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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Rolleston1   9 May 1877

Anatomical Department, | Museum, | Oxford.

May 9. 1877

My dear Mr Darwin—

I had Rütimeyer2 staying with me some 10 days back & I asked him about Canestrini’s observations as to brachycephalic crania from the Drift with persistent frontal sutures.3 He said he could only suppose that some find of Cocchi’s was the one referred to—4 He could not give me any references, and as I have only spent some 15 years or so of my life in the study of Latin I cant read Italian at all!

However I came upon the short paper by Paul Broca upon one discovery of Cocchi’s which looks very like the one you refer to in your Descent of Man p. 39.5 I got my wife6 to copy it out for you & I forward it. On your principles a skull from the drift should not be brachycephalic nor should it I think have an open frontal suture which in my experience is very rare in savage races—

Please excuse this style of writing; I am leaving Oxford to sit in a General Medical Council for 10 days & I am consequently greatly pressed for time—7

Do not trouble yourself to answer this. | Yours very Truly George Rolleston

[Enclosure]8

Memoires d’Anthropologie de Paul Broca Tome II. p. 354–355

XII

Sur le crâne post pliocène de l’Olma

(Vallée de l’Arno.)

(Bulletins de la Societé d’anthropologie, 2e. serie, t. II, p. 674–675. 19 Dec. 1867.

En communiquant à la Societé l’important mémoire de M. Cocchi sur le crâne de l’Olmo (vallée de l’Arno.) M. Pruner-Bey9 fit remarquer que ce crâne datait de l’époque post pliocène: il était disposé à admettre avec l’auteur que c’était le plus ancien reste connu de l’homme paléontologique, et il ajoutait que ce crâne, dont l’indice céphalique etait,10 disait il, de 86.4., etait très brachy-céphale   J’étudai à mon tour le memoire et la planche de M. Cocchi,11 et je trouvai au contraire que le crâne de l’Olmo n’était devenu brachycéphale que par suite d’une faute d’impression.

Le fait découvert par M. Cocchi, et dont M. Pruner-Bey vient de nous présenter le résumé, parait donner raison à notre collègue sur la préexistence du type brachycéphale en Europe, puisqu’un crâne plus ancien que tous les autres, provenant d’une couche de terrain postpliocène, serait non seulement brachycéphale, mais encore extrêmement brachycéphale, avec un indice céphalique de 86.4. Ce fait est assez important à mes yeux pour que j’aie voulu en prendre connaissance dans l’exemplaire du mémoire de M. Cocchi qui vient d’être disposé sur le bureau. Je trouve effectivement, dans le tableau de la page 69, que l’indice céphalique est de 86.40. Il serait même de 88.44. Si l’on établissait le rapport des deux diamètres inscrits sur le même tableau, savoir: diamètre antero-postérieur, 199 millimètres: diamètre transversal bipariétal, 176 millimètres. Mais il est clair que cette dernière mesure est impossible: elle l’est en soi, puisque jamais crâne humain, hors le cas d’hydrocéphalie, n’a pu atteindre une pareille largeur; elle l’est surtout en égard aux autres mesures du même crâne, puisque la courbe transversale n’est que de 200 millimètres. Il y a dans ce tableau au moins une faute d’impression, relative au diamètre transversal, plus une erreur de calcul relative à l’indice céphalique. Heureusement que l’auteur, pour nous tirer de l’embarras, a fait représenter son crâne sur une belle planche lithiographiée qui accompagne son mémoire et qui paraît de grandeur naturelle. Vous pouvez voir, à première vue, que ce crâne est très dolichocéphale. La longueur, que je viens de mesurer, est de 198 millimètres, la largeur maximum n’est que de 144 millimètres, ce qui donne un indice céphalique de 72.72. J’admets que le dessin puisse n’être pas d’une rigueur absolue: mais ce ce qui ne peut être douteux c’est que ce crâne post-pliocène est très-dolichocéphale.12

