Man, Time, and Fossils: The Story of Evolution

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XVIII
OAKLEY FLUORINE AND THE AGE OF EARLY MAN

IF AGE. could only be read in the bones--anthropologists long have beguiled themselves with this dream. If there were some aging process inherent in the bones, or some other way in which the remains of men and animals could bespeak their own antiquity, a little more of the dimness that veils the past might be cleared away.

As things have always stood, the closest study of the structure of fossils taken from the earth, the most precise comparisons with other remains, the most exacting investigations of the strata or sites in which they were embedded, told only of relative ages. By comparisons, the anthropologist and geologist were able to say that the elephant, for example, from which these bones came probably lived before this rhinoceros, or this human skull probably precedes another, or, in technical terms, this fossil tooth is from the Mesozoic, that from the Cenozoic.

But to say that a fossil dated from the Cenozoic was not to fix its age in years except in the roughest way. Had historians been in the same plight, they would have been forced to tell their students: we know that Washington came before Lincoln, but we cannot determine whether he was born one hundred, two hundred, or two thousand years earlier.

Since exact answers have always been impossible, scientists have always disagreed about the dating of the bones yielded up by the ground. Controversies over every important find have raged for years. A better system for the placing of human

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