The Antiquity of Man Historically Considered
Genesis 1:26-27
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea…

I. The problem of the antiquity of man has to the historian two stages. In the first, it is a matter wholly within the sphere of historical investigation, and capable of being determined, if not with precision, at any rate within chronological limits that are not very wide, i.e., that do not exceed a space of two or three centuries. In the further or second stage, it is only partially a historical problem; it has to be decided by an appeal to considerations which lie outside the true domain of the historian, and are to a large extent speculative; nor can any attempt be made to determine it otherwise than with great vagueness, and within very wide limits — limits that are to be measured not so much by centuries as by millennia. The two stages which are here spoken of correspond to two phrases which are in ordinary use — "Historic man" and "Prehistoric man." In pursuing the present inquiry, we shall, first of all, examine the question, to what length of time history proper goes back — for how many centuries or millennia do the contemporary written records of historic man indicate or prove his existence upon the earth? The result is, that for the "Old Empire" we must allow a term of about seven centuries or seven centuries and a half; whence it follows that we must assign for the commencement of Egyptian monarchy about the year B.C. 2500, or from that to B.C. 2650. This is the furthest date to which "history proper" can be said, even probably, to extend. It is capable of some curtailment, owing to the uncertainty which attaches to the real length of the earlier dynasties, but such curtailment could not be very considerable. The history of man may then be traced from authentic sources a little beyond the middle of the third millennium before our era. It is true and safe to say that man has existed in communities under settled government for about four thousand five hundred years; but it would not be safe to say that he had existed in the condition which makes history possible for any longer term.

