Imágenes de página
PDF

formed in a few years from sand-banks composed of similar materials, on the shores of tropical seas.

Frequent discoveries have also been made of human bones, and rude works of art, in natural caverns, sometimes enclosed in stalactite, at other times in beds of earthy materials, which are interspersed with bones of extinct species of quadrupeds. These cases may likewise be explained by the common practice of mankind in all ages, to bury their dead in such convenient repositories. The accidental circumstance that many caverns contained the bones of extinct species of other animals, dispersed through the same soil in which human bodies may, at any subsequent period have been buried, affords no proof of the time when these remains of men were introduced.

Many of these caverns have been inhabited by savage tribes, who, for convenience of occupation, have repeatedly disturbed portions of soil in which their predecessors may have been buried. Such disturbances will explain the occasional admixture of fragments of human skeletons, and the bones of modern quadrupeds, with those of extinct species, introduced at more early periods, and by natural causes.

Several accounts have been published within the last few years of human remains discovered in the caverns of France, and the province of Liege, which are described as being of the same antiquity with the bones of Hyamas, and other extinct quadrupeds, that accompany them. Most of these may probably admit of explanation by reference to the causes just enumerated. In the case of caverns which form the channels of subterranean rivers, or which are subject to occasional inundations, another cause of the admixture of human bones, with the remains of animals of more ancient date, may be found in the movements occasioned by running water.*

* Since this work was m the press, the author has seen at Liege the CHAPTER XII.

General History of Fossil Organic Remains.

As "the variety and formation of God's creatures in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms" are specially marked out by the founder of this Treatise, as the subjects from which he desires that proofs should be sought of the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator; I shall enter at greater length into the Evidences of this kind, afforded by fossil organic remains, than I might have done, without such specific directions respecting the source from which my arguments are to be derived. I know not how I can better fulfil the object thus proposed, than by attempting to show that the extinct species of Animals and Vegetables which have, in former Periods, occupied our Planet, afford in their fossil remains, the same evidences of contrivance and design that have been shown by Ray, Derham, and Paley, to pervade the structure of existing Genera and species of organized Beings.

very extensive collection of fossil Bones made by M. Schmerling in the caverns of that neighbourhood, and has visited some of the places where they were found. Many of these bones appear to have been brought together like those in the cave of Kirkdale, by the agency of Hyrenas, and have evidently been gnawed by these animals: others, particularly those of Bears, are not broken, or gnawed, but are probably collected in the same manner as the bones of Bears in the cave of Gailenreuth, by the retreat of these animals into the recesses of caverns on the approach of death; some may have been introduced by the action of water..

The human bones found in these caverns are in a state of less decay than those of the extinct species of beasts; they are accompanied by rude flint knives and other instruments of flint and bone, and are probably derived from uncivilized tribes that inhabited the caves. Some of the human bones may also be the remains of individuals who, in more recent times, may have been buried in such convenient repositories.

M. Schmerling, in his Recherches sur lea Osscmens Fossiles des Cavernes de Liege, expresses his opinion that these human bones are coeval with those of the quadrupeds, of extinct species, found with them; an opinion from which the Author, after a careful examination of M. Schmerling's collection,entirely dissents.

From the high preservation in which we find the remains of animals and vegetables of each geological formation, and the exquisite mechanism which appears in many fossil fragments of their organization, we may collect an infinity of arguments, to show that the creatures from* which all these arc derived were constructed with a view to the varying conditions of the surface of the Earth, and to its gradually increasing capabilities of sustaining more complex forms of organic life, advancing through successive stages of perfection.*

* When we speak of different forms of animal life, as possessing various degrees of perfection, wo do not impute to any creature the presence of absolute imperfection,- wc mean only, that animals of more simple struoture discharge a lower office in the gradually descending scale of animated beingsAll perfection has relation to the object proposed to be attained by each form of organization that occurs- in nature, and nothing oan be called imperfect which fully accomplishes the end proposed: thus,, a Polype, or an Oyster, arc as perfectly adapted to their functions at the bottom of the sea, as the wings of the Eagle are perfeet, as organs of rapid passage through the air, and the feet of the stag perfect, in regard to their functions af affecting swift locomotion.upon the land.

