Quote: Fay Cooper-Cole on bones and races

In 1945, American Naturalist published a lecture by Fay Cooper-Cole on “Some problems of human racial development and migration”. Cooper-Cole had been a student of Frans Boas and helped to establish Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He had also been an expert witness at the Scopes trial in 1925. At the time this lecture was published he was 64 years old.

The lecture is interesting from a historical point of view, although overall it reads like Cooper-Cole was speaking off the cuff with little systematic preparation. The history includes things like Piltdown that were wrong, and others like the placement of the Swanscombe and Steinheim crania that today do not carry the significance that they once did.

But it’s fascinating to read the paragraphs near the beginning and end of the lecture. In them he examined more enduring issues.

At the beginning:

My difficulties begin when I use the term human. Where is the dividing line between prehunian and human? Just about the time of the Dayton trial came the discovery of Australopithecus. A London journal came out with an illustrated article calling this the oldest find of fossil man in Africa or perhaps in the world. American papers copied and one of our British colleagues was so fearful I might use the material in my testimony that he sent me a long message saying the find, was not man but an ape far advanced toward man.
How human does a "man-ape" have to be before we class him as human? Does the distinction lie in cranial capacity? If so, the six-year-old Australopithecus had already passed out of and beyond the range of Anthropoid apes of like age.

And the end, as he runs out of time to talk about modern human differences:

Those of you who deal with other animals don't realize how fortunate you are. You can put your subjects into a cage; you can control their mating and you can watch results over several generations. No such happy situation faces the student of man. He is a slow breeder; he refuses to conform in his mating habits; and you can't lock him up for long. Paleontologists may say "if these bones could only speak," but if we judge by living man, most information on racial matters that the talking bones would give would be misinformation.

That last line is uncharacteristic of the lecture as a whole. Cooper-Cole’s view on races as expressed in the lecture mostly relates a view of human variation like that of his contemporary Earnest Hooton. But the limits on that understanding come out in this last paragraph, and I think the last sentence is very quotable.