Nebraska Man


The study and description of this part of the collection was assigned by Professor Osborn to the writers, and its results appear in the following pages... The anterior molars and premolars of this genus of peccaries show a startling resemblance to the teeth of Anthropoidea, and might well be mistaken for them by anyone not familiar with the dentition of Miocene peccaries.  ~ W. D. Matthew and Harold Cook  Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History  1909  p.361, 390



It has been suggested humorously that the animal should be named Bryopithecus after the most distinguished Primate which the State of Nebraska has thus far produced. It is certainly singular that this discovery is announced within six weeks of the day (March 5, 1922) that the author advised William Jennings Bryan to consult a certain passage in the Book of Job, "Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee," and it is a remarkable coincidence that the first earth to speak on this subject is the sandy earth of the Middle Pliocene Snake Creek deposits of western Nebraska. ~ Henry Fairfield Osborn 



The Illustrated London News  June 24 1922  p.942-3 



The Illustrated London News  June 24 1922  p.944

See also: The Piltdown Family Tree

Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn's announcement of the discovery, in the Pliocene beds of Nebraska, of a fossil tooth, which he and his distinguished colleagues in the American Museum of Natural History are unanimous in regarding as evidence of the former existence in America of a higher representative of the Order Primates, either a new genus of anthropoid apes of of an extremely primitive member of the human family, is an event of momentous importance to every student of the history of the human family...  the accuracy and reliability of Mr. Cook's identification of its geological age and provenance was not questioned... His claim that "whatever it is, it is certainly a contemporary fossil of the Upper Snake Creek horizon, and agrees far more closely with the anthropoid-human molar than that of any other mammal known," has been fully confirmed by the investigations of Professor Osborn and Drs. Matthew and Gregory, who have an unrivalled experience of the scientific study of mammalian fossilized teeth.~ Grafton Elliot Smith


The anthropoid Primate characters of the tooth are confirmed by another water-worn third upper molar previously found by William D. Matthew in the same beds but not described because it was not sufficiently distinctive. These two teeth establish the existence in the Pilocene period of a new and independent type of anthropoid, intermediate in the structure of its grinding teeth between the anthropoid ape an d the human type.  ~ Henry Fairfield Osborn


Nature  August 26 1922  p.282

Finally, of the utmost rarity are the remains of the Primates, because during the eight seasons of continuous and expert search we have only discovered two teeth, namely, the tooth now regarded as a third superior molar of an old individual of Hesperopithecus found by Dr. W. D. Matthew in 1908, and the type tooth of Hesperopithecus haroldcookii found by the geologist Harold J. Cook in 1921. We are this season renewing the search with great vigour and expect to run every shovelful of loose river sand which composes this deposit through a sieve of mesh fine enough to arrest such small objects as these teeth. Even by this laborious and painstaking method the probability of finding more material is not very great...My original characterization and description has been fully justified by intensive research of the past two months. I have not stated that Hesperopithecus was either an Ape-man or in the direct line of human ancestry, because I consider it quite possible that we may discover anthropoid apes (Simiidae) with teeth closely imitating those of man (Hominidae), just as we have discovered in the true Piltdown man (Eoanthropus) teeth closely imitating those of the chimpanzee.  ~ Henry Fairfield Osborn


It is an irony of fate that what certain anthropologists consider the fossil remains of a primitive member of the human family, or of a new higher genus of the primate family, should have been found in the State of Nebraska. It is as if the anti-evolutionary protagonist were judged out of his own State... The poet has long used the "tooth of time" figuratively, but here in a riverbed in Nebraska it has become literally more enduring than SHAKESPEARE imagined who found in brass a "forted residence" against it and the "razure of oblivion." And sharper than a serpent's tooth must it seem to Mr. BRYAN. Perhaps he will insist, with some other paleontological authorities, that it is only a Pliocene bear's tooth, after all. But an English professor of anatomy. Dr. ELLIOTT SMITH, after reviewing the evidence, says that one can place implicit trust in the claims that the tooth found in the Pliocene beds of Nebraska is "really that of a primitive member of the human family."  ~  The New York Times  September 3 1922  p.E2



Within a few hours' travel from the former Nebraska home of William Jennings Bryan, where he formulated his arguments against Darwinism and the theory the man was related to a monkey, scientists have found a prehistoric ape's tooth, which, they think, forges a new and strong link in Darwin's theory that man and ape descend form a common group.

