Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). A Book-Lovers Holidays in the Open. 1916.
VIII PRIMEVAL MAN;
AND THE HORSE, THE LION, AND THE ELEPHANT
TO say that progress goes on and has gone on at unequal speed in different continents, so far as human society is concerned, is so self-evident as to be trite. Yet, after all, we hardly visualize even this fact to ourselves; and we laymen, at least, often either disregard or else frankly forget the further fact that this statement is equally true as regards the prehistory of mankind and as regards the paleontological history of the great beasts with which he has been associated on the different continents during the last two or three hundred thousand years. In history, a given century may on one continent mean what on another continent was meant by a century that came a thousand years before or a thousand years later. In prehistory and paleontology there is the same geographical difference as regards the rapidity of development in time.
The Soudan under the Mahdi at the end of the nineteenth century was in religious, industrial, and social life, in fact in everything except mere time, part of the evil Mohammedan world of the seventh century. It had no relation to the contemporary body politic of humanity except that of being a plague-spot. The Tasmanians, Bushmen, and Esquimaux of the eighteenth century had nothing in common with the Europeans of their day. Their kinship, physical and cultural, was with certain races of Palæolithic Europeans and Asiatics fifty or a hundred thousand years back.
In just the same way the fierce wild life of parts of Africa to-day has nothing in common with what we now see in Europe and the Americas. Yet in its general aspect, and in many of its most striking details, it reproduces the life that once was, in Europe and in both the Americas, in what paleontologists call the Pleistocene age. By Pleistocene is meant that periodof incalculable length as we speak of historic time, but a mere moment if we speak of geologic timewhich witnessed in Europe and Asia the slow change of the brute-like and but partly human predecessors of man into beings who were culturally on a level with the lower forms of the savages that still exist, and some of whom were physically, as far as we can see, abreast of the more advanced races of to-day.
Surely, this phase in the vast epic of life development on this planet offers a fascinating study. The history of man himself is by far the most absorbing of all histories, and it cannot be understood without some knowledge of his prehistory. Moreover, the history of the rest of the animal world also yields a drama of intense and vivid interest to all scholars gifted with imagination. The two historiesthe prehistory of humanity and the history of the culminating phase of non-human mammalian lifewere interwoven during the dim ages when man was slowly groping upward from the bestial to the half-divine.
It was my good fortune throughout one year of my life to roam, rifle in hand, over the empty, sunlit African wastes, and at night to camp by palm and thorn-tree on the banks of the African rivers. Day after day I watched the thronging herds of wild creatures and the sly, furtive human life of the wilderness. Often and often, as I so watched, my thoughts went back through measureless time to the ages when the western lands, where my people now dwell, and the northern lands of the eastern world, where their remote forefathers once dwelt, were filled with just such a wild life. In those days these far-back ancestors of ours led the same lives of suspicion and vigilant cunning among the beasts of the forest and plain that are now led by the wildest African savages. In that immemorial past the beasts conditioned the lives of men, as they conditioned the lives of one another; for the chief factors in man's existence were then the living things upon which he preyed and the fearsome creatures which sometimes made prey of him. Ages were to pass before his mastery grew to such a point that the fanged things he once had feared, and the hoofed things success in the chase of which had once meant to him life or death, became negligible factors in his existence.
Some of the naked or half skin-clad savages whom I met and with whom I hunted were still leading precisely the life of these ages-dead forebears of ours. More than once I spent days in heavy forests at the foot of equatorial mountains in company with small parties of 'Ndorobo hunters. They were men of the deep woods, as stealthy and wary as any of the woodland creatures. In each case they knew and trusted my companionwho was in one instance a settler, a famous lion hunter, and in the other a noted professional elephant hunter. Yet even so their trust did not extend to letting a stranger like himself see their women and children, who had retreated into some forest fastness from which we were kept aloof. The men wore each a small fur cape over the shoulders. Otherwise they were absolutely naked. Each carried a pouch, and a spear. The spear head was of iron, obtained from some of the settled tribes. Except this iron spear head, not one of their few belongings differed from what it doubtless was long prior to the age of metals. They carried bows, strung with zebra gut, and arrows of which the wooden tips were poisoned. In one place Kermit found where a party of them had dwelt in a cave, evidently for many weeks; there were bones and scraps of skin without and within; and inside were beds of grass, and fire-sticks, and a walled-off enclosure of branches in which their dogs had been penned. Elsewhere we came on one or two camping-places with rude brush shelters. Each little party consisted of a family, or perhaps temporarily of two or three families. They did not cultivate the earth; they owned a few dogs; and they lived on honey and game. They killed monkeys and hyraxes, occasionally forest hog and bongoa beautifully striped forest antelope as big as a Jersey cowand now and then elephant, rhino, and buffalo, and, on the open plains at the edge of the forest, zebra. The zebra was a favorite food; but they could only get at it when it left the open plains and came among the bushes or to drink at the river. Two of these wild hunters showed me the bones of an elephant they had killed in a pit a long time previously; and the head man of those we had with us on another trip bore the scars of frightful wounds inflicted by an angered buffalo. Hyenas at times haunted the neighborhood, and after nightfall might attempt to carry off a child or even a sleeping man. Very rarely the hunters killed a leopard, and sometimes a leopard pounced on one of them. The lion they feared greatly, but it did not enter the woods, and they were in danger from it only if they ventured on the plain. The head man above mentioned told us that once, when desperate with hunger, his little tribe, or family group, had found a buffalo killed by a lion, and had attacked and slain the lion, and then feasted on both it and the buffalo. But on another occasion a lion had turned the tables and killed two of their number. The father of one of my guides had been killed by baboons; he had attacked a young one with a club, and the old males tore him to pieces with their huge dog teeth. Death to the head of a family in encounter with an elephant or rhino might mean literal starvation to the weaker members. They were able to exist at all only because they had developed their senses and powers to a degree that placed them level with the creatures they dreaded or preyed upon. They climbed the huge trees almost as well as the big black-and-white monkey. I had with me gun-bearers from the hunting tribes of the plains, men accustomed to the chase, but brought up in villages where there was tillage and where goats and cattle were raised. These gun-bearers of mine were good trackers and at home in the ordinary wilderness. But compared to these true wild men of the forest they might almost as well have been town-bred. The 'Ndorobo trackers would take me straight to some particular tree or spot of ground, through miles of dense, steaming woodland every rood of which looked like every other, returning with unerring precision to a goal which my gun-bearers would have been as helpless to find again as I was myself; and they interpreted trails and signs and footprint-scrapes which we either hardly saw or else misread.
Doubtless the ancestors, or some of the ancestors, of these men had lived in the land, just as they themselves now did, for untold generations before the soil-tillers and cattle-owners came into it. They had shrunk from the advent of the latter, and as a rule were found only in isolated tracts which were useless for tillage or pasturage, the dense forest forming their habitual dwelling-place and retreat of safety. From the best hunting-grounds, those where the great game teemed, they had been driven; yet these hunting-grounds were often untenanted by human beings for much of the year, being visited only at certain seasons by the cattle-owning nomads.
Often these hunting-grounds offered sights of wonder and enchantment. Day after day I rode across them without seeing, from dawn to sundown, a human being save the faithful black followers, hawk-eyed and steel-thewed, who trudged behind me. Sometimes the plains were seas of wind-rippled grass. Sometimes they were dotted with clumps of low thorn-trees or broken by barren, boldly outlined hills. Our camp might be pitched by a muddy pool, with only stunted thorns near by; or on the edge of a shrunken river, under the dense shade of some great, brilliantly green fig-tree; or in a grove of huge, flat-topped acacias with yellow trunks and foliage like the most delicate lace; or where the long fronds of palms moved with a ceaseless, dry rustle in the evening breeze. At the drinking-holes, in pond or river, as the afternoon waned, or occasionally after nightfall when the moon was bright, I sometimes lay to see the game filing down to drink.
