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Dr Robert Collyer's drawing of the jaw

Dr Robert Collyer’s drawing of the jaw

In 1855, the jawbone of an anatomically modern human was discovered by workmen digging for coprolites in the Pliocene Red Crag deposits at Foxhall (Suffolk, UK). The bone was not recognised in situ, but was found amongst coprolites when delivered to a Mr Packard’s manure factory. It was sold by one of the men to the local pharmacist, John Taylor, who gave it to Sir Thomas Beaver less than three months later. In March 1857, Sir Thomas passed it to Dr Robert Hanham Collyer (1814-1891), a physician originally from Jersey but who had emigrated to Philadephia with his parents in 1836, who was intrigued by the discovery of a human fossil of such apparently early date.

Collyer exhibited the specimen to the Ethnological Society of London in April 1863; its members seem not to have agreed on its status, George Busk regarding it as most likely from a Roman woman and Thomas Henry Huxley, who examined it at leisure the next day, agreed that it did not have the characteristics of fossilised bones from the Red Crag deposits. Collyer’s published drawing of the jaw shows its modern morphology clearly. Interest in the bone waned and its whereabouts was no longer known by 1930. The obvious explanation – that this was a relatively recent bone from a burial that had been cut into Pliocene deposits – is found wanting by Cremo & Thompson for no better reasons than that some genuinely ancient fossil hominid remains had equally poorly validated provenances and some have disappeared. This is an argument based on false analogy.

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