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THE PREHISTORIC PERIOD
The territory of Gaul in the primary, secondary and tertiary
HE territory to-day occupied by France, the boundaries of which have for centuries been unanimously considered to be the Rhine, the Alps, the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees and the Atlantic, has from the earliest times undergone certain transformations which geologists have made it their task to describe. This long period of formation has been divided by them into four epochs, each of which lasted several milleniums, and which they called the primary era, in which the continents first appeared and outside Europe a few chains of mountains were formed; the secondary era, characterised by a great extension of the sea in southern Europe and the emergence of the northern regions out of the waters; and the tertiary era when the waters once more covered the soil of Gaul, but when the central mountain mass stood out like an island, extending from the Morvan mountains in the north to the Montagne Noir and the Lacaune mountains in the south, and from west to east from the Limousin to the Cevennes. In the south, the Pyrenees reared their crests, and the Alps arose in the east. A second island then came to light-Brittany, to which were added the islands of Normandy, followed by a third, the Vosges. What we know
as the Basin of Paris was a gulf the waters of which washed the shores of Brittany, the central body and the Vosges. Lastly, in the quaternary era the continents assumed the shape in which we know them, and man appeared.
As regards organic life, the primary era is characterised by the reign of the nautilites-mysterious submarine creatures composed of a head and four members, all the species of which are to-day extinct-and by the appearance of the batrachians; the vertebrates being represented only by fish and above all by numerous reptiles.
In the secondary era appeared the first form of mammalia— the marsupials, whose young were born as embryos which remained attached to the mother's breasts before they could live independently of her. These primitive mammalia came to light during the tertiary era, and at the same time the great saurians developed their monstrous forms-the dinosaurs, an order of reptiles, with skins either bare or covered by bony scales. Reptilian birds disported themselves in the luxuriant vegetation. The tertiary era was glorified by a magnificent flora. It was the age of the great lakes, and the reign of the mammalia the pachyderms, the ruminants and the great mammalian fish, the cetaceans. The first monkeys swung in the branches of the trees, and the proboscideans, mammals with trunks like that of the elephant, trampled down the wild vegetation surrounding the marshes.
Some scientists place man as early as the tertiary era, but it was in the quaternary that he appeared as the master of nature and her products.
J.-H. Rosny the elder, a novelist who, like Balzac, made more than one incursion into the domain of history, and, like him, illumined it with flashes of genius, has given us a striking picture of the man of the quaternary era. Speaking of the man of over a hundred thousand years ago, he says:"Our ancestors of old used to light fires on the cold nights that were so full of terrors, when the fearsome machairodus (a meat-eating feline like the tiger) with its daggerThe Hunters. like canines was still hunting its prey in the same pastures as the mastodont, the tropical elephant, the tertiary rhinoceros, and the hipparion " (the ancestor of our
horse, with three toes, of which the middle one was the largest. Julius Cæsar's horse, to which he raised a statue in front of the temple of Venus Genetrix, was an animal of this description, and examples of it existed in the nineteenth century-an extraordinary phenomenon of atavism).
"Man," continues J.-H. Rosny, "doubtless already showed well-marked variations-sometimes endowed with the strength of the gorilla and of a powerful build, sometimes weaker and more dependent on guile-in fact, combining the characteristics from which the thousand and one varieties of the present day have been developed, a feeble animal compared with the wild beasts which could have annihilated our tigers with one blow of their claws, and the herbivores of which the mammoth and the elephant are but the dwarfed descendants. It is with a shudder of pity that we picture to ourselves a small band of men on our French soil, during the flint age at Thenay." Thenay is a commune of Loir-et-Cher, where the Abbé Bourgeois found in 1865 flint chippings which led certain archeologists to place the advent of man in the tertiary era.
"The band of men would be encamped on the confines of a forest, or by a river, bordering a plain intersected by swamps. Wild animals abounded in the woods, in the high grasses and waters. Terrifying creatures had increased and multiplied. Herds of herbivores wandered about under the leadership of ferocious males. As yet no metaphysic of Good and Evil existed. . . . The universal destruction of the weak by the strong, of the stupid by the clever, of the solitary ones by the packs, went on without any reflection on the cruelty of natural laws. The beauty of the world was compounded of a colossal harmony of growth and murder, suffering and joy, love and hunting."
