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John Lubbock's "Pre-Historic Times" is Published

Lubbock Pre Historic Times page opening with color plate

Chromlithographed illustration of a prehistoric handaxe from the first edition Lubbock's Pre-Historic Times.

In 1864 English banker, politician, naturalist and archaeologist John Lubbock publised Pre-Historic Times, as Illustrated by Ancient Remains, and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages. After delivering a series of lectures at the Royal Institution on “The Antiquity of Man” in the summer of 1864, Lubbock organized his material into a book that addressed not only the topic of human antiquity but the larger issues of the lives and cultures of people in the Stone Age. A masterpiece of scientific exposition, Pre-historic Times became his best-known work, in which he coined the terms “Paleolithic” and “Neolithic” to distinguish between the earlier and later Stone Age periods. He wrote:

"From the careful study of the remains which have come down to us, it would appear that Pre-historical Archaeology may be divided into four great epochs.

"First, that of the Drift; when man shared the possession of Europe with the Mammoth, the Cave bear, the Wooly-haired rhinoceros, and other extinct animals. This we may call the ‘Paleolithic’ period.

"Secondly, The later or polished Stone age; a period characterized by beautiful weapons and instruments made of flint and other kinds of stone, in which, however we find no trace of the knowledge of any metal, excepting gold, which seems to have been sometimes used for ornaments. This we may call the ‘Neolithic ‘period.

"Thirdly The Bronze age, in which bronze was used for arms and cutting instruments of all kinds.

"Fourthly, The Iron age, in which that metal had superseded bronze for arms, axes, knives, etc; bronze, however still being in common use for ornaments, and frequently also for the handles of swords and other othersm, but never for the blades. Stone weapons, however, of many kinds were still in use during the age of Bronze, and even during that of Iron. So that the mere presence of a few stone implements in not in itself sufficient evidence, that any given ‘find’ belongs to the Stone age" (p. 3).

In contrast to some of the other early researchers in these fields who focused on the geology of the prehistoric sites, in finding the artifacts, and in studying the artifacts themselves, Lubbock studied the artifacts of Stone Age cultures in order shed light on the function of ancient implements as part of an overall attempt to reconstruct what life might have been like in the Stone Age. In order to gain further insight into life in prehistoric times he also studied the lives of a wide variety of non-western peoples, some of whose lives and cultures appeared to him to provide strong analogs to life during the Stone Age.

His book incorporates five earlier published papers, all of which appeared in The Natural History Review: “On the Kjökkenmöddings: Recent geological-archaeological researches in Denmark” (October 1861); “On the evidence of the antiquity of man, afforded by the physical structures of the Somme Valley” (January 1862); “On the ancient lake habitations of Switzerland” (July 1862); “North American archaeology” (January 1863); and “Cave-men” (July 1864). To these previously published papers Lubbock added three chapters devoted to the customs and beliefs of primitive races. In a final chapter he summed up his conclusions on the origins of man and of civilization.

Pre-Historic Times may be the most influential work on archaeology of the nineteenth century. It remained a standard work for over 50 years, with the seventh and final edition appearing just after Lubbock’s death in 1913.

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