Punch,  44 (1863), 224–25.

The Great Jaw of Moulin-Quignon



Poetry, Drollery


Anatomy, Archaeology, Human Development, Ethnology, Palaeontology, Religion, Comparative Philology, Evolution, Charlatanry, Controversy, Periodicals

    Begins by referring the reader to various 'letters, papers, inquiries, and comptes-rendus' by Jean L A de Quatrefages de Bréau, Henri Milne-Edwards, Hugh Falconer, Joseph Prestwich, and William B Carpenter. The article refers to recent claims that evidence of the jaw (containing a single tooth) of an antediluvian man had been found in a gravel pit at Moulin-Quignon (Abbeville). The poem upholds the jawbone as the most 'famous' since 'that famed jaw-bone' on which Sampson 'hung an ass's head' (a reference to Judges 15:15), but one that 'wagged beside the Mastodon'. Considers the types of meat that it must have consumed and wonders if it 'Chattered or ached' 'in Glacial time' or when the 'Welsh antediluvians friz / Amidst perennial snows'. Wonders what the owner of the jaw could have revealed about his landscape, including the 'things he ate', 'How he went clad', and the 'queer molluscs Pleiocene, / Or huge Crustaceans Meiocene'. Proceeds to note how the jaw has baffled the 'calculating mind' and geologists 'can still bid [the jaw] fall / To doubt about its drift', but that even if two jaws had been found and could speak, it would show 'how little 'tis we know, / In spite of all that's bragged'. Anticipates how the jaw might 'settle' 'controversies' and give both Thomas H Huxley and Richard Owen 'a smashing'. The jaw of 'homo primogenitus', in Punch's opinion, is 'strong' in 'wisdom' despite its 'golden' silence, but it 'can'st not even wag' its 'authenticity' and may be a 'bit of pseudo-anthropology, / Made [...] to sell'. (224) Explains this cynicism by appealing to the 'wide [...] imposition' and food adulteration of the day that is so unsatisfactory that 'We've taken to forging man!'. Accordingly, surmises that the jaw might be a 'recent bone' from a 'pauper's grave', but nonetheless reflects on its ability to 'raise quarrels'. (225)

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