Letter on the Human Remains Found in the Shell-Mounds

Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London (1863)

My Dear Sir,–I regret that the state of my health compels me to leave London before the meeting of the Ethnological Society on Tuesday next, and that, for the same reason, I have been unable to draw up any detailed report upon the human remains submitted to me by the Council.

I regret this the less, however, as the very fragmentary condition of these remains would, under any circumstances, oblige me to speak with very great hesitation in giving an opinion respecting the races of mankind to which they belong.

Although the bones belong to at least four distinct individuals, and there are many portions of skulls among them, there is no cranial fragment sufficiently large to enable me to form even an approximative judgment as to the contour or the capacity of the skull to which it belonged.

Deprived of this most important datum in any ethnological comparison, I have sought for help from the temporal bone, of which there are several, the fragments of upper and lower maxillæ and part of a frontal bone. The former all exhibit large auditory foramina, well developed mastoid, vaginal, and styloid processes, and well marked supra-mastoid ridges.

The latter prove that the palate was deeply excavated anal narrow; that the molars were large and even-sized, forming a series whose inner contour is almost straight; that in the inter-maxillary or incisive part of the upper maxilla, the alveolar margin is remarkably [557] in advance of the lower edge of the nasal aperture; in other words, the front contour of the upper jaw sloped downwards and forwards at a low angle, so that the face must have had as prognathous a character as that of an ordinary Australian. Indeed, the left half of an upper maxilla (marked A ) corresponds with great exactness with the corresponding part of a bisected skull of an Australian native in the Hunterian Museum.

The teeth in a lower jaw and part of an upper jaw (marked x) are worn down flat, as if by the mastication of hard food.

The fragment of a frontal bone exhibits strong supraciliary ridges, continued across the glabella, and containing well developed frontal sinuses.

That these are very slight materials on which to base any conclusion as to the races to which the remains belonged is obvious enough. But, such as the evidence is, it appears to me to be altogether opposed to the supposition that the bones belonged to either a Malayan race, or to a people allied to the Andaman Islanders. On the contrary, I should be inclined to look among the Papuan races of New Guinea or New Holland for the nearest allies of the men to whom the shell-mound once belonged.

I am, my dear sir, faithfully yours, T. H. Huxley

Dr. Hunt, Secretary of the Ethnological Society.


C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University