Les conclusions que j’avais tirées de l’étude du dessin publié par M. Cocchi ont été pleinement confirmées lorsque le moule du crâne de l’Olmo a été donné à la Société par M. le professeur Cocchi, au mois de Janvier 1868. M. Mortillet, en présentant ce moule, donna des preuves multipliées de l’antiquité du crâne de l’Olmo, qu’il n’hésita pas à rapporter à l’époque quaternaire (Bull Soc. d’anthrop., 2e série, t. III. p. 40).13 Dans une séance ultérieure, M. Hamy décrivit complétement ce crâne et établit qu’il était très-dolicho-céphale, avec un indice céphalique de 73 pour 100. (Hamy, “Etude sur le crâne de l’Olmo, in Bull. de la Soc. d’anthrop.”, 2e série, t. III, p. 112–117. 6 février 1868).14

Footnotes

For a translation of the enclosure to this letter, see Appendix I.
Ludwig Rütimeyer.
Giovanni Canestrini had described brachycephalism and sutures in the frontal (malar) bone in skulls found in glacial drift (see Canestrini 1867, p. 83).
Igino Cocchi examined human fossil remains from central Italy (DBI; see n. 8, below).
CD discussed Canestrini’s findings as cases of reversion in Descent 2d ed., p. 39.
Grace Rolleston.
Rolleston was the University of Oxford’s representative on the General Medical Council from 1875 (ODNB).
The enclosure is from Broca 1871–88, 2: 354–5. It described an exchange at the Société d’anthopologie de Paris in 1867 between Paul Broca and the German anthropologist Franz Ignaz Pruner regarding the discovery of an ancient human skull by Cocchi; this was originally published in Bulletins de la Société d’anthopologie de Paris 2d ser. 2 (1867): 672–5. The final paragraph gives Broca’s conclusions after the skull was re-examined in Paris by Gabriel de Mortillet and Ernest-Théodore Hamy.
Pruner was given the title ‘Bey’ (sir or lord) while serving as personal physician to the king of Egypt (NDB).
Cephalic index: the ratio of the breadth to the length of the skull expressed as a percentage (Chambers).
L’Uomo fossile nell’Italia centrale (Cocchi 1867).
Dolichocephalic: long-headed, having a breadth of skull (from side to side) less than 75 (or 78) per cent of the length (front to back) (Chambers).
Mortillet 1868.

Bibliography

Broca, Paul. 1871–88. Mémoires d’anthropologie de Paul Broca. 5 vols. Paris: C. Reinwald.

Canestrini, Giovanni. 1867. Caratteri anomali e rudimentale in ordine all’origine dell’uomo. Annuario della Società dei Naturalisti in Modena 2: 81–99.

Chambers: The Chambers dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers. 1998.

Cocchi, Igino. 1867. L’Uomo fossile nell’Italia centrale. Milan: Printed by Giuseppe Bernardoni.

DBI: Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti et al. 92 vols. (A–Sisto IV) to date. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. 1960–.

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Hamy, Ernest-Théodore. 1868. Étude sur le crâne de l’Olmo. [Read 6 February 1868.] Bulletins de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris 2d ser. 3: 112–18.

NDB: Neue deutsche Biographie. Under the auspices of the Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. 26 vols. (A–Vocke) to date. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 1953–.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Translation

From George Rolleston1   9 May 1877

[Enclosure]2

Memoires d’Anthropologie de Paul Broca Vol II. p. 354–355

XII

On the post pliocene Olma skull

(Arno Valley.)

(Bulletins de la Societé d’anthropologie, 2d. series, v. II, p. 674–675. 19 Dec. 1867.

In communicating to the society the important memoir of M. Cocchi on the Olmo skull (Arno Valley.) M. Pruner-Bey3 noted that this skull dated from the post pliocene epoch: he was prepared to agree with the author that this was the most ancient remain known of palaeontological man, and he added that this skull, which had a cephalic index,4 he said, of 86.4., was very brachycephalic   I in turn studied the memoir and the engraving of M. Cocchi,5 and I found, on the contrary, that the Olmo skull only appeared brachycephalic because of a mistake in the printing.