On these rides, I continually passed through, and while lying in ambush I often saw, a wealth of wild life, in numbers and variety such as the western world, and the cold-temperate regions of the Old World, have not seen for many, many thousands of years. How many kinds of beasts there were! Giraffes stared at us over the tops of the stunted thorn-trees. In the dawn we saw hyenas shambling homeward after their night's prowl. Wart-hogs as hideous as nightmares ploughed along with their fore knees on the ground as they rooted it up. Sleek oryx with horns like rapiers galloped off with even, gliding gait. Shaggy wildebeests curvetted and plunged with a ferocity both ludicrous and sinister; elands as heavy as prize cattle trotted away with shaking dewlaps. Ungainly hartebeests, and topi whose skins had the sheen of satin, ran with smooth speed. The lyre-horned waterbucks had the stately port of wapiti bulls. Rhinoceros, foolish, mighty, and uncouth, stood half asleep in the bright sunlight. Buffalo sought the shade of the thorn-trees, their bodies black and their great horn-bosses glinting white. Hippos snorted and gambolled in the water. Dominant always, wherever we saw them, were the lion and the elephant; and the favorite prey of the lion was the zebra, the striped wild horse of the African wastes.
Of course, these many different creatures were not all to be seen at any one time or in any one place. But again and again there were so many of them that we felt as if we were passing through a gigantic zoological garden. Often the line of our burden-bearing carriers had to be shifted from its point of march, to avoid a rhinoceros which stared at us with dull and truculent curiosity; while the zebra herds filed off with barking cries across the sunlit plain, and delicate gazelles, dainty as wood-sprites, fled like shadows, and hartebeests gazed toward us with long, homely faces; or we stopped to watch a herd of elephants, cows and calves, browsing among the thorns, their curling trunks raised now and then to test the wind, or perhaps one big ear lifted and then slapped back against the body.
One day at noon, in the Sotik country of East Africa, we stopped to skin a hyena which I had shot for the Smithsonian. As we skinned it the game of the neighborhood gathered to look on. The spectators included wildebeest, hartebeest, gazelle, topi, a zebra, and a rhinocerosthe hook-lipped kind. Late that afternoon I shot a lioness; the successive reports of the rifle and the grunting roars of the lioness, put to flight a mixed herd of zebra and hartebeest which had hitherto been unconcernedly grazing not far off to one side of the scene of action.
On another day as I journeyed along the valley of the Guaso Nyerofirst at the head of the safari, as it travelled through the green forest of the river-bed, and then with only my gun-bearers, through the hot, waterless, sun-scorched country back from the riverI saw rhino, giraffe, buffalo, eland, oryx, waterbuck, impalla, big gazelle, and gerenuk or giraffe-gazelle. After camping, toward evening, I walked up-stream, away from the tents, until I came to a spot where the river ran through a wild, rugged ravine. On the hither side I found the carcasslittle more than the skeletonof a zebra which had been killed by a couple of lions as it came to drink the previous night. It was evidently a favorite drinking-place, for broad game trails led down to the river at this point from both banks. As I sat and watched, a herd of zebra approached cautiously from the opposite side. There were in it representatives of two species of these gaudily marked wild horses or wild asses, the common zebra and the much, bigger northern zebra with longer ears and more numerous and narrower stripes. The herd advanced, avoiding cover as much as possible, continually halting, once wheeling and galloping back, ever seeking with eye and nostril some token of the presence of their maned and tawny foe. At last the leader walked down through a break in the bank to the river. The others crowded close behind, jostling one another as they sank their muzzles in the water. For a moment fear left them, and they satisfied their thirst, and those that were through first then stood while the rearmost drank greedily. But as soon as one of them began to move back to the shore the others became uneasy and followed, and the whole herd broke into a gallop and tore off for a couple of hundred yards. Looking at them it was easy enough to bring before one's eyes the tragedy of the preceding night; the herd nearing the water, wary, but not wary enough, the panic flight as the lion dashed among them, the struggling and the neighing screams of the victim before the great teeth found the life they sought. The herd I watched was not assailed; it cantered off; oryx and waterbuck came down to drink and also cantered off. The carcass of the murdered zebra, little but bones and shreds of red sinew and scraps of skin, lay not far from me. Footprints showed where the lions had drunk after eating. As the long afternoon lights waned, a hyena, abroad earlier than usual, began to call somewhere in the distance. The lonely gorge was rather an eerie place as darkness fell, and I strode toward camp, alone, keeping a sharp lookout round about; and as I walked and watched in a present that might be dangerous, my thoughts went back through the immeasurable ages to a past that was always dangerous; to the days when our hairy and low-browed forefathers, under northern skies, fingered their stone-headed axes as they lay among the rocks in just such a ravine as that I had quitted, and gazed with mingled greed and terror as the cave-lion struck down his prey and scattered the herds of wild horses for whose flesh they themselves hungered.
Once in East Africa I stalked a hook-lipped rhino, a big bull with good horns. I wished its skin and skeleton for the Smithsonian. When a hundred and fifty yards off I stopped for a moment by an ant-hill and looked around over the wide plain. There were in sight a couple of giraffes, some solitary old wildebeest bulls, showing black against the bleached yellow grass, and herds of hartebeest, topi, big and little gazelle, and zebra. On another occasion, when with Kermit, we inspected three rhinos at close quarters, came to the conclusion that none of them would make good specimens, and backed off cautiously a couple of hundred yards to a big ant-hill. From this point, there were in sight all the kinds of game mentioned above except the giraffe and little gazelle, and in addition there were ostrich and wart-hog.
One night when we were camped on the western bank of the upper White Nile we heard a mighty chorus. Lions roared and elephants trumpeted, and in the papyrus beds, beneath the low bluff on which our tents stood, hippopotamus bellowed and blew like the exhaust-pipes of huge steam-engines. Next day I hunted the giant square-mouth rhinoceros, killing a cow and a bull, and taking their skins and the skeleton of one for the Smithsonian. On the walk out, and but a mile or two from camp, we had passed a small herd of elephants; and on our return we found them in the same place, still resting, with many white cow-herons perched on their backs. From where I stood looking at them hartebeest, kob, waterbuck, and oribi were also all in sight.
I could mention day after day such as these, when we saw myriads of game, often of many kinds. One afternoon of heat and sunlight on the parched Kapiti plains, teeming with wild life, I followed a lion, on horseback. During the gallop he ran for several minutes almost in the middle of a mixed herd of hartebeest and zebra. When he came to bay, I walked in on him. In the background the barren hills, "like giants at a hunting lay." Bands of hartebeests and of showy zebras, joined by grotesquely capering wildebeests and by lovely, long-horned gazelles, stood round in a wide, irregular ring, to see their two foes fight to the death. Another day, at burning noon, in a waste of sparsely scattered, withered thorn-trees, west of Redjaf on the upper Nile, I killed a magnificent giant eland bull; and during the hunt I saw elephant, giraffe, buffalo, straw-colored Nile hartebeest, and roan antelope, as big as horses, with shining coats which melted in ghostly fashion into the shimmering heat haze of the dry landscape.
In short, for months my companions and I travelled and hunted in the Pleistocene. Man and beasts alike were of types our own world knew only in an incalculably remote past. My gun-bearers were really men such as those of later Palæolithic times. Now and then I spent days with hunters whose lives were led under conditions that the people of my race had not faced for ages; probably not since before, certainly not since immediately after, the close of the last glacial epoch. The number and variety of the great game, the terror inspired by some of the beasts of prey, the bulk and majesty of some of the beasts of the chase, were such as are unknown in the rest of the modern world; and nothing like them has been seen in the western and northern world since the Pleistocene.
Many of these great and beautiful beasts were of kinds which either have developed in Africa itself, and have never wandered to the other continents, or else had disappeared from these other continents before man appeared upon the earth. But three of the most characteristic of these beasts, the lion, the elephant, and the horse, were spread over almost the whole of this planet at the time when man as man had fairly begun his hunting. These three beasts then abounded in Europe and in Asia, in North America, and in South America. In each of these continents they were among the dominant types of a fauna as rich, varied, and impressive as only that of Africa is to-day.
When I speak of "elephant," "lion," and "horse" I am speaking of the beasts themselves, not their names in our vernacular. As regards two of these three animals, the horse and the big horse-killing cat, we have no common names to include the various species; whereas in the remaining case we have such a common name to include the two widely separate existing species, although we use different names to designate two well-known fossil species. We speak of both the Indian and the African proboscidians as elephants, although we style "mammoth" the recently extinct hairy elephant of the north, which was more closely related to the Asiatic elephant than the latter is to its African cousin, and although we use the word "mastodon" to denote a more primitive type of elephant also recently extinct in America. We have no such common term either for the various big cats or for the various horses. Yet the African and Asiatic elephants are far more widely separated from one another than the lion is from the tiger, or even from the jaguar. They are far more widely separated than horses, asses, and zebras are from one another. As regards both the horses and the big cats which have always preyed so largely on horses, the differences are almost exclusively in color and in features of purely external anatomy. From the skull and skeleton it is not possible to determine with certainty the lion from the tiger, and both come very close to the big spotted cats; while the skulls of the horse, the ass, and the common zebra are with difficulty to be discriminated except by sizealthough the skull of the big northernmost African zebra is totally distinct.