II. What is the probable age of "prehistoric man"? for how long a time is it reasonable to suppose that mankind existed on the earth before states and governments grew up, before writing was invented, and such a condition of the arts arrived at as we find prevailing in the time when history begins, e.g., in Egypt at the Pyramid period, about B.C. 2600, and in Babylonia about two centuries later. Professor Owen is of opinion that the space of "seven thousand years is but a brief period to be allotted to the earliest civilized and governed community" — that of Egypt; nay, he holds that such a period of "incubation," as he postulates, is so far from extravagant that it is "more likely to prove inadequate" for the production of the civilization in question. This is equivalent to saying that we must allow two thousand five hundred years for the gradual progress of man from his primitive condition to that whereto he has attained when the Pyramid kings bear sway in the Nile valley. Other writers have proposed a still longer term, as ten thousand, fifteen thousand, or even twenty thousand years. Now, here it must be observed, in the first place, that no estimate can be formed which deserves to be accounted anything but the merest conjecture, until it has been determined what the primitive condition of man was. To calculate the time occupied upon a journey, we must know the point from which the traveller set out. Was, then, the primitive condition of man, as seems to be supposed by Professor Owen, savagery, or was it a condition very far removed from that of the savage? "The primeval savage" is a familiar term in modern literature; but there is no evidence that the primeval savage ever existed. Rather, all the evidence looks the other way. "The mythical traditions of almost all nations place at the beginnings of human history a time of happiness, perfection, a 'golden age,' which has no features of savagery or barbarism, but many of civilization and refinement." The sacred records, venerated alike by Jews and Christians, depict antediluvian man as from the first "tilling the ground," "building cities," "smelting metals," and "making musical instruments." Babylonian documents of an early date tell, similarly, of art and literature having preceded the great Deluge, and having survived it. The explorers who have dug deep into the Mesopotamian mounds, and ransacked the tombs of Egypt, have come upon no certain traces of savage man in those regions, which a widespread tradition makes the cradle of the human race. So far from savagery being the primitive condition of man, it is rather to be viewed as a corruption and a degradation, the result of adverse circumstances during a long period of time, crushing man down, and effacing the Divine image wherein he was created. Had savagery been the primitive condition of man, it is scarcely conceivable that he could have ever emerged from it. Savages, left to themselves, continue savages, show no signs of progression, stagnate, or even deteriorate. There is no historical evidence of savages having ever civilized themselves, no instance on record of their having ever been raised out of their miserable condition by any other means than by contact with a civilized race. The torch of civilization is handed on from age to age, from race to race. If it were once to be extinguished, there is great doubt whether it could ever be re-lighted. Doubtless, there are degrees in civilization. Arts progress. No very high degree of perfection in any one art was ever reached per saltum. An "advanced civilization" — a high amount of excellence in several arts — implies an antecedent period during which these arts were cultivated, improvements made, perfection gradually attained. If we estimate very highly the civilization of the Pyramid period in Egypt, if we regard the statuary of the time as equalling that of Chantrey, if we view the great pyramid as an embodiment of profound cosmical and astronomical science, or even as an absolute marvel of perfect engineering construction, we shall be inclined to enlarge the antecedent period required by the art displayed, and to reckon it, not so much by centuries, as by millennia. But if we take a lower view, as do most of those familiar with the subject — if we see in the statuary much that is coarse and rude, in the general design of the pyramid a somewhat clumsy and inartistic attempt to impress by mere bulk, in the measurements of its various parts and the angles of its passages adaptations more or less skilful to convenience, and even in the "discharging chambers" and the "ventilating shafts" nothing very astonishing, we shall be content with a shorter term, and regard the supposed need of millennia as an absurdity. There is in truth but one thing which the Egyptians of the Pyramid period could really do surprisingly well; and that was to cut and polish hard stone. They must have had excellent saws, and have worked them with great skill, so as to produce perfectly flat surfaces of large dimensions. And they must have possessed the means of polishing extremely hard material, such as granite, syenite, and diorite. But in other respects their skill was not very great. Their quarrying, transport, and raising into place of enormous blocks of stone is paralleled by the Celtic builders of Stonehenge, who are not generally regarded as a very advanced people. Their alignment of their sloping galleries at the best angle for moving a sarcophagus along them may have been the result of "rule of thumb." Their exact emplacement of their pyramids so as to face the cardinal points needed only a single determination of the sun's place when the shadow which a gnomon cast was lowest. Primitive man, then, if we regard him as made in the image of God — clever, thoughtful, intelligent, from the first, quick to invent tools and to improve them, early acquainted with fire and not slow to discover its uses, and placed in a warm and fruitful region, where life was supported with ease — would, it appears to the present writer, not improbably have reached such a degree of civilization as that found to exist in Egypt about B.C. 2600, within five hundred or, at the utmost, a thousand years. There is no need, on account of the early civilization of Egypt, much less on account of any other, to extend the "prehistoric period" beyond this term. Mere rudeness of workmanship and low condition of life generally is sometimes adduced as an evidence of enormous antiquity; and the discoveries made in cairns, and caves, and lake beds, and kjokkenmoddings are brought forward to prove that man must have a past of enormous duration. But it seems to be forgotten that as great a rudeness and as low a savagism as any which the spade has ever turned up still exists upon the earth in various places, as among the Australian aborigines, the bushmen of South Africa, the Ostiaks and Samoyedes of Northern Asia, and the Weddas of Ceylon. The savagery of a race is thus no proof of its antiquity. As the Andaman and Wedda barbarisms are contemporary with the existing civilization of Western Europe, so the palaeolithic period of that region may have been contemporary with the highest Egyptian refinement. Another line of argument sometimes pursued in support of the theory of man's extreme antiquity, which is of a semi. historic character, bases itself upon the diversities of human speech. There are, it is said, four thousand languages upon the earth, all of them varieties, which have been produced from a single parent stock — must it not have taken ten, fifteen, twenty millennia to have developed them? Now here, in the first place, exception may be taken to the statement that "all languages have been produced from a single parent stock," since, if the confusion of tongues at Babel be a fact, as allowed by the greatest of living comparative philologists, several distinct stocks may at that time have been created. Nor has inductive science done more as yet