Man had not yet learnt the cultivation of cereals or of textile plants. He had not yet shut himself up in caves, or subterranean shelters; he lived in the open air, in the hollows of the valleys, in the depths of virgin forests, or else on the plateaux which stood out above the watersheds. On the heights from which may be seen the shining waters of the Somme, the Seine, and the Meuse, he made his first appearance in Gaul.
This was the period called by Camille Jullian "the age of
the hunters," the longest of the stages in human development. It continued for tens of thousands of years and only ended a few milleniums before our own age. Man required this long period of time to rid Gaul of the monsters which swarmed there -wild felines, cave bears and the giant hyæna. And it was only after this fierce fight of centuries that, feeling himself master of the soil, he was able to set to work to cultivate it, to sow seed, and enjoy the fruits of his harvests.
The four eras, which we have just enumerated-the primary, the secondary, the tertiary and the quaternary—were in their turn subdivided into several epochs, identified by geologists according to "strata." We are only concerned with the quaternary epoch, in which man made his first appearance.
But perhaps the reader may wish to interrupt us. These successive eras, he may object, existed thousands and thousands of years before historic times, they have left no written records, no inscriptions; how then can we form any idea, however vague, of what could possibly have taken place in them?
To this our master, Fustel de Coulanges, would' reply :"In the absence of books and inscriptions, there remains the earth's crust . . ."; and he develops this idea with all the fine lucidity of his genius:
"In Denmark," he says, "there exist huge deposits of peat. Peat consists of a mass of vegetable substances collected for centuries. Every square yard of peat represents several centuries of forests.
"On digging, the various kinds of trees that made up this peat can be distinguished; the lowest layer is found to consist chiefly of pine; the layer above is oak, and the topmost layer is beech.
"Thus it becomes clear that in this territory the pine was for a series of centuries the chief feature of the forests, for another series of centuries it was the oak and for a third the beech.
"Now, with the succession of generations of trees and species of animals, generations of men and animals also succeeded cach other in these ancient forests of which this peat is composed. The men who lived in them during the different epochs have left traces of their existence-instruments, weapons and utensils fashioned by hand. The men themselves have perished,
but their works remain. And, just as the various layers of peat differ from one another and are composed of the remains of various varieties of trees, so these objects of human manufacture show different characteristics at various depths.
"In the lowest layer, the pine layer, all the objects which have served a human purpose are of stone. In the next layer above, the oak layer, objects and instruments made of metal already appear; this metal, however, is never iron but bronze. Only in the topmost layer do we find objects of iron."
Now turning to Gaul, let us examine, not only the superimposed beds of peat, but also the crust of earth which forms the soil of the country. The rocks we find there are also arranged in various superimposed strata. The alluvials, that is to say, those layers which have been formed in the course of centuries by the mud of rivers, which, though similar in formation to the peat left by the forests, have taken much longer to come into existence, are also superimposed in parallel strata.
If we dig into them we find the same deposits of all kinds as in the peat, that is to say, remains of plants, shells, bones, and the same objects of human manufacture which are once again seen lying in the same order-in the lowest stratum only objects of stone, higher up instruments of bronze and still higher up weapons, utensils and instruments of iron.
It is these things which make up the whole history. If, in the lowest, which is the oldest stratum, only stone objects are found, it means that in the age corresponding to this deposit man did not yet know the use of metals. After that comes bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, and we need not be surprised that this alloy should have preceded the use of iron, which is a pure metal. It is more difficult to extract iron from its ore than it is to mix tin and copper in the manufacture of bronze. For iron is harder to work whether by fire or forge.
The quaternary era has therefore been divided into the Chellean epoch (from Chelles in Seine-et-Marne), the Acheulean (from Saint-Acheul in the Somme), the Mousterian (from Moustier, a commune in Pyzac-en-Dordogne), the Solutrean (from Solutré in Saône-et-Loire), the Aurignacian (from Aurignac in the Haute-Garonne), the Magdalenian (from La Madeleine, a commune of Tursac, Dordogne), and a final