In consequence, when we speak of extinct horses it is often impossible to guarantee that they were not asses or zebras; and when we speak of the great extinct cats of Europe and North America as lions, we know that it is possible that in life they may have looked more like tigers. Therefore it must be understood that I use the words horse and lion as terms of convenience and in a broad sense so as to avoid circumlocution. I use them in exactly the way in which "elephant" is always used to include the two totally distinct species now living in India and Africa. By "lion" I mean any one of the big extinct cats, true cats, which in their cranial and skeletal characters are almost or quite identical with living lions and tigers and closely related to living jaguars. By "horse" I mean any existing species of horse, ass, or zebra, and any one of the numerous similar extinct species which may have belonged to any one of these three types, or have been intermediate between any two of them, or perhaps have been somewhat different from all of them. As thus used, the words horse, lion, and elephant are scientifically of nearly equivalent value.
The only region in which these three animals were not found during Pleistocene times was Australia, which was given over wholly to a relatively insignificant and undeveloped fauna of marsupials and into which it is probable that man did not intrude until at a late period. Everywhere else, from Patagonia to the Cape of Good Hope, including regions now faunistically as utterly unlike as Peru, California, Alaska, Siberia, Asia Minor, France, and Algiers, they abounded, many different and peculiar species being found. The Pleistocene gradually became part of the Age of Man; but at first it was emphatically the Age of the Horse, the Lion, and the Elephant, and the two ages overlapped for a very long period. The lion was primitive man's most deadly foe, as to this day is the case in parts of Africa. He feared the lion, and avoided him, and warred upon him, until gradually he got a little the upper hand of him. The elephant greatly impressed the imagination of this primitive man, and it still greatly impresses it; as will be seen by any one who studies the carvings and pictures of our ancestors of the glacial and postglacial epochs, or who at the present day listens to the talk of his black gun-bearers round an African camp-fire. The horse was and is a quarry as eagerly followed by primitive man as by the lion himself. Ages elapsed before the horse, and finally even "my lord the elephant" were tamed by man, as man developed something that could properly be called a culture. The savages who, when England was merely a peninsula of continental Europe, dwelt by the banks of the mighty rivers which have since shrunk into the present Rhine and Seine, looked on the mammoth and the coarse-headed wild horse of their day as furnishing the flesh their stomachs craved, precisely as the savages of the Nile and the Zambesi now look on the African elephant and the zebra.
This Age of Primitive Man, this Age of the Horse, the Lion, and the Elephant, like all other historical or geological "ages," lasted longer in some places than in others, and, instead of having sharply defined limits, merged gradually into the preceding and succeeding ages. Moreoverin exact analogy with other divisions of time, all of which, however useful, are essentially artificialwe must constantly remember that the perspective changes utterly with the point of view. All paleontological terms of time are necessarily terms chiefly of convenience, which have and express a real intrinsic value, but which cannot be sharply defined. Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Recent are such terms. They are arbitrarily chosen bits of terminology to express successive stages of the world's growth, and therefore successive and varying faunas. They are not equivalent in time to one another; the more remote the age from our own the greater is the length of time we include therein. "Recent" denotes a short period of time compared to "Pleistocene," and "Pleistocene" a short period compared to "Pliocene." If there are on this earth intelligent beings at a time in the future as remote from our day as our day is from the Pliocene, they will certainly consider "Recent" and "Pleistocene" as one short period. All the beast faunas and all the human cultures from the eras of the chinless Heidelberg and Piltdown men to our own time will seem in that remote perspective practically contemporaneous. Similarly, when we try to grasp life as lived even in such, geologically, near-by time as any portion of the Pleistocene, we cannot be sure of the exact time-parallelism of closely related faunas in different parts of the world, nor can we, in many cases, tell whether certain species were really contemporaneous or whether they were successive. Of the general paleontological facts, of the general aspects of the various faunas in various parts of the world, during some roughly indicated period of geologic time, we may be reasonably sure. But when we speak with more minuteness, we speak doubtfully, and at any moment new discoveries may unsettle theories by upsetting what we have supposed to be facts.
In considering what is in this chapter set forth these conditions must be kept in mind. When I speak of what I have myself seen or of the tools, carvings, and skeletons dug from the ground by competent observers, I speak of facts; but as yet the explanations of these facts must be accepted only as hypotheses, at least in part. Just as the elephant, wild horse, and lion exist in Africa to-day, and have disappeared from Europe and the two Americas thousands or tens of thousands of years ago, so it may well be that they had died out in North America ages before they had disappeared from the other end of the western hemisphere. Again, in North America, it is as yet quite impossible to be sure as to the exact succession, or contemporaneity of all of the many extinct species of horse and elephant. It is with our present knowledge equally impossible to be sure of the exact time relations between any given North American fauna and the Eurasiatic fauna most closely resembling it. Moreover, as yet we have only the vaguest idea of the duration of even modern geologic time; good observers vary as to whether a given period covers hundreds of thousands or only tens of thousands of years.
This does not impair the value of the general picture which we can make in our minds. It is not essentially different from what is the case in history. If we speak of the Græco-Roman world from the days of Aristides to those of Marcus Aurelius, we outline a historical period which has a real unity, and of which all the parts are bound together by real ties and real resemblances. Nevertheless, there were sharp differences in the successive cultures of this period; even the two centuries which intervened, say, between Miltiades and Demetrius Poliorketes, or between Marius and Trajan, showed such differences. Dealing roughly with the period as a whole, it would not be necessary to try to draw all the distinctions and make all the qualifications that would be essential to minutely accurate treatment; such treatment would merely mar the outlines of a general sketch. The same thing is, of course, true of an outline sketch of what our present knowledge shows of man's most wide-spread beast associates, when he had begun, in forms not very different from those of the lower savages to-day, to spread over the world's surface.
Therefore it is necessary to remember that in dealing even with such a recent chapter of paleontological discovery as that concerned with early man and the great four-footed creatures that were his contemporaries, our general picture can rarely pretend to more than general accuracy. It is only in prehistoric and protohistoric Europe that the early career of "homo sapiens" and his immediate predecessors has been worked out in sufficient detail to give even the roughest idea of its successive stages, and of the varying groups of great beasts with which at the different stages man was associated. This is because the record has been better preserved, and more closely studied in Europe than elsewhere; for it seems fairly certain that it is in Eurasia, in the palæarctic realm, that there took place the development of the more or less ape-like predecessors of man and then of man himself. It is in Eurasia that all of the remains of man's immediate predecessors have been foundfrom the Javan pithecanthropus which can only doubtfully be called human, to the Piltdown and Heidelberg men, who were undoubtedly human, but who were so much closer than any existing savage to the beasts that (unless our present imperfect knowledge proves erroneous) they can hardly be deemed specifically identical with modern homo sapiens. Even the more modern Neanderthal men are probably not ancestral to our own stock. It is in Europe, following on these predecessors of existing man, that we find the skeletons, the weapons and tools, and the carvings of existing man in his earliest stages; and mingled with his remains those of the strange and mighty beasts which dwelt beside him in the land. Probably these European forefathers of existing man came from a stock which had previously gone through its early human and prehuman stages in Asia. But we only know what happened in Europe. There was a slow, halting, and interrupted but on the whole steady development in physical typesometimes the type itself gradually changing, while sometimes it was displaced by a wholly different type of wholly different blood. Roughly parallel with this was a corresponding development in cultural type. Probably from the earliest times, and certainly in late times, development or change in physical type was often wholly unrelated to development or change in culture. Sometimes the cultural change was an autochthonous development. Sometimes it was due to a more or less complete change in blood, owing to the immigration of a strong alien type of humanity. Sometimes it was due to the adoption of an alien culture.
