the rise and decay of so many successive civilisations as this view would imply ; for the opinion is now gaining ground among geologists that palæolithic man was really preglacial, and that the great gap (marked alike by a change of physical conditions and of animal life) which in Europe always separates him from his neolithic successor, was caused by the coming on and passing away of the great ice age.

« EelmineJätka »