Discovery of human antiquity

The discovery of human antiquity was a major achievement of science in the middle of the 19th century, and the foundation of scientific paleoanthropology. The antiquity of man, human antiquity, or in simpler language the age of the human race, are names given to the series of scientific debates it involved, which with modifications continue in the 21st century. These debates have clarified and given scientific evidence, from a number of disciplines, towards solving the basic question of dating the first human being.

Controversy was very active in this area in parts of the 19th century, with some dormant periods also. A key date was the 1859 re-evaluation of archaeological evidence that had been published 12 years earlier by Boucher de Perthes. It was then widely accepted, as validating the suggestion that man was much older than had previously been believed, for example than the 6,000 years implied by some traditional chronologies.

In 1863 T. H. Huxley argued that man was an evolved species; and in 1864 Alfred Russel Wallace combined natural selection with the issue of antiquity. The arguments from science for what was then called the "great antiquity of man" became convincing to most scientists, over the following decade. The separate debate on the antiquity of man had in effect merged into the larger one on evolution, being simply a chronological aspect. It has not ended as a discussion, however, since the current science of human antiquity is still in flux.


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