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CHAPTER XII

THE EARLY USERS OF STONE

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F the conditions in which, long before the dawn of history, early man lived on the earth we

know little that is certain. The first traces of his existence are the weapons and domestic implements of chipped flint that he learnt to make thousands of years before he became a worker in metals. Some of these, from the geological beds in which they are found, would make the presence of man in Western Europe date back farther than is generally accepted. It is a matter of dispute, however, whether their chipped condition is due to primitive human workmanship or to natural causes, such as a torrent sweeping them over a rocky bed. Even where the chipping is undoubtedly man's work it cannot always be dated from the position in the rocks where the flints are found. This is usually at various depths in the gravels of the present river system, but in many cases the condition of the flints is proof that they have been washed into their present situation from an older rock formation. As has been said, the land surface of the earth is in a continual state of unmaking and remaking. The hills being most exposed to weathering and denudation are gradually reduced, and their material laid down as sand and gravel along river beds. These may be raised so much by the accumulation of débris and by earth movements that the river has to abandon its old channel and begins to cut out a new valley. Thus in the course of ages hills become valleys and valleys become hills.

During the geological epochs that witnessed the evolution of the modern mammal species we have evidence that North-west Europe underwent a transition from tropical to temperate, and afterward to glacial conditions. During some of the time a great part of England was sunk beneath the sea to a depth of about five hundred feet, and afterward raised to much the present level. The North Sea and the English Channel did not exist, the north-west coast of Europe stretching to the 100-fathom line west of Scotland and Ireland. While it was submerged, and afterward, the climate continued Arctic, and after the upheaval the northern part of Great Britain was buried beneath an ice sheet from 1500 to 3000 feet in thickness. This did not reach south of the Thames, and in the eastern counties of England as many as four different layers of rock débris left by melting glaciers are sometimes found, showing that during the Ice Age there were milder periods in which the area of perpetual ice moved northward.

The oldest flint implements are usually found either in deposits left by glaciers or in river deposits laid down when the Ice period had passed. It is often difficult to distinguish between these, and thus it cannot be said to be established beyond dispute whether man was living here and in North-west Europe before the period of intense cold set in, and, if he was, whether he survived its rigours. The discovery, however, of Piltdown man points to a very early appearance of the human race in this part of the world, and flint implements are sometimes found in association with the bones of animals, including the stag, roe-deer, cave-bear, horse, hippopotamus, straight-tusked elephant, and urus, which we know existed here before the Ice Age, since their remains occur in rocks formed earlier.

Buried in river-borne deposits, perhaps a dozen feet below the present surface of the earth, we often find

the level on which the men of the Old Stone Age lived and worked. Where there was a supply of flints for the weapons which were all they had with which to face the mammoth and the rhinoceros wesometimes come across the work

shops where those SHA

who were skilled in the art of fashioning them pursued their calling. There are

the finished imple

ments, the rough PALÆOLITHIC PICK

flakes, the heaps of unworked flints, the hammer-stones, just as ancient man left them when a flood came and buried the materials of his craft in a layer of gravel and mud. It was probably a very early flint-worker who, watching the sparks fly as he struck flakes from the core with his hammer-stone, made the greatest of all the material discoveries in the history of men—the art of getting fire.

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We can trace in the flints the gradual development of man's skill and of his wants. We find at first no implements deliberately chipped. Fragments and flakes of flint have been adapted to the purposes of hammering, cutting, piercing, rubbing, and scraping. Then we come across clear and more or less successful attempts to make a certain pattern of tool from a fragment of flint. Weapons are invented next, and man, who had hitherto trapped and pursued with stick and stone only the smaller animals, and fled from the greater, now found that, armed with his flint daggers, axes, spears, and harpoons, he could hunt the stag and the antelope, and was not entirely helpless against the dreaded mammoth, rhinoceros, hyena, jackal, and wolf. The skilled worker in flint would be a man of mark in a community of Old Stone men.

Caverns in limestone rock produced by rivers and underground streams, and recesses in cliff-faces overhung by a ledge of rock, provided shelters from which, no doubt, man often ousted the cave-bear, hyena, and lion, the wolf, and the fox, defending at night the approaches to his hard-won dwelling by fire, that invention which put the strongest animal at a disadvantage. Often, no doubt, some catastrophe put an end to the human occupation of a cave, and wild beasts resumed possession of it until man, their puny but subtle enemy, dislodged them again. Remains of extinct carnivorous animals found in such places show that some of them were of extraordinary size. The skull of a cave-bear is almost two feet in length, and the skulls of the cave-lion and sabre-toothed tiger are much larger than those of their modern representatives. No doubt Ancient Stone man, the hunter, was often enough the pursued and the prey.

Probably he liked his shelter to be difficult of access, for there were human enemies to be feared as well as wild beasts, and preferred it when it was high above the level of the river which had formed it, especially as it was then less likely to be flooded. But when caves were the only houses any cave would in most cases be

HEAD OF SABRE-TOOTHED TIGER'

desirable, and we know from the mud deposits and what they contain that the flooded river sometimes drove our Old Stone man to escape in haste, leaving behind him all his belongings, his dressed skins, his ornaments, the meat he had killed, and, bitterest loss of all, his flint axes and knives. Such caves, once accessible to the flood, are now often high above waterlevel, the river having in some cases hollowed out its valley an additional hundred feet, a result that it would take an enormous period of time to achieve. Usually they are almost filled by silt, deposited during floods or by the trickling of streams through the roof above, and

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