Many good observers nowadays, judging from the facts at present accessible, are inclined to think that the American Indian stocks were the first human stocks that peopled the western hemisphere, that they are by blood nearest of kin to certain race-elements still existing in northeastern Asiarepresenting the only inhabitants of northeastern Asia when man first penetrated from there to northwestern Americaand that more remotely they may be kin to certain late Palæolithic men of Europe. But much of the American Indian culture was essentially a Neolithic culture, seemingly from the beginning. In placesPeru, Maya-land, the Mexican plateauit at times developed into a civilization equally extraordinary for its achievements and for its shortcomings and evanescence; but it never developed a metal epoch corresponding to, say, the bronze age of the Mediterranean, and although the small camel, the llama, was tamed in South America, in North America, the ox, sheep, white goat, and reindeer were never made servants of man, as befell so many corresponding beasts of Eurasia.
In this last respect the American Indians stayed almost on the level of the African tribes, whose native civilization was otherwise far less advanced. The African buffalo is as readily tamed as its Asiatic brother; the zebra was as susceptible of taming as the early wild horse and ass; the eland is probably of all big ruminants the one that most readily lends itself to domestication. But none of them was tamed until tribes owning animals which had been tamed for ages appeared in Africa; and then the already-tamed animals were accepted in their stead. The asses, cattle, sheep, and goats of Asia are now the domestic animals of the negroes and of the whites in Africa, merely because it is easier, more profitable, and more convenient to deal with animals already accustomed for ages to the yoke of domestic servitude than to again go through the labor incident to changing a wild into a tame beast.
It is probable that during the immense stretch of time which in Europe covered the growth of the various successive Palæolithic, and finally Neolithic, culturesthe "old-stone" ages during which man used stone implements which he merely chipped and flaked, and the "new-stone" age in which he ground and polished themthere happened time and again what has happened in the history and prehistory of man in Africa and North America. One of the incidents in this parallelism is the way in which the inhabitants accepted animals already trained and brought from elsewhere rather than attempt to train the similar beasts of their own forests. Doubtless the reason why the European bison is not a domestic animal is exactly the same as the reason why the American bison and African buffalo are not domestic animals. The northern European hunting savages were displaced or subjugated by, or received a higher culture from, tribes bringing from Asia or from the Mediterranean lands the cattle they had already tamed. The same things happened, in Africa south of the Sahara while it was still shrouded from civilized vision, and in America since the coming of the European.
These hunting savages existed for ages, for hundreds of thousands of years, in Europe. During this period of timeimmense by historic standards, yet geologically a mere momentmany different human types succeeded one another. The climate swung to and from glacial to subtropical; fauna succeeded fauna. One group of species of big beasts succeeded another as the climate and plant life changed; and then itself gave place to a third; and perhaps once more resumed its ancient place as the physical conditions again became what they once had been. At certain periods the musk-ox, the reindeer, the woolly rhinoceros, and the hairy mammoth, together with huge cave-bears, were found; at other periods southern forms of elephant and rhinoceros, and such tropical creatures as the hippopotamus, replaced the beasts of the snow land. Horses of different species were sometimes present in incredible numbers. There were species of wild cattle, including the European bison, and the urus or aurochsspoken of by Cæsar, and kin to, and doubtless partly ancestral to, the tame ox. The cave-lion, perhaps indistinguishable from the modern African lion, was the most formidable beast of prey. I say "perhaps" indistinguishable, for we cannot be quite certain. Some of the races of cave-dwelling men were good artists, and carved spirited figures of mammoth, rhinoceros, bison, horse, reindeer, and bear on ivory, or on the walls of caves. The big lion-like cats appear only rarely in these pictures.
In most cases the arctic and warm-temperate or near-tropical animals supplanted one another only incompletely as the waves of life advanced and receded when the climate changed. This seems a rather puzzling conjunction. The explanation is twofold. When the climate changes, when it becomes warmer, for instance, northern creatures that once were at home in the lowlands draw off into the neighboring highlands, leaving their old haunts to newcomers from the south, while nevertheless the two faunas may be only a few miles apart; just as in Montana and Alberta moose and caribou in certain places were found side by side with the prongbuck. Moreover, some species possess an adaptability which their close kin do not, and can thrive under widely different temperature conditions. A century ago the hippopotamus was found in the temperate Cape Colony, close to mountain ranges climatically fit for the typical beasts of north-temperate Eurasia. In Arizona at the present day mammals and birds of the Canadian fauna live on the mountain tops around the bases of which flourish animals characteristic of the tropical Mexican plateau; the former having been left stranded on high mountain islands when, with the retreat of the glaciers, the climate of the United States grew warmer and the tide of southern life-forms swept northward over the lowlands. Under such conditions the same river deposits might show a combination of utterly different faunas. Moreover, some modern animals are found from the arctics to the tropics. The American lynx extends, in closely connected forms, from the torrid deserts of Mexico to arctic Alaska; so does the mountain-sheep. The tiger flourishes in the steaming Malay forests and in snowy Manchuria. I have found the cougar breeding in the frozen, bitter midwinter among the high Rockies, in a country where snow covered the ground for six months, and where the caribou would be entirely at home; and again in Brazil under the equator, in the atmosphere of a hot-house. There were periods, during the ages before history dawned, but when man had long dwelt in Europe, in which herds of reindeer may have roamed the French and English uplands within sight of rivers wherein the hippopotamus dwelt as comfortably as he recently did at the Cape of Good Hope.
Some of the more recent of these European hunting savagesthose who were perhaps in part our own forefathers, or who perhaps were of substantially the same ethnic type as the men of the older race strains in northeastern Asia, and even possibly of the American Indiansand many of their more remote predecessors were contemporaries of the lion, the horse, and the elephant. Different species of horse and elephant succeeded one another. The earlier ones were contemporaries of the hippopotamus and of not only the lion but the sabretooth. When the hairy elephant, the mammoth, was present, the fauna also often included the cave-lion, cave-hyena, cave-bear, wolf, boar, woolly rhinoceros, many species of deer (including the moose and that huge fallow deer, the Irish elk), horses, and the bison and the aurochs. The mammoth and woolly rhinoceros died out so recently that their carcasses are discovered preserved in the Siberian ice, and the undigested food in their stomachs shows that they ate northern plants of the kinds now common, and the twigs of the conifers and other trees which still flourish in the boreal realm of both hemispheres.
The lion was doubtless the most dreaded foe of the ancient European, just as he is to this day of certain African tribes. The Palæolithic hunters slaughtered myriads of wild horses, just as the ebony-hued hunters of Africa now slaughter the zebra and feast on its oily flesh. The spirited carvings and sketches of the hairy mammoth by the later Palæolithic cave-dwellers show that the elephant of the cold northlands had impressed their imaginations precisely as the hairless elephant of the hot south now impresses the imaginations of the tribes that dwell under the vertical African sun. The rhinoceros and wild cattle of the pine forests played in their lives the part played in the lives of our contemporaries, the hunting tribes of Africa, by the rhinoceros and the buffalothe African wild oxwhich dwell among open forests of acacias and drink from palm-bordered rivers. They saw no animal like that strange creature, the African giraffe; and several kinds of deer took the place of the varied species of bovine ruminants which, in popular parlance, we group together as antelopes.
Substantially the fauna of mighty beasts which furnished the means of livelihood, and also constantly offered the menace of death, to our European forefathersor to the predecessors of our forefatherswas like that magnificent fauna which we who have travelled among the savages of present-day Africa count it one of our greatest pleasures to have seen. During the ages when the successive races of hunter-savages dwelt in Europe a similar magnificent fauna of huge and strange beasts flourished on all the continents of the globe except in Australia. In Europe it vanished in prehistoric times, when man had long dwelt in the land. In Africa south of the Sahara, and partially in spots of Asia, it has persisted to this day. In North America it died out before, or perhaps, as regards the last stragglers, immediately after, the coming of man; in South America it seems clear that it survived, at least in places, until he was well established.
The three abundant and conspicuous beasts, all three typical of the great mammalian fauna which was contemporary with the prehistoric human hunters, and all three common to all the continents on which this great mammalian fauna was found, were the lionusing the name to cover several species of huge horse-killing and man-killing cats; the elephant, including several totally different species, among them the mammoth and mastodon; and the horse, including numerous widely different species. Together with these three universally distributed animals were many others belonging to types confined to certain of the continents. Rhinoceros were found in Europe, Asia, and Africa (they had once flourished in North America but had died out long before man appeared on the globe). Camels were found in Asia, in South America, and especially in North America, which was their centre of abundance and the place where they had developed. Wild oxen were found in all the continents except South America; deer everywhere except in true Africa, zoogeographical Africa, Africa south of the Sahara. The pigs of the Old World were replaced by the entirely different peccaries of the New World. Sheep, goats, and goat-antelopes lived in Eurasia and North America. Most of the groups of big ruminants commonly called "antelopes" are now confined to Africa; but it appears that formerly various representatives of them reached America. The giraffe through this period was purely African; the hippopotamus has retreated to Africa, although in the period we are considering its range extended to Eurasia. In South America were many extraordinary creatures totally different from one another, including ground-sloths as big as elephants. Two or three outlying representatives of the ground-sloths had wandered into North America; but elsewhere there were no animals in any way resembling them. The horse, the lion, and the elephant were the three striking representatives of this vast and varied fauna which were common to all five continents.