than indicate a possible unity of origin to all languages, leaving the fact in the highest degree doubtful. But, waiving these objections, and supposing a primitive language from which all others have been derived, and further accepting the unproved statement, that there are four thousand different forms of speech, there is, we conceive, no difficulty in supposing that they have all been developed within the space of five thousand years. The supposition does not require even so much as the development of one new language each year. Now, it is one of the best attested facts of linguistic science, that new languages are being formed continually. Nomadia races without a literature, especially those who have abundant leisure, make a plaything of their language, and are continually changing its vocabulary. "If the work of agglutination has once commenced," says Professor Max Muller, "and there is nothing like literature or science to keep it within limits, two villages, separated only for a few generations, will become mutually unintelligible." Brown, the American missionary, tells us of some tribes of Red Indians who left their native village to settle in another valley, that they became unintelligible to their forefathers in two or three generations. Moffatt says that in South Africa the bulk of the men and women of the desert tribes often quit their homes for long periods, leaving their children to the care of two or three infirm old people. "The infant progeny, some of whom are beginning to lisp, while others can just master a whole sentence, and those still further advanced, romping together through the livelong day, become habituated to a language of their own. The more voluble condescend to the less precocious, and thus from this infant Babel proceeds a dialect of a host of mongrel words and phrases, joined together without rule, and in the course of one generation the entire character of the language is changed." Castren found the Mongolian dialects entering into a new phase of grammatical life, and declared that "while the literary language of the race had no terminations for the persons of the verb, that characteristic feature of Turanian speech had lately broken out in the spoken dialects of the Buriatic and the Tungusic idioms near Njestschinsk in Siberia." Some of the recent missionaries in Central America, who compiled a dictionary of all the words they could lay hold of with great care, returning to the same tribe after the lapse of only ten years, "found that their dictionary had become antiquated and useless." When men were chiefly nomadic, and were without a literature, living, moreover, in small separate communities, linguistic change must have proceeded with marvellous rapidity, and each year have seen, not one new language formed, but several. The linguistic argument sometimes takes a different shape. Experience, we are told, furnishes us with a measure of the growth of language, by which the great antiquity of the human race may be well nigh demonstrated. It took above a thousand years for the Romance languages — French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Wallachian, and Roumansch, or the language of the Grisons — to be developed out of Latin. Must it not have taken ten times as long to develop Latin and its sister tongues — Greek, German, Celtic, Lithuanian, Sclavonic, Zend, Sanskrit — out of their mother speech? Nor was that mother speech itself the first form of language. Side be side with it, when it was a spoken tongue, must have existed at least two other forms of early speech, one the parent of the dialects called Semitic — Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Phoenician, Assyro-Babylonian, etc. — the other bearing the same relation to the dialects of the nomad races scattered over Central and Northern Asia — the Tungusic, Mongolic. Turkic, Samoyedic, and Finnic — which are all "radii from a common centre," and form a well-established linguistic family. But these three mighty streams, which we may watch rolling on through centuries, if not millennia, distinct and separate one from another, are not wholly unconnected. If we trace them back as far as the records of the past allow, we shall find that "before they disappear from our sight in the far distance, they clearly show a convergence towards one common source." Widely different, therefore, as they are, both in grammar and vocabulary, they too must have had a common parent, have been developed out of a still earlier language, which stood to them in the relation that Latin bears to Italian, Spanish, and French. But in what a length of time? If the daughter languages of the Latin were only developed in the space of a thousand years, and Latin, with its sister tongues, required ten or twenty times as long to be developed out of the primitive Aryan speech, how much longer a time must have been needed for the formation from one common stock of the primitive Aryan, the primitive Semitic, and the primitive Turanian types! When from reasoning of this kind — regarded as valid — the conclusion is deduced, that "twenty-one thousand years is a very probable term for the development of human language in the shortest line," we can only feel surprise at the moderation of the reasoner. But the reasoning is invalid on several grounds.(a) The supposed induction is made from a single instance — the case of Latin and its daughter tongues. To prove the point, several cases parallel to that of Latin should have been adduced.(b) The time which it took for Latin to develop into Italian, Spanish, Wallachian, etc., assumed to be known, is not known. No one can say when Italian was first spoken. All that we know is, when it came to be a literary language. The fact seems to be that the Gauls and Spaniards, even the provincial Italians, learnt Latin imperfectly from the first, clipped it of its grammatical forms, corrupted its vocabulary, introduced phonetic changes consonant with their own habits and organs of speech. Languages nearer to Spanish and Italian than to classical Latin were probably spoken generally in Spain and Italy, while Latin was still the language of the capital and of polite society.(c) Linguistic development is not, in fact, equal in equal times. On the contrary, there are periods when changes are slow and gradual, while there are others when they take place with extraordinary rapidity. English altered between Chaucer and Shakespeare very greatly more than it has changed between Shakespeare and the present day. Changes are greatest and most rapid before there is a literature; consequently, in the early stages of a language's life. And they are facilitated by the absence of intercourse and isolation of tribe from tribe, which is the natural condition of mankind before states have been formed and governments set up. In the infancy of man linguistic change must almost certainly have progressed at a rate very much beyond that at which it has moved within the period to which history reaches back. It is as impossible, therefore, to measure the age of language by the period — supposing it known — which a given change occupied, as it would be to determine the age of a tree by the rate of growth noted at a particular time in a particular branch. The diversities of physical type have also been viewed as indicating a vast antiquity for man, more especially when taken in connection with supposed proof that the diversities were as great four thousand years ago as they are now. The main argument here is one with which history has nothing to do. It is for physiologists, not for historians, to determine how long it would take to develop the various types of humanity from a single stock. But the other point is an historical one, and requires to be considered here. Now, it is decidedly not true to say that all, or anything like all, the existing diversities of physical type can be traced back for four thousand years, or shown to have existed at the date of B.C. 2100.

