By: AB Van Riper
288 pages, 5 tabs, 11 line illus
A. Bowdoin Van Riper provides an account of how Victorian scientists raised and resolved the question of human antiquity. During the early part of the 19th century, scientists divided the history of the earth into a series of "former worlds," populated by mammoths and other prehistoric animals, and a "modern world," in which humans lived. According to this view, the human race was no older than 6000 years. The discovery of tools with mammoth bones, however, prompted a group of British geologists to argue in 1859 that the origin of humankind dated back to prehistoric times. The idea of prehistoric human origins threatened long-cherished religious beliefs and set off an intense debate among scientists as well as members of the clergy and the educated public. Van Riper chronicles this debate within the context of Victorian science, showing how the notion of human antiquity forced Victorians to redefine their assumptions about human evolution and the relationship of science to Christianity. The new study of human prehistory also crossed the boundaries of scientific disciplines, and the once-distinct fields of geology, archaeology and anthropology were drawn together to study early human life. Van Riper shows how, from the beginning, the study of human prehistory was an interdisciplinary endeavour.
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