from Geological Evidences (1863)
It has sometimes happened that one nation has been conquered by another less civilized though more warlike, or that, during social and political revolutions, people have retrograded in knowledge. In such cases, the traditions of earlier ages, or of some higher and more educated caste which has been destroyed, may give rise to the notion of degeneracy from a primeval state of superior intelligence, or of science supernaturally communicated. But had the original stock of mankind been really endowed with such superior intellectual powers, and with inspired knowledge, and had possessed the same improvable nature as their posterity, the point of advancement which they would have reached ere this would have been immeasurably higher. We cannot ascertain at present the limits, whether of the beginning or the end, of the first stone period, when Man coexisted with the extinct mammalia, but that it was of great duration we cannot doubt. During those ages there would have been time for progress of which we can scarcely form a conception, and very different would have been the character of the works of art which we should now be endeavoring to interpret,—those relics which we are now disinterring from the old gravel-pits of St. Acheul, or from the Liége caves. In them, or in the upraised bed of the Mediterranean, on the south coast of Sardinia, instead of the rudest pottery or flint tools, so irregular in form as to cause the unpractised eye to doubt whether they afford unmistakable evidence of design, we should now be finding sculptured forms, surpassing in beauty the master-pieces of Phidias or Praxiteles; lines of buried railways or electric telegraphs, from which the best engineers of our day might gain invaluable hints; astronomical instruments and microscopes of more advanced construction than any known in Europe, and other indications of perfection in the arts and sciences, such as the nineteenth century has not yet witnessed. Still farther would the triumphs of inventive genius be found to have been carried, when the later deposits, now assigned to the ages of bronze and iron, were formed. Vainly should we be straining our imaginations to guess the possible uses and meaning of such relics,—machines, perhaps, for navigating the air or exploring the depths of the ocean, or for calculating arithmetical problems, beyond the wants or even the conception of living mathematicians.