The fact discovered by M. Cocchi, and which M. Pruner-Bey has just given in abstract to us, seemed to confirm the view of our colleague on the pre-existence of the brachycephalic type in Europe, since a skull more ancient than all others, from a stratum of postpliocene soil, would be not just brachycephalic, but even extremely brachycephalic, with a cephalic index of 86.4. This fact was sufficiently important in my view for me to have wanted to have a look at the copy of M. Cocchi’s memoir that has been deposited in the office. I find indeed, in the table on page 69, that the cephalic index is 86.40. It would also be 88.44. If the connection of the two diameters given on the same table is established, namely: the antero-posterior, 199 millimetres: transverse biparietal diameter, 176 millimetres. But it is clear that the latter measurement is impossible: it is per se, since no human skull, except in the case of hydrocephaly, could reach this size; it is especially when compared with the other measurements of the same skull, since the transverse curve is only 200 millimetres. There is at least one error in the printing in this table, relative to the transverse diameter, and a further error of calculation relative to the cephalic index. Fortunately the author, to save us embarassment, has depicted the skull on a beautiful lithographed plate that accompanies the memoir and that appears to be of natural size. You can see, at first glance, that the skull is very dolichocephalic. The length, which I just measured, is 198 millimetres, the maximum width is only 144 millimetres, which gives a cephalic index of 72.72. I admit that the design could not be absolutely precise: but it is impossible to doubt that this post-pliocene skull is very dolichocephalic.6

The conclusions that I have drawn from studying the drawing published by M. Cocchi have been fully confirmed since the cast of the Olmo skull was given to the society by Professor Cocchi, in January 1868. M. Mortillet, in presenting this cast, gave multiple proofs of the antiquity of the Olmo skull, which he did not hesitate to relate to the quaternary epoch (Bull Soc. d’anthrop., 2d series, v. III. p. 40).7 In a later meeting, M. Hamy described this skull fully and established that it was very dolichocephalic, with a cephalic index of 73 out of 100. (Hamy, “Etude sur le crâne de l’Olmo, in Bull. de la Soc. d’anthrop.”, 2d series, v. III, p. 112–117. 6 February 1868).8

Footnotes

For a transcription of this enclosure in its original French, and the letter it was enclosed with, see p. QQQQ.
The enclosure is from Broca 1871–88, 2: 354–5. It described an exchange at the Société d’anthopologie de Paris in 1867 between Paul Broca and the German anthropologist Franz Ignaz Pruner regarding the discovery of an ancient human skull by Cocchi; this was originally published in Bulletins de la Société d’anthopologie de Paris 2d ser. 2 (1867): 672–5. The final paragraph gives Broca’s conclusions after the skull was re-examined in Paris by Gabriel de Mortillet and Ernest-Théodore Hamy.
Pruner was given the title ‘Bey’ (sir or lord) while serving as personal physician to the king of Egypt (NDB).
Cephalic index: the ratio of the breadth to the length of the skull expressed as a percentage (Chambers).
L’Uomo fossile nell’Italia centrale (Cocchi 1867).
Dolichocephalic: long-headed, having a breadth of skull (from side to side) less than 75 (or 78) per cent of the length (front to back) (Chambers).
Mortillet 1868.

Bibliography

Broca, Paul. 1871–88. Mémoires d’anthropologie de Paul Broca. 5 vols. Paris: C. Reinwald.

Canestrini, Giovanni. 1867. Caratteri anomali e rudimentale in ordine all’origine dell’uomo. Annuario della Società dei Naturalisti in Modena 2: 81–99.

Chambers: The Chambers dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers. 1998.

Cocchi, Igino. 1867. L’Uomo fossile nell’Italia centrale. Milan: Printed by Giuseppe Bernardoni.

DBI: Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti et al. 92 vols. (A–Sisto IV) to date. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. 1960–.

Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Hamy, Ernest-Théodore. 1868. Étude sur le crâne de l’Olmo. [Read 6 February 1868.] Bulletins de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris 2d ser. 3: 112–18.

NDB: Neue deutsche Biographie. Under the auspices of the Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. 26 vols. (A–Vocke) to date. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot. 1953–.

ODNB: Oxford dictionary of national biography: from the earliest times to the year 2000. (Revised edition.) Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. 60 vols. and index. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Summary

Discusses the structure of the human cranium, in particular a find by Cocchi and observations by Canestrini.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-10956
From
George Rolleston
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Anatomical Department, Museum, Oxford
Source of text
DAR 176: 214
Physical description
3pp encl (French)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10956,” accessed on 18 September 2021, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-10956.xml

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