A comparative science that examines human biological and cultural diversity. At its broadest, the study of who humans are and what we do.
What Were They Thinking?
From the 1882 edition of The American Universal Cyclopædia, published by S. W. Green's Son, New York.
Anthropology (from the Greek, anthropos, man) a term signifying that branch of science which has man for its subject. In it’s proper sense, it is very comprehensive, and of course includes anatomy, physiology, psychology, ethnology, history, theology, aesthetics, etc. The word has, of late, come into very common use. There is an anthropological society in London; and a separate anthropological section has been constituted in the British association.
The “science of man,” or natural history of mankind; in the general classification of knowledge, the highest section of zoology or the science of animals, which is itself the highest section of biology or the science of living beings. To anthropology contribute the sciences of anatomy, physiology, ethics, sociology, prehistoric archaeology; although each of these branches of investigation pursues its own subject, having no further contact with anthropology than when its research concerns man. It is the office of anthropology to collect and set forth, as completely as possible, the synopsis of man’s physical and mental nature, and the theory of his course of life and action from his first appearance on the planet. Looking at man’s place in nature, we see that the higher apes come nearest to him in bodily formation, and here it is the office of zoology to point out resemblances and differences, and to ascertain relations. “At this point,” says professor Owen, in a paper on the bony structure of apes, “every deviation from the human structure indicates with precision its real peculiarities, and we then possess the true means of appreciating those modifications by which a material organism is especially adapted to becoming the seat and instrument of a rational and responsible soul.” Huxley, in comparing man with other orders of mammalia, decides – “There would remain then but one order for comparison, that of the apes, and the question for discussion would narrow itself to this: Is man so different from any of these apes that he must form an order by himself? Or does he differ less from them than they differ from one another, and hence must he take his place in the same order with them?” Here the reference plainly limits itself to the human body. Huxley compares man with the gorilla, which is on the whole the most man-like of all the apes. The gorilla has a smaller brain-case, larger trunk, shorter legs, and longer arms than man. The differences in the skulls are remarkably apparent. In the gorilla the face, formed largely by the massive jaw-bones, predominates over the brain-case; in man these proportions are reversed. In man the skull is set evenly on the spine, the spinal cord being just behind the center of the base of the skull; but in the gorilla, which usually goes on all-fours, the skull is inclined forward and the spinal cord is further back. In man the surface of the skull is nearly smooth, the ridges of the brow having but slight projection, while in the gorilla these ridges are enormous. The capacity of the largest gorilla skull yet measured was but 34.5 cubic in.; that of the smallest human cranium is almost 63 in. The gorilla’s large facial bones and great projection of jaws give its face a brutal expression, and its teeth differ from man’s in size and in the number of fangs. The gorilla’s arm is one sixth longer than its spine; man’s is one fifth shorter. The legs differ not so much, but the hands and feet of the gorilla are longer than in man. The vertebral column and the narrow pelvis differ from those of man; the thumb is much shorter and the hand clumsier than man’s. But a radical difference is in the amount of brain, that of the gorilla being 20 oz., while in man it is seldom less than 32. Professor Huxley, restoring in principle the classification of Linnaeus, would include man in the order of primates, and divide that order into seven families: 1, anthropini, consisting of man only; 2, catarhini, or old world apes; 3, platyrhini, including all new world apes except the marmoset; 4, arctopithecini, or marmosets; 5, lemurini, or lemurs; 6, cheiromyini, or bats; and 7, pithecini, or flying lemurs.
