The Observers Books is a great series of pocket books about every subject imaginable, published between 1937 and 2003 when the last of the one hundred titles, Wayside and Woodland was issued. I had several when I was a child including the book on Geology. Now, many years later, I’m back being interested in geology again and have joined a group and started a course to learn more. The other day, I bought The Observer’s Book of Geology again, my own having vanished many years ago.
Geology in its widest sense is concerned with everything in this world. Anybody who is interested in anything is therefore a geologist….
…so writes I.O. Evans in his introduction. My edition, once the possession of Geraldine H. Hackett, was first published in 1949, the tenth book in the series, but my copy was bought by or given to Geraldine in 1962. Although much of the geology explained in the book is still the same, some of the interpretations of what was observed seems wildly out of date and incorrect.
I am particularly interested in early humans, so had a quick look at the section on Fossil Man and his Fore-runners. The section starts with the statement that human beings first appeared during the Great Ice Age – I can’t find out what date the author means by this but we now know that Homo sapiens have been around for about 200,000 years, so I think the book is somewhat adrift on that – new knowledge has overtaken it. Early people are described as sub-men a description we would definitely eschew now.
The little book describes the early flint tools – eoliths, a word which has a lovely literal meaning of ‘dawn stones’ – as crudely shaped. and ‘ he creature which made them is thought to have been a very primitive type of sub-human’ – an archaeologist or geologist would never, never use this term now. Excavations have now found wonderful examples of Neanderthal and other early cousins of our species, but in 1949 these upright, intelligent beings were falsely described: its head was shaped differently from humans, with receding forehead and jaws, and with great brow-ridges over the eyes; its teeth and thumbs were also misshapen; its back so bent that it could not walk upright and it may have been covered with a coat of bristly fur…. such creatures, grotesquely semi-human… Evidence was interpreted and imagination helped extrapolate a false picture of what these people looked like. Many of us, we now know, have Neanderthal heritage, way back before we can imagine!