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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Genealogy of the Horse

Genealogy of the Horse.

In what is called here the the pliocene formation, that which constitutes almost the uppermost division of the tertiary series, we find the remains of horses. We also find in Europe abundant remains of horses in the most superficial of all these formations—that is, the post-tertiary, which immediately lies above the pliocene. But these horses, which are abundant in the cave deposits and in the gravels of England and Europe—these horses, of which we know the anatomical structure to perfection, are in all essential respects like existing horses. And that is true of all the horses of the latter part of the pliocene epoch. But in the middle and earlier parts of the pliocene epoch, in deposits which belong to that age, and which occur in Germany and in Greece, to some extent in Britain and in France, there we find animals which are like horses in all the essential particulars which I have just described, and the general character of which is so entirely like that of the horse that you may follow descriptions given in works upon the anatomy of the horse upon the skeletons of these animals. But they differ in some important particulars. There is a difference in the structure of the fore and hind-limb, and that difference consists in page 33 this, that the bones which are here represented by two splints, imperfect below, are as long as the middle metacarpal bone, and that attached to the extremity of each is a small toe with its three joints of the same general character as the middle toe, only-very much smaller, and so disposed that they could have had so very little importance that they must have been rather of the nature of the dew claws which are in the ruminant animals. This Hipparion, or European horse, in fact presents a foot similar to that which you see here represented, except that in the European Hipparion these smaller fingers are further back, and these lateral toes are of smaller proportional size.

But nevertheless we have here a horse in which the lateral toes, almost abortive in the existing horse, are fully developed. On careful investigation you find in these animals that also in the fore-limb the ulna is very thin, yet is traceable down to the extremity. In the hind-limb you find that the fibula is pretty much as in the horse itself. That is the kind of equine animal which you meet with in these older Pliocene formations, in which the modern horse is already or becomes entirely absent. So you see that the Hipparion is the form that immediately preceded the horse. Now let us go a step further back (illustrating) to these which are called the Miocene formations, and which constitute the middle part of the deposits of the tertiary epoch. There you find in some parts of Europe—in Germany, Central Germany, in France, and in Greece—there you find equine animals which differ essentially from the modern horse: all that they resemble the horse is in the broad features of their organization. They differ still further in the characters of their fore and hind-limbs, and present important features of difference in the teeth. The forms to which I now refer are what are known to constitute the genus Anchitherium (illustrating). We have these three toes, and the middle toe is smaller in proportion, the lower toes are larger, and in fact large enough to rest upon the ground, and to have functional importance—not an animal with two dew claws, but an animal with three functional toes. And in the fore-arm you find the ulna a very distinct bone, quite readily distinguishable in its whole length from the pradius, but still pretty closely united with it. In the hind-limb you also meet with three functional toes There is the same structure in the Hipparion's hind limb that there was in the case of the Anchitherium, and in the hind-leg the fibula is longer. In some cases I have reason to think that it is complete; at any rate this lower end of it (illustrating) is quite distinctly recognizable as a separable though not exactly separated piece of bone. But the most curious change is that which is to be found in the character of the teeth. The teeth of the Anchitherium have in the first place, so far as the incisors are concerned, a more rudimentary pit—the pit is vastly smaller than in the horse. The canine teeth are present in both sexes. The molars are short; there is no cement, and the pattern is somewhat like this (drawing on the blackboard). There are two crescents and two oblique ridges; while in the lower jaw you have the double crescent and a very slight complication at the extremity. It is quite obvious that this (illustrating from drawing) is a simpler form than that. By increasing the complexity of those teeth there we have the horse's teeth. These are all the forms with which we are acquainted respecting the past history of the horse in Europe. When I happened to occupy myself with this subject there was some difficulty in tracing them, but they left no doubt whatever in my mind that we had here a genuine record of the history of the evolution of the horse. You must understand that every one of these forms in time has undoubtedly become modified into various species and the like, and we cannot be absolutely certain that we have the exact line of modification, but it was perfectly obvious that we had here in succession, in time, three forms, fundamentally modified, in the horse type, of which the oldest came nearer to the general mammal—was far less modified than the Hipparion and what has taken place afterward. We saw that the animals which had existed afterward had undergone a reduction of their limbs and toes, a reduction of the lower bones of the hind-leg, a more complete coalescence of the fibula with the tibia. The pattern of the molar teeth has become more complicated, and the entire space has become filled with cement.

Consider what other alternative hypothesis lies open to you unless you admit this. In this succession of forms you have exactly that which the hypothesis of evolution demands. The history corresponds exactly with that you would construct à priori from the principles of Evolution an alternative hypothesis is hardly conceivable, page 34 but the only one that could be framed would be this, that the Anchitherium, the Hippirion, and the horse had been created separately and at separate epochs of time, and for that there could be no scientific evidence. And in the first place it is not pretended that there is the slightest evidence of any other kind that such successive creation has ever taken place. When I was investigating this subject, all the collections in Europe were accessible to me, and they had led myself, and I may say, as I happen to know by correspondence with him, had also led that very eminent anatomist Professor Lartet, of Paris, to the same conclusion. Indeed the story is so plain that no one deserves any particular credit for drawing so obvious a conclusion. And since then, palæontological inquiry has not only given us greater and greater knowledge of the series of horse-like forms, but by and by enabled us to fill up the gaps in the series, and to extend that series further back in time.