Unusual deviations from ordinary structure appear monstrosities only, until considered with reference to their peculiar use, but are proved to be instruments of perfeot contrivance, when we understand the nature ef the- service to which they are applied: thus; the beak of the Cross Bill (Loaia curvirostra, Linn_) would be an awkward instrument if applied to the ordinary service of the beaks of the Passcrene Order, to which this bird belongs; but viewed in relation to its peculiar function of extracting seeds from between the indurated scales of Fir cones, it is at once seen to be an instrument of perfect adaptation to its intended work.

The Perfection of an organized Body is usually considered to be in proportion to the Variety and compound Nature of its parts, as the imperfection is usually considered to be in the Ratio of its Simplicity,.

Few facts are more remarkable in the history of the progress of human discovery, than that it should have been reserved almost entirely for the researches of the present generation, to arrive at any certain knowledge of the existence of the numerous extinct races of animals, which occupied the surface of our planet in ages preceding the creation of man. The rapid progress which, during the last half century, has been made in the physical sciences, enables us now to enter into the history of Fossil Organic Remains, in a manner which till within a very few years, would have been quite impracticable; during these years the anatomy of extinct species of Quadrupeds has been most extensively investigated, and the greatest of comparative anatomists has devoted much of his time and talent to illustrate their organization. Similar inquiries have been carried on also by a host of other enlightened and laborious individuals, conducting independent researches in various countries since the commencement of the present century; hence our knowledge of the osteology of a large number of extinct genera and species, now rests on nearly the same foundation, and is established with scarcely less certainty,- than the anatomical details of those creatures that present their living bodies to our examination.

We can hardly imagine any stronger proof of the Unity of Design and Harmony of Organizations that have ever pervaded all animated nature, than we find in the fact established by Cuvier, that from the character of a single limb, and even of a single tooth or bone, the form and proportions of the other bones, and condition of the entire Animal may be inferred. This law prevails, no less universally, throughout the existing kingdoms of animated nature, than in those various races of extinct creatures that have preceded the present tenants of our planet; hence not only the frame work of the fossil skeleton of an extinct animal, but also the character of the muscles, by which each bone was moved, the external form and figure of the body, the food and habits, and haunts, and mode of life of creatures that ceased to exist before the creation of the human race, can with a high degree of probability be ascertained.

Concurrent with this rapid extension of our knowledge of the comparative anatomy of extinct families of the ancient inhabitants of the earth, has been the attention'paid to fossil Conchology; a subject of vast importance in investigating the records of the changes that have occurred upon the surface of our globe.

Still more recently, the study of botanists has been directed to the History of fossil vegetables; and although from the late hour at which this subject has been taken up, our knowledge of fossil plants is much in arrear of the progress made in Anatomy and Conchology, we have already a mass of most important evidence, showing the occurrence of a series of changes in vegetable life, coextensive and contemporaneous with those that have pervaded both the higher and lower orders of the animal kingdom.

The study of Organic Remains, indeed, forms the peculiar feature and basis of modern Geology, and is the main cause of the progress this science has made, since the commencement of the present century. We find certairv families of Organic Remains pervading strata of every age, under ^nearly the same generic forms which they present among existing organizations.* Other families, both of animals and. vegetables, are limited to particular formations, there being certain points where entire groups ceased to exist, and were replaced by others of a different character.. The changes of genera and species are still more frequent; hence, it has been well observed, that to attempt an investigation of the structure and revolutions of. the earth, without applying minute attention to the evidences afforded by

* E. g. The Nautilus, Echinus, Terebratula, and various forms of Corals;; and among.Plants, the Ferns, Lycopodiacez, and Palms.

« AnteriorContinuar »