The North American fauna of this type reached its height about the timeextending over many scores of thousands of yearswhen successive ice ages alternated with long stretches of temperate or subtropical climate throughout the northern hemisphere. During the period when this great North American fauna flourished hunter-savages of archaic type lived amid, and partly on, the great game of Europe. But, as far as we know, men did not come to America until after, or at the very end of, the time when these huge grass-eaters and twig-eaters, and the huge flesh-eaters which preyed on them, vanished from the earth, owing to causes which in most cases we cannot as yet even guess.
Much the most striking and interesting collection of the remains of this wonderful fauna is to be found near one of our big cities. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, in southern California, are asphalt deposits springing from petroleum beds in the shales below. The oil seeping up to the surface has formed shallow, spread-out pools and, occasionally, deep pits covered with water. In part of the area these pits and pools of tar have existed for scores of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, since far back in the Pleistocene. They then acted as very dangerous and efficient mammal traps and bird trapsand now continue so to act, for the small mammals and the birds of the neighborhood still wander into them, get caught in the sticky substance, and die, as I have myself seen. Moreover the tar serves as a preservative of the bones of the creatures that thus perish. In consequence some of the ancient pits and pools are filled with immense masses of the well-preserved bones of the strange creatures that were smothered in them ages ago.
Nowhere else is there any such assemblage of remains giving such a nearly complete picture of the fauna of a given region at a given time. A striking peculiarity is that the skeletons of the flesh-eaters far surpass in number the skeletons of the plant-eaters. This is something almost unique, for of course predatory animals are of necessity much less numerous than the animals on which they prey. The reversal in this case of the usual proportions between the skeletal remains of herbivorous and carnivorous beasts and birds is due to the character of the deposits. The tar round the edges of the pools or pits hardens, becomes covered with dust, and looks like solid earth; and water often stands in the tar pits after rain, while at night the shallow pools of fresh tar look like water. Evidently the big grazing or browsing beasts now and then wandered out on the hard asphalt next the solid ground, and suddenly became mired in the soft tar beyond. Probably the pits in which water stood served as traps year after year as the thirsty herds sought drink. Then each dead or dying animal became itself a lure for all kinds of flesh-eating beasts and birds, which in their turn were entrapped in the sticky mass. In similar manner, thirty years ago on the Little Missouri, I have known a grizzly bear, a couple of timber-wolves, and several coyotes to be attracted to the carcass of a steer which had bogged down in the springtime beside an alkali pool.
Another result of the peculiar conditions under which the skeletons accumulated is that an unusually large number of very old, very young, and maimed or crippled creatures were entrapped. Doubtless animals in full vigor were more apt to work themselves free at the moment when they found they were caught in the tar; and, moreover, a wolf or sabretooth which was weakened by age or by wounds received in encounter with its rivals, or with some formidable quarry, and which therefore found its usual prey difficult to catch, would be apt to hang around places where carcasses, or living creatures still feebly struggling, offered themselves to ravenous appetites.
The plant remains in these deposits show that the climate and vegetation were substantially those of California to-day, although in some respects indicating northern rather than southern California. There were cypress-trees of a kind still common farther north, manzanita, juniper, and oaks. Evidently the region was one of open, grassy plains varied with timber belts and groves. It has been said that to support such a fauna the vegetation must have been much more luxuriant than in this region at present. This is probably an error. The great game regions of Africa are those of scanty vegetation. Thick forest holds far less big animal life. Crossing the sunny Athi or Kapiti plains of East Africa, where the few trees are thorny, stunted acacias and the low grass is brown and brittle under the drought, the herds of zebra, hartebeest, wildebeest, and gazelle are a perpetual delight and wonder; and elephant, rhinoceros, and buffalo abounded on them in the days before the white man came. On the Guaso Nyero of the north, and in the Sotik, the country was even drier at the time of my visit, and the character of the vegetation showed how light the normal rainfall was. The land was open, grassy plain, or was thinly covered with thorn scrub, with here and there acacia groves and narrow belts of thicker timber growth along the watercourses, and in the Sotik gnarled gray olives. Yet the game swarmed. We watched the teeming masses come down to drink at the shrunken rivers or at the dwindling ponds beside which our tents were pitched. As the line of the safari walked forward under the brazen sky, while we white men rode at the head with our rifles, the herds of strange and beautiful wild creatures watched us, with ears pricked forward, or stood heedless in the thin shade of the trees, their tails switching ceaselessly at the biting flies. In wealth of numbers, in rich variety and grandeur of species, the magnificent fauna we then saw was not substantially inferior to that which an age before dwelt on the California plains.
This Pleistocene California fauna included many beasts which persisted in the land until our own day. There were cougars, lynxes, timber-wolves, gray foxes, coyotes, bears, prong-horn antelopes and black-tail or white-tail deer nearly, or quite, identical with the modern forms. They were the same animals which I and my fellow ranchmen hunted when, in the early eighties of the last century, our branded cattle were first driven to the Little Missouri. They swarmed on the upper Missouri and the Yellowstone when Lewis and Clark found the bison and wapiti so tame that they would hardly move out of the way, while the grizzly bears slept on the open plains and fearlessly attacked the travellers. But in the Pleistocene, at the time we are considering, the day of these modern creatures had only begun. The contents of the tar-pits show that the animals named above were few in number, compared to the great beasts with which they were associated.
The giant among these Pleistocene giants of California, probably the largest mammal that ever walked the earth, was the huge imperial elephant. This mighty beast stood at least two feet higher than the colossal African elephant of to-day, which itself is bigger than the mammoth, and as big as any other extinct elephant. The curved tusks of the imperial elephant reached a length of sixteen feet. A herd of such mighty beasts must have been an awe-inspiring sighthad there been human eyes to see it. Nor were they the only representatives of their family. A much more archaic type of elephant, the mastodon, flourished beside its gigantic cousin. The mastodon was a relatively squat creature, standing certainly four feet shorter than the imperial elephant, with comparatively small and slightly curved tusks and a flatter head. Enormous numbers of mastodons ranged over what is now the United States, and the adjacent parts of Canada and Mexico. The mastodons represented a stage farther back in the evolutionary line than the true elephants, and in the Old World they died out completely before the latter disappeared even from Europe and Siberia. But in North America, for unknown reasons, they outlasted their more highly developed kinsfolk and rivals, and there is some ground for believing that they did not completely disappear until after the arrival of man on this continent.
The elephant stock developed in the Old World, and it is probable that the true elephants were geologically recent immigrants to America, coming across the land bridge which then connected Alaska and Siberia. In California they encountered the big descendants of other big immigrants, which had reached North America by another temporary land bridge, but from another continent, South America. These were the ground-sloths, giant edentates, which reached an extraordinary development in the southern half of our hemisphere, where distant and diminutive relativestree-sloths, ant-eaters, armadillosstill live. The most plentiful of these California ground-sloths, the mylodon, was about the size of a rhinoceros; an unwieldy, slow-moving creature, feeding on plants, and in appearance utterly unlike anything now living.
Together with these great beasts belonging to stocks that in recent geologic time had immigrated hither from the Old World and from the southern half of the New World was another huge beast of remote native ancestry. This was a giant camel, with a neck almost like that of a giraffe. Camelsincluding llamasdeveloped in North America. Their evolutionary history certainly stretched through a period of two or three millionperhaps four or five millionyears on this continent, reaching back to a little Eocene ancestor no bigger than a jack-rabbit. Yet after living and developing in the land through these untold ages, over a period inconceivably long to our apprehension, the camels completely died out on this continent of their birth, although not until they had sent branches to Asia and South America, where their descendants still survive.