In fixing man’s place in nature on physiological grounds, much greater difficulty is met. There is here an enormous gulf between the most brute-like of men and the most man-like of apes; a chasm not to be accounted for by minor structural differences. The bold investigations and speculations of science have not yet been able to eradicate the opinion, deeply rooted in modern as in ancient thought, that only a distinctively human element can account for the wide severance between man and the highest animal below him. Mere mechanical differences do not explain the divergence. An ape with a man’s hand and voice would still have to rise through a long structural growth to be indeed a man. The greater amount of brain in man comes nearer to explain the difference; but even that fails. In some of the senses man is quite inferior; he cannot equal the eagle in sight, the dog in scent, nor one of a dozen animals in hearing; though in the senses of tasting and feeling he may be superior to any of them. We must conclude that it is by superiority in quality, as well as in quantity, of brain, and, because of that superiority, by the possession of of a highly organized language, that man has the power of co-ordinating the impressions of his senses, which enables him to understand the world in which he lives, and, by understanding, to use, resist, and rule it. This power of using what his senses reveal to him is clearly expressed by man in his language. He shares with beasts and birds the power to express feelings by emotional cries; the parrot approaches him in utterance; and by association of ideas, some of the lower animals understand to a certain extent what he says. But the abstract power of using words, in themselves meaningless, as symbols by which to convey complex intellectual processes – in which mental conceptions are suggested, compounded, combined, and even analyzed, and new ones created – is a faculty scarcely to be traced in any other animal than man.
That this power is a function of the brain has been fully proved in diseases of that organ, such as aphasia. This may stand among the best evidence that the brain is the principal, if not the sole, organ of mind. But animals of lower grade share with man in varying degree in many of the high attributes. Sudden terror affects man and beast alike; in both the muscles tremble, the breast palpitates, the sphincters are relaxed, and the hair stands up. Memory in some of its ranges in very strong is some animals, especially in elephants and dogs. Reasoning power is shown when the monkey breaks an egg softly and picks away the shell cautiously so as to preserve the entire contents. Monkeys also use mechanical defenses, throwing sticks and stones, and nuts from trees, at their enemies; and the wonderful mechanical instinct shown in nest-building by birds and insects must not be forgotten yet man rises above all this, and remains the only creature who is not subject to nature, but has knowledge and power to control and regulate his actions, and to keep in harmony with nature, not by a change of body but by an advance of mind. The lower instincts which tend mainly to self-preservation are weaker in man than in many other animals, while philosophy, seeking knowledge for its own sake; morality, manifested in the sense of truth, the right, and virtue; and religion, the belief in, and communion with, some spiritual being above man, are human characteristics, of which the lower animals show at most but the faintest traces. Yet the tracing of physical and even intellectual continuity between the lower animals and man need not lead the anthropologist to lower the rank of man in the scale of nature.
Modern materialists are content to regard the intellectual functions of the brain and the nervous system as all there is to be considered in a psychological comparison of man with lower animals. They hold that man is a machine – wonderfully comples, to be sure, yet only a machine, provided with energy by force from without – which mechanically performs the acts for which it was constructed, such as eating, moving, feeling, and thinking. But their views are strongly opposed by those who combine spiritualism and materialism in the doctrine of a composite nature in man; animal as to the body, and in some degree as to the mind, or, as some term it, the soul; spiritual as to the soul or, as some prefer to call it, the spirit. Dr. Prichard sustains the time-honored doctrine which refers the mental faculties to the operation of the soul. Mivart, the comparative anatomist, says: “Man, according to the old scholastic definition, is a ‘rational animal,’ and his animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though inseparably joined during life in one common personality. Man’s animal body must have had a different source from that of the spiritual soul which informs it, owing to the distinctness of the two orders to which those two existences severally belong.” In this view not life only but thought also is a function of the animal system, in which man excels all other animals as to the perfection of organization; but beyond this, man embodies an immaterial and distinctively spiritual principle which no lower creature possesses, and which makes the resemblance of the ape to him merely superficial. It is not our business to decide upon these conflicting doctrines, each of which has the support of many names high in science and philosophy.
