Men Among the Mammoths:
Victorian Science and the Discovery of Human Prehistory



Mammoths
Between 1858 and 1863, a small group of British scientists--predominantly geologists--demonstrated that the human race was far older than generally believed: that humans had coexisted with now-extinct species of animals (such as the mammoth) in a world unlike the one we now inhabit. Along with the discovery of Neanderthal Man (1857) and the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, these discoveries challenged long-held and deeply cherished ideas about the origins of the human race and humans' place in the natural world. Men Among the Mammoths recreates those first arguments for human antiquity, and sets the surrounding theoretical debates within the context of Victorian science. Using field notes, scientific reports, and previously unpublished letters, it also shows how the study of human prehistory brought together geologists, archeologists, and anthropologists in their first interdisciplinary scientific effort, and how the discovery of human antiquity forced Victorians -- scientists and non-scientists -- to reconsider the ways they thought about the distant past and humans' place in it.

Reviews


"[A]bove all it is a compelling account of one puff in the howling intellectual wind which buffeted Victorian society. And there is no doubting its importance, for, with the acceptance of an immense human antiquity, 'the bottom dropped out of history.'"
-- Adrian Desmond, Victorian Studies

"[Van Riper's] elegant and well-written book will be appreciated by any readers concerned with the nineteenth century relationship between science and society and the wide-ranging ramifications of scientific theories for a changing Victorian worldview."
-- Susan H. Farnsworth, Victorian Review

"
The story Van Riper tells . . . is an interesting one, well told. He builds on an understanding already achieved by earlier work and adds much to it with material from his own researches in the documentary sources."
-- J. W. Gruber, Geoarchaeology