Two other grass-eating beasts, of large sizealthough smaller than the abovewere also plentiful. One, a bison, bigger, straighter-horned and less specialized than our modern bison, represented the cattle, which were among the animals that passed to America over the Alaskan land bridge in Pleistocene time.
The other was a big, coarse-headed horse, much larger than any modern wild horse, and kin to the then existing giant horse of Texas, which was the size of a percheron. The horses, like the camels, had gone through their developmental history on this continent, the earliest ancestor, the little four-toed "dawn horse" of the Eocene, being likewise the size of a jack-rabbit. Through millions of years, while myriads of generations followed one another, the two families developed side by side, increasing in size and seemingly in adaptation to the environment. Each stock branched into many different species and genera. They spread into the Old World and into South America. Then, suddenly,that is, suddenly in zoologic senseboth completely died out in their ancient home, and the horses in South America also, whereas half a dozen very distinct species are still found in Asia and Africa.
All these great creatures wandered in herds to and fro across the grassy Californian plains and among the reaches of open forest. Preying upon them were certain carnivores grimmer and more terrible than any now existing. The most distinctive and seemingly the most plentiful was the sabretooth. This was a huge, squat, short-tailed, heavily built cat with upper canines which had developed to an almost walrus-like length; only, instead of being round and blunt like walrus tusks, they were sharp, with a thin, cutting edge, so that they really were entitled to be called sabres or daggers. Whether the creature was colored like a lion or like a tiger or like neither, we do not know, for it had no connection with either save its remote kinship with all the cats. The sabretooth cats, like the true cats, had gone through an immensely long period of developmental history in North America, although they did not appear here as early as the little camels and horses. Far back across the ages, at or just after the close of the Eocenethe "dawn age" of mammalian lifecertain moderate-sized or small cat-like creatures existed on this continent, doubtless ancestral to the sabretooth, but so generalized in type that they display close affinities with the true cats, and even on certain points with the primitive dog creatures of the time. Age followed ageOligocene, Miocene, Pliocene. The continents rose and sank and were connected and disconnected. Vast lakes appeared and disappeared. Mountain chains wore down and other mountain chains were thrust upward. Periods of heat, during which rich forests flourished north of the arctic circle, were followed by periods of cold, when the glacial ice-cap crept down half-way across the present temperate zone. Slowly, slowly, while the surface of the world thus changed, and through innumerable reaches of time, the sabretooth cats and true cats developed along many different lines in both the Old World and the New. One form of sabretooth was in Europe with the bestial near-human things who were the immediate predecessors of the first low but entirely human savages. It was in the two Americas, however, that the sabretooth line culminated, immediately before its final extinction, in its largest and most formidable forms. This California sabretooth was not taller than a big cougar or leopard, but was probably as heavy as a fair-sized lion. Its skeletal build is such that it cannot have been an agile creature, apt at the pursuit of light and swift prey. By rugged strength and by the development of its terrible stabbing and cutting dagger teeth, that is, by sheer fighting ability, it was fitted for attack upon and battle with the massive herbivores then so plentiful. It must indeed have been a fearsome beast in close grapple. Doubtless with its sharp, retractile claws it hung onto the huge bodies of elephant, camel, and ground-sloth, of horse and bison, while the sabres were driven again and again into the mortal parts of the prey and slashed the flesh as they withdrew. It seems possible that the mouth was opened wide and stabbing blows delivered, almost as a rattlesnake strikes with raised fangs. Vast numbers of sabretooth skeletons have been found in the asphalt; evidently the strange, formidable creature haunted any region which held attraction for the various kinds of heavy game on which it preyed.
The only other carnivore as abundant as the sabretooth was a giant wolf. This was heavier than any existing wolf, with head and teeth still larger in proportion. The legs were comparatively light. Evidently, like the sabretooth, this giant wolf had become specialized as a beast of battle, fitted to attack and master the bulky browsers and grazers, but not to overtake those that were smaller and swifter. The massive jaws and teeth could smash heavy bones and tear the toughest hide; and a hungry pack of these monsters, able to assail in open fight any quarry no matter how fierce or powerful, must have spread dire havoc and dismay among all things that could not escape by flight.
There were two still larger predatory species, which were much less plentiful than either the wolf or the sabretooth. One was a short-faced cave-bear, far larger than even the huge Alaskan bear of to-day. Doubtless it took toll of the herds; but bears are omnivorous beasts, and not purely predatory in the sense that is true of those finished killers, the wolves and big cats. Unlike the wolves and cats, bears were geologically recent immigrants to America.
The other was a true cat, a mighty beast; bigger than the African lion of to-day; indeed, perhaps the biggest and most powerful lion-like or tiger-like cat that ever existed. Seemingly it was much rarer than the sabretooth; but it is possible that this seeming rarity was due to its not lurking in the neighborhood of pools and licks but travelling more freely over the wastes, being of a build fit not only for combat but for an active and wandering life. It is usually spoken of as kin to the African lion, a decidedly smaller beast. It is possible that its real kinship lies with the tiger. The Manchurian form of the tiger is an enormous beast, and a careful comparison of the skulls and skeletons may show that it equals in size the huge western American cat of Pleistocene times. I have already spoken of the fact that in many cases it is almost impossible to distinguish the lion and tiger apart by the bones alone; and it may be that the exact affinities of these recently extinct species with living forms cannot be definitely determined. But during historic and prehistoric times the lion has been a beast of western Eurasia and of Africa. The tiger, on the contrary, is and has been a beast of eastern Asia, and apparently has been spreading westward and perhaps southwardthat it was not as ancient an inhabitant of jungle-covered southern India as the elephant and leopard seems probable from the fact that it is not found in Ceylon, which island in all likelihood preserves most of the southern Indian fauna that existed prior to its separation from the mainland. Moreover, the finest form of tiger exists in cold northeastern Asia. In Pleistocene times this portion of Asia was connected by a broad land bridge with western America, where the mighty American cat then roved and preyed on the herds of huge plant-eating beasts. We know that many Asiatic beasts crossed over this land bridgethe bears, bison, mountain-sheep, moose, caribou, and wapiti, which still live both in Asia and North America, and the mammoth and cave-bears, which have died out on both continents. It is at least possiblefurther investigation may or may not show it to be more than possiblethat the huge Pleistocene cat of western America was the collateral ancestor of the Manchurian tiger. Whether it was another immigrant from Asia, or a developed form of some big American Pliocene cat, cannot with our present knowledge be determined.
Surely the thought of this vast and teeming, and utterly vanished wild life, must strongly appeal to every man of knowledge and love of nature, who is gifted with the imaginative power to visualize the past and to feel the keen delight known only to those who care intensely both for thought and for action, both for the rich experience acquired by toil and adventure, and for the rich experience obtained through books recording the studies of others.
Doubtless such capacity of imaginative appreciation is of no practical help to the hunter of big game to-day, any more than the power to visualize the long-vanished past in history helps a practical politician to do his ordinary work in the present workaday world. The governor of Gibraltar or of Aden, who cares merely to do his own intensely practical work, need know nothing whatever about any history more ancient than that of the last generation. But this is not true of the traveller. It is not even true of the politician who wishes to get full enjoyment out of life without shirking its duties. He certainly must not become a mere dreamer, or believe that his dreams will help him in practical action. But joy, just for joy's sake, has its place too, and need in no way interfere with work; and, of course, this is as true of the joy of the mind as of the joy of the body. As a man steams into the Mediterranean between the African coast and the "purple, painted headlands" of Spain, it is well for him if he can bring before his vision the galleys of the Greek and Carthaginian mercantile adventurers, and of the conquering Romans; the boats of the wolf-hearted Arabs; the long "snakes" of the Norse pirates, Odin's darlings; the stately and gorgeous war craft of Don John, the square-sailed ships of the fighting Dutch admirals, and the lofty three-deckers of Nelson, the greatest of all the masters of the sea. Aden is like a furnace between the hot sea and the hot sand; but at the sight of the old rock cisterns, carved by forgotten hands, one realizes why on that coast of barren desolation every maritime people in turn, from the mists that shroud an immemorial antiquity to our own day of fevered materialistic civilization, has seized Aden BayEgyptian, Sabean, Byzantine, Turk, Persian, Portuguese, Englishman; and always, a few miles distant, in the thirsty sands, the changeless desert folk have waited until pride spent itself and failed, and the new power passed, as each old power had passed, and then the merciless men of the waste once more claimed their own.