It is also declared to be the first bit of definite evidence of the existence of anthropoids in this part of the world, so that this extinct ape, which more than 1,000,000 years ago roamed the territory that later became Nebraska and Bryan's home, has been called by scientists the Ape of the Western World on the theory that he was closely related to man.

A group of scientists at the American Museum of Natural History, who have been carrying on an intensive study of the tooth, have formed definite conclusions, which are to be published soon in the official bulletins of the Museum and one of these conclusions is that the tooth of this Ape-Man of the Western World "adds another item to the enormous mass of evidence showing that man is merely a specialized derivative of some 'ancient member of the anthropomorphous sub-group,' in strict accordance with Darwin's conclusion."


Experts who have studied the skeleton of John Daniel and the teeth of the Ape of the Western World in comparison with man, believe that there are also specimens in the history of paleontology showing closer resemblance to man than did this Nebraska Ape-Man. 

One of those specimens was Pithecanthropus, or the Ape-Man of Java, discovered about 1891, and the other was the Piltdown Man, whose broken skull and jaw bone fragments were found in Sussex around 1911. Indeed, those men came nearly a whole geological epoch after this Ape-Man of the Western World. His age in the history of the world is place by the scientists as the lower Pliocene, where the Piltdown Man was place in the upper Pliocene or the lower Pleistocene.


While he was preparing for a trip to China to investigate the early history of man there, Dr. Osborn again went over his conclusions and studies of the teeth of the Ape of the Western World, read the report of his colleagues, and corrected all his writings on the subject, and then re-asserted his conclusion that a new primate had been discovered and that the discovery added a new link to the chain of proof of the theory of Darwin.


After studying the tooth of the Ape of the Western World intensively for several months, measuring it in every way, X-raying it and comparing it to every known specimen of teeth of men and ancient apes, two scientists who are experts in dentition formed the scientific opinion that Dr. Osborn was correct in his assertion that the tooth was that of a primate hitherto unknown to paleontology.

One of these men was Dr. William K. Gregory, curator of the Department of Comparative Anatomy in the American Museum of Natural History and Associate Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology in Columbia University, who is considered a foremost authority on dentition and whose book on "The Origin and Evolution of the Human Dentition," is considered a master work in its field. The other was Dr. Milo Hellman, who had also made an intensive study of the teeth of John Daniel in comparison with man.


Professor Osborn pointed out in one of his studies on the tooth that the fact that it was broader transversely than the chimpanzee tooth and narrower in fore-and-aft dimensions indicated that the Ape-Man of the Western World had a shorter facial region than the "chimp." That would make him a little more handsome than a "chimp."


It was near the end of the age of mammals, and it was a time of volcano disturbances, and not a particularly happy hunting ground, even for a strong Ape of the Western World. His foes were numerous and ferocious, his food supply perhaps not always so sure as deeper in the forests, and gradually the species became extinct, only to be discovered  a million years later as a bit of refutation of Bryan's arguments.  ~  The New York Times  September 17 1922 VII p.2

See also: Piltdown



This discovery constitutes an event of the utmost importance for the science of anthropology no less than for geology. Future developments will be watched with keen interest. ~  American Anthropologist 1922  p.249



American Museum Novitates  January 6 1923  p.15 



The so-called "million-dollar" Hesperopithecus tooth of the American museum of Natural History which proves that a manlike ape inhabited Nebraska in prehistoric times, has been accidentally broken to pieces, it was learned yesterday, but has been reconstructed and is still useful.

Obese volumes have been written in this country about this famous molar and it has appeared frequently in the anthropological literature of Europe. It was the first proof that an ape-man or a man-ape had existed in America. The New York Times   February 19 1925  p.21 


Hesperopithecus is represented only by a single tooth, but the evidence which Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Professor W. K. Gregory have collected regarding the tooth has been generally accepted as proving that a higher anthropoid, which may have closely resembled a man, lived in Nebraska about a million years ago. Dr. Elliot Smith, the English scientist, recently wrote to Professor Gregory that British scientists were practically a unit in accepting the interpretation placed by the authorities of the American Museum of Natural History on the tooth. ~  New York Times   March 22 1923  p.30

Men who would not cross the street to save a soul have traveled around the world in search of skeletons. If they find a stray tooth in a gravel pit, they hold a conclave and fashion a creature such as they suppose the possessor of the tooth to have been, and then they shout derisively at Moses.  ~ William Jennings Bryan

