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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Hugh Falconer   24 April [1863]1

21 Park Crescent | N.W.

24 April

My Dear Darwin.

Lest I should have misled you through my banter about the Insectivore cross—in the Typotherium, I think it right to let you know, that I cited insectivore simply as a term of comparison to convey to you an idea of the outline of the crown of the molars.2 In reality there is no insectivore affinity. The affinity is with Toxodon; the incisors of an overgrown Rodent; and the Cerebral box—of the skull shaped somewhat like some of the larger herbivorous Marsupials. There may be other odd points of detail. The Creature is so singular, that the names Typotherium and Mesotherium were thought of for it by the French.3 I thought you would be interested about it—and I wrote to you. The skull was quite fresh looking. I suppose there is a Cast of it in England by this time, at the Coll. of S. Flower at my suggestion has written for it.4

Gratiolet—the greatest of living French Anatomists, told me, that Glyptodon, by its brain, is a true Bradypus 5   They have a magnificent entire skull of it—also—absolutely perfect

The fossil human jaw of Abbeville—is I believe a plant, got by by the workmen. I have written a letter about it.6

Yours Ever | H Falconer



The year is established by reference to the fossil human jaw discovered at Moulin-Quignon near Abbeville, France (see n. 6, below).
In his letter to CD of 20 April [1863], Falconer had likened the molar teeth of a fossil mammal skull from South America to those of a gigantic insectivore.
William Henry Flower was curator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons (DNB).
Louis Pierre Gratiolet. Glyptodon was a large Pleistocene armoured mammal, portions of which CD collected in South America (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to Caroline Darwin, 24 October – 24 November [1832], Correspondence vol. 3, and South America, pp. 106–7); it evolved from armadillo-like ancestors and is related to the sloths, of which Bradypus is an extant genus.
What appeared to be a fossil human jaw and tooth were found on 28 March 1863 by a workman at the Moulin-Quignon gravel pit near Abbeville, France. They were extracted by the archaeologist Jacques Boucher de Perthes and were examined by Falconer when he was in France earlier in the month (see letter from Hugh Falconer, 20 April [1863] and nn. 2 and 3). Initially impressed by its antiquity, Falconer examined a cast of the jaw on his return to London and subsequently grew suspicious of the fossil’s authenticity (Carpenter 1863, Falconer et al. 1863, Van Riper 1993, pp. 135–6). Falconer’s letter appeared in The Times, 25 April 1863, p. 14. See also Boylan 1979.


Boylan, Patrick J. 1979. The controversy of the Moulin-Quignon jaw: the role of Hugh Falconer. In Images of the earth: essays in the history of the environmental sciences, edited by Ludmilla J. Jordanova and Roy S. Porter. Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire: British Society for the History of Science.

Carpenter, William Benjamin. 1863. On the fossil human jawbone recently discovered in the gravel near Abbeville. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 12 (1862–3): 524–9.

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

DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

South America: Geological observations on South America. Being the third part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN, during the years 1832 to 1836. By Charles Darwin. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1846.

Van Riper, A. Bowdoin. 1993. Men among the mammoths: Victorian science and the discovery of human prehistory. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.


Further description of the Toxodon-like mammal, Typotherium.

Letter details

Letter no.
Hugh Falconer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Park Crescent, 21
Source of text
DAR 164: 15
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 4125,” accessed on 28 January 2021,

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