Darwins forerunners especially in France and England

The biblical view of the permanence of species expressed by Linnaeus' sentence "Species tot sunt diversae, quot diversas formas ab initio creavit infinitum ens'' was the underlying dogma of the Genesis and the Judaic and Christian tradition. Although animal fossils had been described long before Darwin's theory was published, they were interpreted as witnesses of "lost worlds'' within cataclysm models and not as evidence of a real historical-genetic process.

Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), the outstanding French comparative anatomist, did pioneering research on mammalian fossils and contributed to the selfconsciously new science of geology. He began to understand that fossils truly represent remains of once-living organisms and argued for the reality of extinction caused by sudden physical events, so-called "catastrophes.'' Cuvier first opened up a geohistorical perspective that is now appreciated as his most important legacy to science (Rudwick 1997). Besides this, he adamantly rejected "transformist'' explanations. Although he was doubly on the wrong track and his remark "l'homme fossile n'existe pas'' slowed the development of thinking on human evolution, Rudwick's interpretation of the primary texts demystified Cuvier, who was one of the first to professionally plan his research. His approach had an important influence on the scientists of his time.

One of the outstanding opponents of catastrophism was Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875), British geologist and popularizer of uniformitarianism. He formulated one of the most basic principles of modern geology, the belief that fundamentally the same geological processes that operated in the distant past also operate today. Principles of Geology, his specific work in the field of stratigraphy, was the most influential geological work in the middle of the nineteenth century and did much to put geology on a modern footing.

In spite of much progress in natural scientific thinking, the early explanatory approaches of evolutionary theorists were not able to replace traditional views. All pre-Darwinian explanations of diversity and variability were regarded as just another story of natural history because they failed to explain the driving force of evolution.

The evolutionary theory of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1744-1829) proved to be a nonvalid explanation for transformation. However, Charles Darwin (18091882) looked upon this retrospectively as an "... eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition" (Darwin 1861, preface).

While Lamarck's theory triggered Darwin's evolutionary thinking on "transmutation" of species, it was foremost Lyell's Principles of Geology and Thomas Malthus' essay on the Principle of Population (which stated that the population size is limited by the food resources available) that inspired Darwin to his multifaceted approach to deciphering the biological principles of evolution. He defined the fundamentals and described evolution as a self-organizing process by a mutation-selection mechanism without the necessity of a creator or deus ex machina. The driving force of this event, natural selection, codiscovered by Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913), is the central explanation of the evolutionary process.

Darwin's and Wallace's legacy, the theory of natural selection, ultimately led to a paradigmatic change, a totally new view of the development of life systems including human origins. The vintage philosophical questions "Who are we?,'' "Where do we come from?,'' and "Where are we going?'' were transferred from the metaphysical and the philosophical to a biological focus. They created new and important existential questions. Kuhn (1962) saw the truly revolutionary aspect of Darwin's theory not in its evolutionism but powerful rejection of the traditional, teleological view of nature. How explosive Darwin's evolutionary theory was, and how conscious Darwin was of this, is reflected in the fact that he hesitated to deal with the questions of human evolution. The first edition of his classical opus On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (Darwin 1859) provides proof of this feeling of insecurity. It took him twelve years to publish his ideas in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (Darwin 1871). His innovative focus on human origins set the context for many of the themes of paleoanthro-pology during the following century. The anthropological challenge within the dynamic evolutionary concept was how to explain ourselves without compromising our posture. Altner (1981a p 3) verbalizes the existential problem as follows: "Der neuzeitliche Mensch ist aus allen ihn ubergreifenden Sinnbezügen herausgefallen und auf sich selbst und sein Werden zurückgeworfen.''

Evolutionary thinking was widespread during the nineteenth century as various science historians have shown. Bowler (1988 p 5) suggests in this context: "... that Darwin's theory should be seen not as the central theme in the nineteenth-century evolutionism but as a catalyst that helped to bring about the transition to an evolutionary viewpoint within an essentially non-Darwinian conceptual framework.''

