In this chapter we propose again to visit the Hunterian Museum in London to see those specimens which illustrate the growth and size of the human body. We wish especially to ascertain when and how man came to have a stature which varies between five and six feet, or to use the more convenient metric system, between 1,500 and 1,800 millimetres.
If we cross Waterloo Bridge in the throng of city workers hurrying to business, and thread our way to Lincoln's Inn Fields in the press of morning traffic, we have ample opportunity for seeing how varied the human body is in size, in shape, and in carriage. If we were to measure a thousand men as they pass by we should find that rather more than 500 of them had a stature between 5 ft. 5 1/2 in. and 5 ft. 9 1/2 in.; we may accept the height of the average man as 5 ft. 7 1/2 in. (1,715 mm.). In the thousand men we should probably find ten who were under 5 ft. (1,525 mm.), and three or four who were over 6 ft. We observe, too, that the women are slighter in build and shorter in stature. On the average their stature falls 4 1/2 in. below that of men ; more than half of them are between 5 ft. 1 in. and 5 ft. 5 in. The growth of women is not regulated by the same laws that hold good for men. If we could follow these busy people to their offices and watch them seated at their desks we should be surprised to see that some who were apparently tall as they walked along appear to be of average height when seated ; others who in the street seemed of short stature now appear to be of an average height. It is evident that stature depends on two distinct factors, the length of the lower limbs, and the length of the trunk or body. The sitting height gives us the height of the body. When a man or woman who are of the same height, sit down, it is usually the case that the woman appears the taller, because her body is proportionally longer than that of the man, while her lower limbs are relatively shorter.
Arriving at the museum we make our way to the various rooms which will provide us with evidence as to when mankind came by its present size of body. Our search lies first among the specimens which represent the bones of men who lived in Europe when its northern half, including the greater part of Britain, lay under ice. How long ago that may be cannot be accurately estimated, but most geologists are agreed that the bones we are now looking at belonged to men who lived 100,000 years ago, or even more. When we compare these bones of fossil men with our own we see that their owners were stouter made but not so tall as we are. The famous Neanderthal man, whose bones were discovered in 1857 at Neanderthal in Germany, stood about five feet four inches in height. Indeed all the examples which have been discovered of the Neanderthal type of man show us that ancient man was far from being the giant which fable and tradition have led us to expect. Indeed we know of no tall men in Europe until the glacial period was drawing to a close. The Cro-Magnon race then appears in France; many of the men of that race stood six feet high ; but the opposite sex appear to have been only a little taller than modern women. The very earliest form of man yet discovered —the fossil man of Java, usually named Pithecanthropus—was about five feet six inches high. The evidence so far leads us to believe that our present stature and size of body are part of an ancient inheritance, one which has not been altered by the passage of hundreds of thousands of years.
We must approach the problem in another way, for we have not as yet discovered the ancestral human forms which are older than Pithecanthropus. When the skeleton of man is compared with those of the great anthropoid apes—the gorilla, chimpanzee and orang, it is at once seen that as regards size, all of these form a uniform group. The adult male chimpanzee is about the same weight as an average man—viz. from ten to eleven stones (sixty-three—seventy kilos). The adult male orang is heavier—about twelve to thirteen stones, while the adult male gorilla is about fourteen stones. The gibbons or small anthropoids weigh from fourteen to eighteen pounds, only about a tenth of the great anthropoids. Monkeys vary in weight from two to thirty pounds. In the standing posture, man's long lower extremities give him an advantage over the short-legged anthropoids; he stands nearly a head higher than they. But if we measure them in the seated posture man's superiority disappears. While his head and trunk measure about thirty-four inches, those of the chimpanzee reach to about thirty-five inches, the orang about thirty-seven inches, and the gorilla about thirty-nine inches. The head and trunk of the gibbon measure only about twenty inches, approximately the same as one would find in a boy of about two years of age. Now we know that great anthropoids were in existence at a period which predates the fossil man of Java; in the fossil beds of the North of India (Siwalik), which geologists regard as formed in the Pliocene period of the earth's history, bones of an anthropoid as big as the orang have been found. The very earliest of the large fossil anthropoids which have yet been discovered is the kind now named Dryopithecus. The bones of this anthropoid, which was smaller than the chimpanzee, but much larger than the gibbon, have been found in the strata of France and of Germany which geologists regard as formed in the Miocene period—the one which precedes the Pliocene. At a still earlier date in the Miocene period we know that anthropoids similar in form and size to the modern gibbons were in existence, but we do not yet know of any big form of primate which is older than the Miocene period. We have every reason to suppose that it was during the early part of that period—how many millions of years ago one does not dare to hazard a guess— that the large bodied primates were evolved. These large Miocene primates appear to be the stock from which the great anthropoids and man have descended. The size of our bodies then is an old inheritance—one which has come down to us through millions of years.