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Diagram of Engis Skull
(Screenshot taken from sciencegossip.com)

 

While browsing through the citizen science project website, I found a drawn diagram that depicted the cranium of an earlier form of man. The skull that I examined was found by Dr. Philippe-Charles Schmerling in 1829. The skull was found in Engis, Belgium in a cave – the human skull was surrounded by stone tools and other remains of recently extinct animals: a cave bear and a cave hyena. The skull was decidedly very old, but its exact antiquity remained unknown at that time due to a limit of the geological and chemical evidence that could be produced. What I found particularly interesting about the Engis cranium is that it is dolichocephalic and resembles other cranium found in Europe, but is not “boat-shaped” like the other cranium found in Scotland that were later attributed to the Stone Period. Even more interesting, is that the skull would have been completely overlooked had it not been originally mistaken for the skull of a contemporary cave bear or mammoth.

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Excerpt from article that mentions the finding of the Engis Skull
(Screenshot taken from sciencegossip.com)

 

I believe this goes to show that great scientific discoveries have at times been caused by a series of happy accidents or just plain serendipity. Indeed, Schmerling’s discovery was great, if nothing short of ground-breaking as it was the first neanderthal skull to ever be found. Later in 1833, Schmerling published his findings in the Awirs cave and suggested that the skull was representative of earlier forms of man and that these primitive men hunted the now extinct animals with the stone tools also found in the cave. This was all, Schmerling argued, indicative that human antiquity was older than the biblical age of the earth of approximately 6000 years. Indeed, this was one of the first arguments for great human antiquity that arose from archaeological evidence.

However unfortunately, Schmerling was unsuccessful in convincing others of his findings. We have to take into account that Schmerling’s findings occurred nearly three decades before Darwin’s release of “The Origin of Species.” Notions of anthropogenesis and evolution were not largely accepted during Schmerling’s time, and as such, he was not recognized for his work until after his death. Nevertheless, his findings deeply challenged the status quo of the time – that not only had humans lived on this earth for longer than 6000 years, but that they underwent evolution as well. Of course his work and others in his field remain incredibly salient to this day – without their documented findings we would not understand and be able to map out the history of anthropogeny. If this information were lost, I believe we would eventually default back to earlier beliefs of Genesis as the origin of man, and in turn we would lose all the progress we have made in furthering our understanding of creation. Furthermore, the digitization of this scientific information is increasingly important so that we may be able to preserve this knowledge for future generations. Digitizing information and storing it on the internet ensures that it cannot be lost as easily as say when vast seas of knowledge were burned during the Dark Ages. Now that we have the technology to not only preserve the information safely, but also distribute it on an open and accessible platform, it allows the general populace to access scientific records and scientific findings. Citizen science projects allow for just that – the participation of the general populace in furthering the preservation and recordation of science for years to come. Through these projects, not only are we able to get the general populace involved, but we may educate them, and perhaps even more importantly we may foster a love and interest in science. Therefore, I humbly maintain the opinion that science shouldn’t be just for the scientists.