III. Further, there are a certain number of positive arguments which may be adduced in favour of the "juvenility" of man, or, in other words, of his not having existed upon the earth for a much longer period than that of which we have historical evidence. As, first, the population of the earth. Considering the tendency of mankind to "increase and multiply," so that, according to Mr. Malthus, population would, excepting for artificial hindrances, double itself every twenty-five years, it is sufficiently astonishing that the human race has not, in the space of five thousand years, exceeded greatly the actual number, which is estimated commonly at a thousand millions of souls. The doubling process would produce a thousand millions from a single pair in less than eight centuries. No doubt, "hindrances" of one kind or another would early make themselves felt. Is it conceivable that, if man had occupied the earth for the "one hundred or two hundred thousand years" of some writers, or even for the "twenty-one thousand" of others, he would not by this time have multiplied far beyond the actual numbers of the present day? Secondly, does not the fact that there are no architectural remains dating back further than the third millennium before Christ indicate, if not prove the (comparatively) recent origin of man? Man is as naturally a building animal as the beaver. He needs protection from sun and rain, from heat and cold, from storm and tempest. How is it that Egypt and Babylonia do not show us pyramids and temple towers in all the various stages of decay, reaching back further and further into the night of ages, but start, as it were, with works that we can date, such as the pyramids of Ghizeh and the ziggurat of Urukh at Mugheir? Why has Greece no building more ancient than the treasury of Atreus, Italy nothing that can be dated further back than the flourishing period of Etruria (B.C. 700-500)? Surely, if the earth has been peopled for a hundred thousand, or even twenty thousand years, man should have set his mark upon it more than five thousand years ago. Again, if man is of the antiquity supposed, how is it that there are still so many waste places upon the earth? What vast tracts are there, both in North and South America, which continue to this day untouched primeval forests?

IV. The results arrived at seem to be that, while history carries back the existence of the human race for a space of four thousand five hundred years, or to about B.C. 2600, a prehistoric period is needed for the production of the state of things found to be then existing, which cannot be fairly estimated at much less than a millennium. If the Flood is placed about B.C. 3600, there will be ample time for the production of such a state of society and such a condition of the arts as we find to have existed in Egypt a thousand years later, as well as for the changes of physical type and language which are noted by the ethnologist. The geologist may add on two thousand years more for the interval between the Deluge and the Creation, and may perhaps find room therein for his "palaeolithic" and his "neolithic" periods.

(G. Rawlinson, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

WEB: God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

Proofs of the Divine in Man
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