Gibraltar and Aden cannot mean to the unimaginative what they mean to the men of vision, to the men stirred by the hero tales of the past, by the dim records of half-forgotten peoples. These men may or may not do their work as well as others, but their gifts count in the joy of living. Enjoyment the same in kind comes to the man who can clothe with flesh the dry bones of bygone ages, and can see before his eyes the great beasts, hunters and hunted, the beasts so long dead, which thronged the Californian land at a time when in all its physical features it had already become essentially what it still continues to be.
The beast life of this prehistoric California must be called ancient by a standard which would adjudge the Egyptian pyramids and the Mesopotamian palace mounds and the Maya forest temples to be modern. Yet when expressed in geologic terms it was but of yesterday. When it flourished the Eurasian hunting savages were in substantially the same stage of progress as the African hunting savages who now live surrounded by a similar fauna. On the whole, taking into account the number, variety, and size of the great beasts, the fauna which surrounded Palæolithic man in Europe was inferior to that amid which dwell the black-skinned savages of equatorial Africa. Even Africa, however, although unmatched in its wealth of antelopes, cannot quite parallel, with its lion, elephant, and zebras, the lordlier elephant, the great horse, and the huge cat of the earlier Californian fauna; and the giraffe, the hyena, the rhinoceros, and the hippopotamus do not quite offset the sabretooth, the giant wolf, the mastodon, the various species of enormous ground-sloths, and the huge camel; the bison and buffalo about balance each other.
There were no human eyes to see nor human ears to hear what went on in southern California when it held an animal life as fierce and strange and formidable as mid-Africa to-day. The towering imperial elephants and the burly mastodons trumpeted their approach one to the other. The great camels, striding noiselessly on their padded feet, passed the clumsy ground-sloths on their way to water. The herds of huge horses and bison drank together in pools where the edges were trodden into mire by innumerable hoofs. All these creatures grew alertly on guard when the shadows lengthened and the long-drawn baying of the wolf pack heralded the night of slaughter and of fear; and the dusk thrilled with the ominous questing yawns of sabretooth and giant tiger, as the beasts of havoc prowled abroad from their day lairs among the manzanitas, or under cypress and live-oak.
The tar-pools caught birds as well as beasts. Most of these birds were modernvultures, eagles, geese, herons. But there were condor-like birds twice the size of any living condor, the biggest birds, so far as we know, that ever flew. There were also, instead of wild turkeys, great quantities of wild peacocksat least they have been identified as peacocks or similar big, pheasant-like birds. If the identification is correct, this is an unexpected discovery and a fresh proof of how this extinct American fauna at so many points resembled that of Asia. It was natural that a collateral ancestor of the present Asiatic pheasant-like birds should dwell beside a collateral ancestor of the present Asiatic tiger. 1
Moreover, the tar-pools hold human bones. These, however, are probably of much later date than the magnificent fauna above described, perhaps only a few thousand years old. They belong to a rather advanced type of man. It is probable that before man came to America at all, the earlier types had died out in Eurasia, or had been absorbed and developed, or else had been thrust southward into Africa, Tasmania, Australia, and remote forest tracts of Indo-Malaysia, where, being such backward savages, they never developed anything remotely resembling a civilization. It was probably people kin to some of the later cave-dwellers who furnished the first (and perhaps until the advent of the white man the only important) immigration to America. These immigrants, the ancestors of all the tribes of Indians, spread from Alaska to Terra del Fuego. Over most of the territory in both Americas they remained at the hunting stage of savage life, although they generally supplemented their hunting by a certain amount of cultivation of the soil, and although in places they developed into advanced and very peculiar culture communities.
When these savages reached North America it is likely, from our present knowledge, that the terrible and magnificent Pleistocene fauna had vanished, although in places the last survivors of the mastodon, and perhaps of one or two other forms, may still have lingered. What were the causes of this wide-spread, and complete, andgeologically speakingsudden extermination of so many and so varied types of great herbivorous creatures, we cannot say. It may be we can never do more than guess at them. It is certainly an extraordinary thing that complete destruction should have suddenly fallen on all, literally all, of the species. Camels and horses, after they had dwelt on this continent for millions of years, since almost the dawn of mammalian life, developing from little beasts the size of woodchucks into the largest and most stately creatures of their kind that ever trod the earth's surface, all at once disappeared to the very last individual. Ground-sloths and elephants vanished likewise. The bigger forms of bison also died out, although one species remained. Many causes of extinction have been suggested. Perhaps all of them were more or less operative. Perhaps others of which we know nothing were operative. We cannot say.
But as regards certain of the formidable, but heavy rather than active, beasts of prey it is possible to hazard a guess. Compared to agile destroyers like the cougar and the timber-wolf, the sabretooth and the big-headed, small-legged giant wolf were strong, heavy, rather clumsy creatures. Predatory animals of their kind were beasts of battle rather than beasts of the chase. They were fitted to overcome by downright fighting strength a big, slow, self-confident quarry, rather than to run down a swift and timid quarry by speed or creep up to a wary and timid quarry by sinuous stealth. So long as the heavy herbivores were the most numerous these fighting carnivores were dominant over their sly, swift, slinking brethren. But when the great mass of plant-eaters grew to trust to speed and vigilance for their safety there was no longer room for preying beasts of mere prowess.
In South America it is probable that the heavy fauna died out much later than in North America and northern Eurasia; that is, it died out much later than in what zoogeographers call the holarctic realm. During most of the Tertiary period or age of mammals, the period intervening between the close of the age of great reptiles and the time when man in human form appeared on the planet, South America was an island, and its faunal history was as distinct and peculiar as that of Australia. Aside from marsupials and New World monkeys, its most characteristic animals were edentates and very queer ungulates with no resemblance to those of any other continent. Toward the close of the Tertiary land bridges connected the two Americas, and an interchange of faunas followed. The South American fauna was immensely enriched by the incoming of elephants, horses, sabretooth cats, true cats, camels, bears, tapirs, peccaries, deer, and dogs, all of which developed along new and individual lines. A few of these species, llamas and tapirs for instance, still persist in South America although they have died out in the land from which they came. But in the end, and also for unknown causes, this great fauna died out in South America likewise, leaving a continent faunistically even more impoverished than North America. The great autochthonous forms shared the extinction of the big creatures of the immigrant fauna; for under stress of competition with the newcomers, the ancient ungulates and edentates had developed giants of their own.
Recent discoveries have shown that the extinction was not complete when the ancestors of the Indians of to-day reached the southern Andes and the Argentine plains. An age previously the forefathers of these newcomers had lived in a land with the wild horse, the wild elephant, and the lion; and now, at the opposite end of the world, they had themselves reached such a land. The elephants were mastodons of peculiar type; the horses were of several kinds, some resembling modern horses, others differing from them in leg and skull formation more than any of the existing species of ass, horse, or zebra differ from one another; the huge cats probably resembled some other big modern feline more than they did the lion. Associated with them were many great beasts, whose like does not now exist on earth. The sabretooth was there, as formidable as his brother of the north, and, like this brother, bigger and more specialized than any of his Old World kin, which were probably already extinct. Among the ungulates of native origin was the long-necked, high-standing macrauchenia, shaped something like a huge, humpless camel or giraffe, and with a short proboscis. This animal doubtless browsed among the trees. Another native ungulate, the toxodon, as big and heavily made as a rhinoceros, was probably amphibious, and had teeth superficially resembling those of a rodent. The edentates not only included various ground-sloths, among them the megatherium, which was the size of an elephant, and the somewhat smaller mylodon, but also creatures as fantastic as those of a nightmare. These were the glyptodons, which were bulkier than oxen and were clad in defensive plate-armor more complete than that of an armadillo; in one species the long, armored tail terminated in a huge spiked knob, like that of some forms of mediæval mace.