Nowadays we know that most late nineteenth-century evolutionism was non-Darwinian as "... it succeeded in preserving and modernizing the old teleological view of things''; however, it was a revolution "... in the sense that it required the rejection of certain key aspects of creationism,'' as Bowler (1988 p 5) says (see also Desmond and Moore 1991). The heart of Darwin's materialism, the theory of natural selection, had little impact until the twentieth century. For this reason, the Darwinian Revolution did not take place in the second half of the nineteenth century and remained incomplete until the synthesis with genetics in the twenties and thirties of the last century. But even after this breakthrough, there was no straight scientific approach in paleoanthropology, until anthropologists appreciated the essential corollary of Darwin's theory that we are only "another unique species'' (Foley 1987).

In retrospect, it becomes obvious that the earliest "evidences'' of human evolution were disregarded and misinterpreted. Fossils do not speak, but they give silent witness which is a dictum in paleontology. One can only get morphological, ecological, or taxonomical information within a concise methodological approach. Apparently easy paleoanthropological questions about the space and place of human origins do not necessarily have easily obtainable answers, and for this reason it requires rigorous efforts to establish a sophisticated research design and adequate methodology to find solutions for the key questions given earlier (See the section "Why a scientific historical approach to paleoanthropology?'').

As an evolutionary substratum was missing at the time when William Buckland (1784-1856), professor at the University of Oxford, discovered the first human fossil, the "Red Lady of Paviland'' at Goat's Hole in South Wales in 1823, he totally misinterpreted this 26-ka old find (Sommer 2004). Buckland considered the skeleton as of postdiluvian age and was unwilling to attribute any great antiquity to the Upper Paleolithic fossil skeleton.

"For most of the nineteenth century, no one believed or anticipated discoveries that would demonstrate a history of humans and their ancestors stretching back over more than a few thousand years,'' write Trinkaus and Shipman (1993 p 9). Although savants struggled with evolutionary ideas for decades, the belief persisted that the human past differed from the present only in the "primitive-ness'' of the ancient peoples, not in their very essence and being. Starting in the twenties of the nineteenth century, there sprang up one local natural history society after another. The Red Lady inspired the hunt for human fossils and artifacts. Kent's Cavern in Torquay Devon, today recognized as one of the most important archeological sites in the British Isles, was excavated by John MacEnery and William Pengelly (Sackett 2000). They discovered an Upper Paleolithic skeleton in association with flaked stone tools. John Lubbock, the foremost British archeologist at that time, refused the report on "modern savages'' written by Godwin-Austin and considered the findings as "improbable'' (Trinkaus and Shipman 1993).

Phillipe-Charles Schmerling, a Belgian physician and anatomist, unearthed an infantile skull in 1829/1830 in Engis near Liege, which was diagnosed later as a Neanderthal fossil. The Engis child was the first specimen of its kind to be discovered (Schmerling 1833). During the same period, Casimir Picard, a physician and avid archeologist, was excavating prehistoric stone tools in France. His passion was experimental approaches to archeology as he attempted to make and use stone artifacts like those that were being found in excavations. Due to inadequate chronology of the artifact-bearing horizons, he was not able to calibrate some of his stone tools as Neolithic. But his experiments led him to conclusions about how the tools were manufactured. Picard developed for the first time systematic excavation techniques and a stratigraphic approach. While his innovative research was without wider impact on archeological progress, he impressed his friend Boucher de Perthes. This most influential aristocrat, who combined his romantic views on human origins with archeological fieldwork, argued for the existence of Pleistocene—or as he said pre-Celtic—humans, but his findings were at first disregarded by the scientific community. When in 1864 some of his findings were published in The Anthropological Review, the comment of the scientific board was downright British: "We abstain at the present from offering any comment on the above'' (Trinkaus and Shipman 1993 p 44). Although Boucher de Perthes could not avoid the image of flamboyant enthusiast and "madman,'' there finally came a change in the assessment of the hand axes as genuine tools. Finally, the precise excavation of the gravel beds of the Somme at St Acheul by the French amateur naturalist Marcel-Jerome Rigollot (1786-1854) impressed a group of outstanding British colleagues, among others Charles Lyell, and led to the acceptance of the claim that the hand axes were associated with extinct mammal bones—but where did this leave the human fossils? (Klein and Edgar 2002).

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