Three years ago William Jennings Bryan made a pledge which he has not fulfilled. This pledge was published on the Lord's Day, February 26, 1922, and was read by a million people. It was so sincere in tone and was accompanied by so earnest a statement that I for one took it at its face value... To those serious and earnest seekers after the Truth, from 500 B.C. to the present time, we have the contrasting attitude of the Great Commoner; if all the evidence for the Truth were piled as high as Ossa upon Pelion, if proof were heaped upon proof, the Truth would not prevail with him, because all the natural avenues of the Truth are tightly closed... It is noteworthy that shortly after his pledge to accept the Truth appeared in 1922, the Earth spoke to Bryan and spoke from his own native state of Nebraska, in the message of a diminutive tooth, the herald of our knowledge of anthropoid apes in America... The world-wide interest aroused by the discovery in Nebraska of Hesperopithecus, "the ape of the western world", is in widest possible contrast to the dimunitive and insignificant appearance of the single grinding tooth ...  this little tooth speaks volumes of truth, -- truth consistent with all we have known before, with all that we have found elsewhere... Certainly we shall not banish this bit of Truth because it does not fit in with our preconceived notions and because at present it constitutes infinitesimal but irrefutable evidence that man-apes wandered over from Asia into North America...  The truth of these records is truth of the most imperishable order, and it must prevail. It may inconvenience us, it may disturb us, it may completely upset many of our scientific ideas, it may run counter to our religious views; our duty is not to avoid the consequences of the truth but to face them and overcome them.  ~ Henry Fairfield Osborn 

In the June Forum, Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn assumed to speak for the earth, and, as its interpreter, administered a rebuke to me in its name. Those, who are unacquainted with the sublime self-confidence of the evolutionists, may be surprised at this presumptuousness; but compared with other illustrations of conceit, the Professor is humility itself. The more inflated of his class do not hesitate to claim an infallibility which they deny to the Bible... Professor Osborn is so biased in favor of a brute ancestry, and so anxious to substantiate his claims to jungle blood, that he exultantly accepts as proof the most absurd stories. When a few bones and a piece of skull are fashioned into a supposed likeness of a prehistoric animal, described as an ape-man, he falls down before it and worships it, although it contains a smaller percentage of fact than the one-half per cent of alcohol permitted in a legal beverage. Each new exhibit, -- no matter how largely the product of an inflamed imagination, -- lifts him to a new altitude of exultation, and each one in itself furnishes him sufficient foundations for unchangeable convictions; and yet, in spite of his doubled and redoubled certainty, he grasps at each new bit of evidence, no matter how frail and flimsy it is, as a drowning man clutches at a straw... His latest "newly discovered evidence" is a long lost witness captured in Nebraska. He would probably have declared it "irrefutable" even if it had been found in some other State, -- all the evidence o his side seems "irrefutable" to him, -- but the fact that it was found in Nebraska, my home State for a third of a century, greatly multiplied its value... not even  a jaw bone survived to supply this Sampson of the scientific world with a weapon to use against the Philistines of today. But a tooth in his hand is, in his opinion, an irresistible weapon...The finder of this priceless tooth, conscious that it could impose upon but a few, even among those who prefer speculation to reason, wisely chose Professor Osborn. He hastily summoned a few congenial spirits, nearly as credulous as himself, and they held a post mortem examination on the extinct animal, which had at one time been the proud possessor of this "infinitesimal" and "insignificant" tooth. After due deliberation, they solemnly concluded and announced that the tooth was the long looked-for and eagerly longed-for missing link which the world awaited... Give science a fact and it is invincible. But no one can guess more wildly than a scientist, when he has no compass but his imagination, and no purpose but to get away from God.  ~ William Jennings Bryan 

I think the balance of probability is in favour of the view that the tooth found in the Pliocene beds of Nebraska may possibly have belonged to a primitive member of the Human Family. ~ Grafton Elliot Smith 

Authorities at the American Museum of Natural History, last week, candidly stated that in one particular they had been wrong, and the late William Jennings Bryan and his Fundamentalist disciples right. The particular was an old tooth, found five years ago by Paleontologist Harold Cook, in an ancient Nebraska river bed... Recent diggings in Nebraska revealed a few similar and more perfect teeth. These the museum staff had studied and were delighted to learn that they had erred in their first deduction. The teeth, they announced last week, had served no anthropoidal beast, but an ancient, bristly, snub-nosed pig, a peccary, rooting in Nebraska several millennia ago. ~ Time



See also: Wolf and Mellet

See also: Sibley

See also: Piltdown

See also: Science


See also: An Atheist Fairy Tale