Concerning the origin of man, opinion is divided between the two great schools of biology – that of creation and that of evolution. The old doctrine of the contemporaneous appearance on earth of all animals was long ago set aside by the researches of geology, and it is admitted that the animal kingdom, past and present, includes a vast series of successive forms, appearing and disappearing in the lapse of ages. Our subject requires us to ascertain what formative relation subsists among these species and genera – the last link of the argument reaching to the relation between man and the lower creatures preceding him in time. Agassiz admits that there is a manifest progress in the succession of beings, an increasing similarity between the living fauna, and among vertebrates especially an increasing resemblance to man. But among the causes of this succession of types he does not include parental descent: “the link by which they are connected is of a higher and immaterial nature, and their connection is to be sought in the view of the Creator himself,” whose ultimate aim, to which all creation and progress was made auxiliary, was to introduce man as the crown of his work. This is the “creationist view.” But the evolutionist maintains that successive species of animals, though never so diverse in appearance, are really connected by parental descent, having become modified in the course of successive generations. Lamarck says “man is co-descendant with other species of some ancient, lower, and extinct form.” Darwin’s conclusion that man is the descendant from some animal of the simian (monkey) stock is well known, though his qualification that “we must not fall into the error of supposing that the early progenitor of the whole simian stock, including man, was identical with, or even closely resembled, any existing ape or monkey,” is not so widely recognized. The problem of the origin of man cannot be properly discussed apart from the full problem of the origin of species. The likeness between man and other animals which both schools try to account for; the explanation of any interval with apparent want of intermediate forms, which seem to the creationists so absolutely a separation between species; the evidence of useless rudimentary organs, such as in man the external shell of the ear, and the muscles which enable some men to move their ears (which rudimentary parts the evolutionists hold to be explainable only as relics of an earlier specific condition) – these, which are the chief points in the argument on the origin of man, belong to general biology. The theory of evolution tends towards the supposition of ordinary causes (such as natural selection) producing modification in species; the theory of creation has recourse to acts of supernatural intervention. A middle course is suggested by Mivart: that man’s body belongs to natural evolution: his soul to supernatural creation. But this compromise, though it seems to be gaining adherents, thus far fails to satisfy either school. There is no question, however, that evolution, as a distinct theory, apart from all supposed connection with materialism, is securing the assent of scientists. We wait to see whether the discovery of intermediate forms will go on till it produce a disbelief in any real separation between neighboring species, and especially whether geology can furnish traces of the hypothetical animal which was man’s nearest ancestor, while not yet man.
Coming to look into the antiquity of man, we remember that it is only a few years since English-speaking people very generally accepted the chronology of archbishop Usher, and agreed, without investigation and almost without question, that the earth and all that it contains was created 4004 years before the advent of Christ. That and all other known systems of chronology, as fixing the date of the earch’s origin, have been entirely overthrown by geological and astronomical facts; and even as fixing the date of man’s origin they have been with great force called in question, and by many investigators positively rejected. These last assert that it is useless to speculate as to years or even ages in order to fix dates. The asserted discovery of human bones and articles manufactured by men in strata holding the remains of the fossil species of elephant, rhinoceros, etc., would, unless disproved, inevitably lead to the inference that man existed during the life period of those animals. Further evidence has been found that seems to take man back to the quarternary or drift period; and such evidences are generally accepted by geologists as carrying back the existence of man at least into the period of the post-glacial drift, in what is now called the quarternary period, indicating an antiquity at the very least of tens of thousands of years. The 20 centuries of English and French history are counted but as a mere fraction of the time that has elapsed since the stone implements of prehistoric tribes were buried under beds of gravel and sand by the rivers now known as the Thames and Somme. If