23 JUNE 1939, Page 28


THOSE who look upon the deplorable state of man in Europe and in Eastern Asia today may be excused if they feel them- selves drawn towards one or the other of two desperate theories. There is the doctrine of hylomorphism, teaching us that all forms of life have been evolved fortuitously out of the mere mess of primordial matter without the inter- vention of a governing intelligence; and there is the more familiar doctrine of the temporary success of evil powers. But the study of man's antiquity may serve to counter these doctrines of despair. It is infinitely soothing to contemplate the pleistocene origins of the negro or to meditate upon the immense age of a Chellean hand-axe. Speaking relatively, man has only just entered upon the historic level. Our troubles today are merely the brief episodes of an inter- glacial phase, and humanity has before it a future of un- imaginable duration in which it will have time, let us hope, to grow a little wiser.

Mr. Casson is a pleasant writer and his book is easy to read. He tells in simple terms the story of man's interest in the problems of his material nature, the story of anthropology and archaeology, and remotely of anatomy too. His outline, upon the whole, is commendable. The first part of the book, where he writes upon the early stages of the investigation, is admirably constructed. We are told of the very begin- nings of anthropological speculation at Miletus ; for it was here that Anaximander declared that man was produced " from animals of a different sort," while Archelaus gave evidence of rational inspiration when he spoke of the origin of life in humble couches of slime and ooze. Mr. Casson reveals with a terse felicity the progress of Greek thought, and he analyses clearly the unhappy decline of speculation within the Christian period. He shows how much we owe to men like Cyriac of Ancona who, early in the fifteenth century, became a palaeographer and archaeologist of surpris- ing enterprise. He shows how science is hampered always by military and religious interference, by the obstinate Christian as much as by the invading Turk; though we must never forget the ethnological work of the Jesuits in South America. He then follows the incredibly rapid advance of anthropological studies from the eighteenth century to the present day.- But Mr. Casson has nothing to say about the objective examination of the psyche (though he has much to say about Frazer) which is by no means the least impor- tant part of the study of man.

In the second half of his book Mr. Casson is less happy. We have to complain of omission, and also, I fear, of a few lapses. For example, we might well have been told of the homo diluvii testis (" the man who saw the deluge"); actually a fossil salamander, one of the famous jokes in archaeological history. We might also have been told some- thing of the popular " thunderbolt " idea concerning polished axes. Speaking of polished axes, Mr. Casson is evidently unaware of the distribution of material between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, and of the now rectified use of the term " neolithic"; the remains of the true neolithic are by no means " innumerable." Mr. Casson is wrong in saying that dryopithecus represents an ancestral form of an existing anthropoid, for dryopithecus disappeared about the middle of the pliocene epoch. He is also wrong in speaking of the "long half-million years " in which man has existed as homo sapiens. The term homo sapiens refers exclusively to a certain anatomical type, and our evidence proves that such a type has not been in existence for half a million years, or even for a quarter of a million years. So, too, it is merely a fantastic exaggeration to say that you can trace men " back into the remotest vistas of imaginable time." By the standard of geological time, at any rate, man is only a recent and unimportant intrusion. I do not follow Mr. Casson, either, when he associates Troy with " the wildest scenery in Greece "; for Troy is not in Greece, and the landscape of the Troad (as I know well) is remarkably gentle. Mr. Casson states that he has omitted the names of "minor men." Is Tournal one of these? Yet it was Tournal who said, precisely no years ago: " Geology alone can give us some idea of the epoch of the first appearance of man." Is the Abbe Breuil, one of the principal figures in modern archaeology, another " minor man"? Is there nothing to be said for Dechelette, for Montelius and Obermaier, Cartailhac, Marcellin Boule and Arthur Keith? And why does Mr. Casson fail to mention our Swanscombe skull, probably the only human relic of the Acheul period? Mr. Casson is excellent as an historian, but he has something to learn as an