The glyptodons doubtless trusted for protection to their mailed coats. The ground-sloths had no armor. Like the terrestrial ant-bear of Brazil they walked slowly on the outer edges of their fore feet, which were armed with long and powerful digging claws. They could neither flee nor hide; and it seems a marvel that they could have held their own in the land against the big cats and sabretooth. Yet they persisted for ages, and spread northward from South America. It is hard to account for this. But it is just as hard to account for certain phenomena that are occurring before our very eyes. While journeying through the interior of Brazil I not infrequently came across the big tamandua, the ant-bear or ant-eater. We found it not only in the forests but out on the marshes and prairies. It is almost as big as a small black bear. In its native haunts it is very conspicuous, both because of its size and its coloration, and as it never attempts to hide it is always easily seen. It is so slow that a man can run it down on foot. It has no teeth, and its long, curved snout gives its small head an almost bird-like look. Its fore paws, armed with long, digging claws, are turned in, and it walks on their sides. It is long-haired and thick-hided, colored black and white, and with a long, bushy tail held aloft; and as it retreats at a wabbly canter, its brush shaking above its back, it looks anything but formidable. Yet it is a gallant fighter, and can inflict severe wounds with its claws, as well as hugging with its powerful fore legs; and if menaced it will itself fearlessly assail man or dog. When chased by hounds, in the open, I have seen one instantly throw itself on its back, in which position it was much more dangerous to the hounds than they were to it. Doubtless if attacked by a jaguarand we killed jaguars in the immediate neighborhoodit would, if given a moment's warning, have defended itself in the same fashion. I suppose that this defense would be successful; for otherwise it seems incredible that such a conspicuous, slow-moving beast can exist at all in exactly the places where jaguars, able to kill a cow or horse, are plentiful. But, even so, it is difficult to understand how it has been able to persist for ages in company with the great spotted cat, the tyrant of the Brazilian wilderness. At any rate, with this example before us, we need not wonder overmuch at the ability of megatherium and mylodon to hold their own in the presence of the sabretooth.
In the late fall of 1913, as previously described, I motored north from the beautiful Andean lake, Nahuel Huapi, through the stony Patagonian plains to the Rio Negro. The only wild things of any size that we saw were the rheas, or South American ostriches, and a couple of guanacos, or wild llamas, small, swift, humpless camels, of which the ancestral forms were abundant in the North American Miocene. But one of my companions, the distinguished Argentine explorer, educator, and man of science, Francisco Moreno, had some years previously made a discovery which showed that not many thousand years back, when the Indians had already come into the land, the huge and varied fauna of the Pleistocene still lingered at the foot of the Andes. He had found a cave in which savage men had dwelt; and in the cave were the remains of the animals which they had killed, or which had entered the cave at times when its human tenants were absent. Besides the weapons and utensils of the savages, he had found the grass which they had used for beds, and enclosures walled with stones for purposes of which he could not be sure. It will be remembered that in the cave-home of the 'Ndorobo which Kermit found there were beds of grass, and enclosures walled with brush, in which their dogs were kept. Whether these early Patagonian Indians had dogs I do not know; but many African tribes build low stone walls as foundations for sheds used for different purposes; and sometimes, among savages, it is absolutely impossible to guess the use to which a given structure is put unless it is actually seen in useexactly as sometimes it is wholly impossible to divine what a particular specimen of savage pictorial art indicates unless the savage is there to explain it to his civilized brother.
Among the signs of human occupation Doctor Moreno found, well preserved in the cold cave, not only the almost fresh bones, but even pieces of the skin, of certain extinct animals. Among the species whose bones were found were the macrauchenia, tiger, horse, and mylodon. When Doctor Moreno said tiger, I asked if he did not mean jaguar; but he said no, that he meant a huge cat like an Old World lion or tiger; I do not know with what modern feline its affinities were closest. The discovery of the comparatively fresh remains of the horse gave rise in some quarters to the belief that it was possible this species of horse survived to the day the Spaniards came to the Argentine and was partly ancestral to the modern Argentine horse; but the supposition is untenable, for the horse in question represents a very archaic and peculiar type, with specialized legs and an extraordinary skull, and could not possibly have had anything to do with the production of the wild, or rather feral, horses of the pampas and the Patagonian plains. Of the mylodon Doctor Moreno found not only comparatively fresh bones, with bits of sinew, but dried dungalmost as large as that of an elephantand some big pieces of skin. The skin was clothed with long, coarse hair, and small ossicles were set into it, making minute bony plates. Doctor Moreno gave me a fragment of the skin, and also bones and dung; they are now in the American Museum of Natural History. The discovery gave rise to much fanciful conjecture; it was even said that the mylodon had been domesticated and kept tame in the caves; but Doctor Moreno laughed at the supposition and said that it lacked any foundation in fact. He also said that, contrary to what has sometimes been asserted, the age of the remains must be estimated in thousands, possibly ten thousands, and certainly not hundreds, of years.
There is no need of fanciful guesswork in order to enhance the startling character of the discovery. It seems to show beyond question that the early hunting savages of southernmost South America lived among the representatives of a huge fauna, now wholly extinct, just as was true of the earlier, and far more primitive, hunting savages of Europe.
Save in tropical Africa and in portions of hither and farther India this giant fauna has now everywhere died out. In most regions, and in the earlier stages, man had little or nothing to do with its destruction. But during the last few thousand years he has been the chief factor in the extermination of the great creatures wherever he has established an industrial or agricultural civilization or semi-civilization. The big cat he has warred against in self-defense. The elephant in India has been kept tame or half tame. The Old World horse has been tamed and transplanted to every portion of the temperate zones, and to the dry or treeless portions of the torrid zone.
Around the Mediterranean, the cradle of the ancient culture of our race, we have historic record of the process. Over three thousand years ago the Egyptian and Mesopotamian kings hunted the elephant in Syria. A thousand years later the elephant was a beast of war in the armies of the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and the Romans. Twenty-five hundred years ago the lion was a dreaded beast of ravin in the Balkan Peninsula and Palestine, as he was a hundred years ago in North Africa; now he is to be found south of the Atlas, or, nearing extinction, east of the Euphrates. Seemingly the horse was tamed long after the more homely beasts, the cattle, swine, goats, and sheep. He was not a beast for peaceful uses; he was the war-horse, whose neck was clothed with thunder, who pawed the earth when he heard the shouting of the captains. At first he was used not for riding, but to draw the war chariots. Rameses and the Hittites decided their great battles by chariot charges; the mighty and cruel Assyrian kings rode to war and hunting in chariots; the Homeric Greeks fought in chariots; Sisera ruled the land with his chariots of iron; and long after they had been abandoned elsewhere war chariots were used by the champions of Erin. Cavalry did not begin to supersede them until less than a thousand years before our era; and from that time until gunpowder marked the beginning of the modern era the horse decided half the great battles of history.
But with this process primitive man had nothing to do. He was and, in the few remote spots where he still exists unchanged, he is wholly unable even to conceive of systematic war against the lion, or of trying to tame the horse or elephant. These three, alone among the big beasts of the giant fauna in which the age of mammals had culminated, once throve in vast numbers from the Cape of Good Hope and the valley of the Nile northward to the Rhone and the Danube, eastward across India and Siberia, and from Hudson Bay to the Straits of Magellan. They were dominant figures in the life of all the five continents when primitive man had struggled upward from the plane of his ape-like ancestors and had become clearly human. For ages he was too feeble to be as much of a factor in their lives as they were in the lives of one another; and in North America he never became such a factor. The great man-killing cat was his dreaded enemy, to be fought only under the strain of direst need. The horse became a favorite prey when he grew cunning enough to devise snares and weapons. The elephant he feared and respected for its power and occasional truculence, and endeavored to destroy on the infrequent occasions when chance gave an opening to his own crafty ferocity.
All this is true, at the present day, in portions of mid-Africa. I have been with tribes whom only fear or imminent starvation could drive to attack the lion; and I have seen the naked warriors of the Nandi kill the great, maned manslayer with their spears. Again and again, as an offering of peace and good-will, I have shot zebras for natives who greedily longed for its flesh. My son and I killed a rogue elephant bull at the earnest petition of a small Uganda tribe whose crops he had destroyed, whose field watchers he had killed, and whose village he menaced with destruction.
Of all the wonderful great beasts with which primitive man in his most primitive forms has been associated, the three with which on the whole this association was most wide-spread in time and space, were the horse, the lion, and the elephant.
Professor J. C. Merriam, of the University of California, first studied this fauna. The excavations are now being carried on by Director Frank S. Daggett, of the capital Museum of Los Angeles County. I have spoken above of the vast herds of game encountered over a century ago by Lewis and Clark on the upper Missouri. The journals of these two explorers form an American classic, and they have found a worthy editor in Reuben Gold Thwaites; there could not be an edition more satisfactory from every standpointincluding that of good taste. In anthropology I follow the views of Fairfield Osborne and Ales Hrdlicka; I am not competent to decide as to the points where they differ; and they would be the first to say that some of the hypotheses they advance must be accepted as provisional until our knowledge is greater. [back]