we consider the geological formation of such valleys as those in which these rivers flow, and estimate from present data the time required for those rivers to dig such valleys, it follows that the drift beds and the men whose works they inclose must have had existence at a period so remote that any comparison with the received chronology of years and centuries is impossible, and the attempt to fix dates would be absurd. For the present we must be content to begin with “Once on a time.” Still, certain inferences have been drawn that may be noted. A boring of 90 ft. in the Nile valley, reached pottery and burnt brick, showing that man in a fairly civilized state dwelt there so long ago that, at the rate of deposit by the river, it must have been several thousands of years. The lake dwellings of Switzerland – huts in number amounting to villages, built on piles in the water at some distance from the shore for safety against attack – indicate very remote antiquity; and the same may be said of the Danish remains of fire-places, or kitchen refuse heaps. Extant chronicles must also be noted. The oldest written records are hieroglyphic inscriptions, and the oldest can be hardly less, and may probably be much more than 3000 years earlier than the Christian era. It is certain that more than 4000 years ago the Egyptian nation occupied a high plane in industrial, social, and political culture. The inscribed bricks of temples in Chaldea are of a date earlier than 2000 B. C., and Chinese civilization can be certainly traced back to a period anterior to 2000 B. C. Until recently it was the common opinion that the early state of society was one of a comparatively high culture; but now the opinion is paramount that whatever may have been the earliest state, all recorded human civilization has been gradually developed from a state of barbarism. This hypothesis makes it necessary, it is claimed, to add 4000 to 5000 years to the earliest dates for Egyptian, Babylonian, and Chinese civilizations as generally traced. It is claimed, also, that much further time should be allowed during which the knowledge, arts, and institutions of these countries attained the level at which we fix their earliest dates. This view is thought to be strongly corroborated by philology. Hebrew and Arabic are closely related languages, neither of them being the parent of the other, but both the offspring of some earlier tongue. Therefore, when the Hebrew records have taken back to the most ancient admissable date the existence of the Hebrew language, this date must have been long preceded by that of the extinct parent language of the whole Semitic family; while this again may be considered to be the descendant of languages slowly shaping themselves through ages into this peculiar type. The evidence of the Aryan, or Indo-European, family of tongues is advanced still more striking. The Hindoos, Medes, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Germans, Kelts, and Slavs make their appearance at dates more or less remote, as nations separate in language as in history. Nevertheless, it is now generally believed that in some high antiquity before these nations were divided from the parent stock and distributed over Asia and Europe by the Aryan dispersion, a single barbaric people stood as physical and political representative of the nascent Aryan race, speaking an Aryan language, now perhaps extinct, from which, by a series of modifications not to be estimated as possible in any brief period, there arose languages which have been mutually unintelligible since the dawn of history, and between which only an age of advanced philology could trace the fundamental relationship. Combining these considerations, we find the basis claimed for the hypothesis that the furthest date to which writing, or rock inscriptions, or language, extends, is to be regarded as but the earliest distinctly visible point of the historic period, beyond which stretches back the unknown series of prehistoric ages. Advocates of the old chronology, while calling attention to the fact that many of these assertions are as yet hypotheses awaiting proof – and that some of the most important of them can be substantiated only on an ascertainment that present rates of geological formation and linguistic construction exactly decide the rate of progress under perhaps extremely diverse conditions in an unknown past – are yet not unready to concede that the old chronology must be regarded as uncertain in its starting-point, as well as indefinite in its terms, and as leaving gaps which are to be filled by an increasing knowledge. They demand, however, that these deficiencies be left unfilled until the undeniable facts are in hand for that purpose; and that till then, no merely probably hypothesis be accepted as of final authority. It should be observed that the Bible is not, as is commonly supposed, responsible for archbishop Usher’s chronology. That system is, of many possible systems equally accordant with the Bible, the one which has gained the widest acceptance.
