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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Maw   25 April 1863

Benthall Hall, | nr. Broseley.

25th. April 63.

Dear Sir

About four years ago my cousin1 brought from Gibraltar a lump of stalactitic concretion containing bones— Sir C Lyell’s book has interested me in examining it & I am strongly impressed with the idea that they are human.2 a medical friend here3 to whom I have shown the lump also thinks that the bones are human

My brother4 who visited Gibraltar three years ago was shown by our friend there5 (who is a medical man & who gave the lump above referred to to my cousin) another lump of rock containing what appeared to him to be a portion of a human skull & which I fancy must have come from the same locality as the mass of bones but at present I know nothing whatever of the circumstances under which either of the specimens were found   indeed until Sir C. Lyell’s book made me curious on the subject I had almost forgotten having heard about them—

I wrote to our friend at Gibraltar a few days ago asking him for the loan of the piece of skull & to collect for me any information he cd gather respecting the circumstances of its occurrence   In the meantime it may perhaps be worth while to submit the lump of concrete to Sir C Lyell & if you would kindly furnish me with his address I shall be interested in placing it before him. as I am entirely unknown to Sir C Lyell perhaps you would not mind mentioning my having written to you on the subject of the bones when you next have occasion to communicate with him—

I am just now interested in the examination of some very fine sections of drift which are being opened out in a Railway Cutting at the Entrance of Coalbrook Dale. (112 miles from here)—6 The banks of the Severn the railway cutting & a gravel pit above it, afford an almost consecutive section or scores of sections of 160 to 170 feet in height & the top of this great drift bed is nearly 300 feet above the sea level. both the highest & lowest beds composing it are regular sea sand & well washed Pebbles & between them is a stratum of loam silt & Tough clay 50 or 60 feet thick interstratified with thin beds of gravel containing drift—coal Boulders & marine shells of which I have 7 or 8 species7   I do not know much about them myself but fancy they are recent species— The great bulk of this drift bed & the strata of tough clays strike me as being very unusual

Believe me to remain Dr Sir | very truly yrs. | Geo Maw.

C Darwin Esq.


This individual has not been identified.
Charles Lyell discussed evidence of ‘post-pliocene’ human habitation on the Mediterranean coast in Antiquity of man (C. Lyell 1863a, pp. 174–8), but no finds from Gibraltar had at that time been reported (see Correspondence vol. 12, letter from J. D. Hooker, 26[–28] October 1864, Busk 1864, and Grayson 1983, p. 213).
This individual has not been identified.
Arthur Maw.
This individual has not been identified.
Maw lived in Shropshire near the Severn Gorge; he published an account of these drift deposits in Maw 1864.
Maw listed these rocks and shells in Maw 1864, pp. 137 and 140.


Busk, George. 1864. On a very ancient human cranium from Gibraltar. Report of the thirty-fourth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Bath, Transactions of the sections, pp. 91–2.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Grayson, Donald K. 1983. The establishment of human antiquity. New York: Academic Press.

Maw, George. 1864. Notes on the drift-deposits of the valley of the Severn, in the neighbourhood of Coalbrook Dale and Bridgnorth. [Read 20 January 1864.] Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 20: 130–44.


Has obtained fossils from Gibraltar that he believes are human. Requests Lyell’s address so that he can send the bones.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Maw
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Benthall Hall
Source of text
DAR 171: 99
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4128,” accessed on 8 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 11