In classifying the races of mankind, a number of systems have prevailed. The color of the skin is the first striking difference in showing race, and this distinction is found in ancient Egyptian portraits, and writers, ancient and modern, speak of white, yellow, and black races. The structure and arrangement of the hair is a better indication of race than the tint of the skin. Stature is an uncertain guide, for there are short and tall men in all races; still, an average rate of stature may indicate descent, and it is note worthy that people of Keltic origin in Great Britain are shorter than those of Teutonic descent. The conformation of the skull has been used also, and careful measurements of form and capacit have been made; but shapes of the skull vary so greatly even in the same tribe, as to render this method of determining race practically worthless. The features, or general contour of the face, being at once apparent to the eye, are much used by scientific observers to determine race. Some of the most notable features, in contrast with European types, are seen in the oblique eye of the Chinese, the pointed Arab chin, the Kirghis snub nose, the fleshy lips of the negro, and the broad ears of the Kalmuk. In Europe and America the Hebrews are distinguished by their peculiar features, and some physiognomists will undertake to select almost any nationality by mere examination of faces. The adaptation of a people to its climate forms a definite race-character, and typical instances of the relation of race-constitutions to particular diseases are seen in the liability of Europeans in the West Indies to yellow fever, from which, as has been thought, though scarcely proved, negroes are commonly exempt. Even the vermin infecting different races of men have been classified. Physical capabilities of races differ widely; but as the same is true of individuals of all races, such differences can hardly be used for race-classification. Two strongly marked mental contrasts are found in the shy and impassive Malay and the sociable and demonstrative Papuan. Classifications by race have been numerous, but all more or less imperfect, and some worthless. Blumenbach’s “five races” is a widely known classification: Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay. Pickering made 11 races, Bory de St. Vincent 15, and Desmoulins 16; but no modern naturalist would accept any of these classifications. On the whole, probably Huxley’s scheme more nearly than any other approaches to a classification that may be accepted in definition of the principal varieties of mankind, regarded from a zoological point of view. He makes four types: 1. The Australoid; chocolate-brown skin, dark brown or black eyes, black hair, narrow skull, brow-ridge strikingly developed, projecting jaw, coarse lips, and broad nose. This type is best represented by native Australians, and the coolies of southern India. 2. The Negroid; chiefly the negroes of Africa; with dark brown to brown-black skin, eyes of like hue, hair usually black, crisp, and wooly; skull narrow, but orbital ridges not prominent, jaws projecting, nasal bones depressed, and thick lips. 3. The Mongoloid; prevailing over the area east from Lapland to Siam; of short build, yellowish-brown skin, black and straight hair, black eyes, broad skull, brow-ridges usually not prominent, small flat nose, or eyes set obliquely. 4. The Xanthochroi, or fair whites; skin almost colorless, blue or gray eyes, hair from straw color to chestnut, and skull large though variable in size. To these four general divisions he adds Melanochroi; much like the fair whites, but of smaller stature and darker shade of hair, eyes, and skin – such as the Kelts, the people of southern Europe, the Greeks and Arabs.
On the origin of races there has long been and still continues, an earnest discussion. On one hand, it is claimed by monogenists that all men descended from a single pair; on the other, it is contended by polygenists that there were many primary species of separate origin. The monogenists rest upon the Bible, and point to Adam and Eve; the polygenists, while arguing from science, with equal confidence, show biblical passages from which they infer the existence of contemporaneous non-Adamite races; and even political science was called in to support the idea of more than one original race, when the institution of slavery in the United States was defended on the assumption that the negroes were a different race, inferior to the whites or the Indians. We do not enter into even a statement of the many variations of the human type, but observe that the general tendency of the evolution theory is against constituting separate species where the differences are moderate enough to be accounted as due to variations from a single type; while it is not inconsistent with evolution to claim that several distinct simious species may have culminated in several races of men. Still the drift of the evolution theory is towards unity of origin. Darwin says: “When naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small habits, tastes, and dispositions, between two or more domestic races, or between nearly allied natural forms, they use the fact as an argument that all are descended from a common progenitor, who was thus endowed: and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.” The experience of the last few years countenances Mr. Darwin’s prophecy, that before long the dispute between those who hold that all men came from one pair and those who hold to diverse originals, will die a silent and unnoticed death. [Portions of this article are, with modification, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, ninth edition.]
Anthropology, besides its scientific application above noted, is used in theology to indicate the study of man in his relation to God. Under this head, some writers have practically brought almost all theology under discussion. Perhaps the prevalent usage may be said to limit anthropology to a study of theological facts or principles in their relations to man considered psychological – or to man considered as to the origin of his complex being, and as to the interaction of his spiritual and material elements.