Henry Christy and Edouard Lartet

History of Henry Christy and Edouard Lartet


Henry Christy

Henry Christy (26 July 1810 – 4 May 1865), English ethnologist, was born at Kingston upon Thames. He entered his father’s firm of hatters, in London, and later became a director of the London Joint-Stock Bank.

In 1850 he started on a series of journeys, which interested him in ethnological studies. Encouraged by what he saw at the Great Exhibition of 1851, Christy devoted the rest of his life to perpetual travel and research, making extensive collections illustrating the early history of man, now in the British Museum. He travelled in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, British Columbia and other countries; but in 1858 came the opportunity which brought him fame.

It was in that year that the discoveries by Boucher de Perthes of flint implements in France and England were first held to have clearly proved the great antiquity of man. Christy joined the Geological Society, and in company with his friend Edouard Lartet explored the caves in the valley of the Vezere, a tributary of the Dordogne in the south of France. Christy’s funding contributed to the discovery of Cro-Magnon man in 1868 in a cave at Les Eyzies de Tayac.To his task Christy devoted money and time ungrudgingly, and an account of the explorations appeared in Comptes rendus (Feb. 29th, 1864) and Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London (June 21st, 1864). He died, however, on the 4th of May 1865, of inflammation of the lungs supervening on a severe cold contracted during excavation work at La Palisse, leaving a half-finished book, entitled Reliquiae Aquilanicae, being contributions to the Archaeology and Paleontology of Perigord and the adjacent provinces of Southern France; this was issued in parts and completed at the expense of Christy’s executors, first by Lartet and, after his death in 1870, by Professor Rupert Jones.

By his will Christy bequeathed his magnificent archaeological collection to the nation. In 1884 it found a home in the British Museum. Christy took an earnest part in many philanthropic movements of his time, especially identifying himself with the efforts to relieve the sufferers from the Irish famine of 1847.

Édouard Lartet

Édouard Lartet (May 15, 1801–January 28, 1871) was a French paleontologist. The geologist Édouard Lartet discovered the first five skeletons in March 1868 in the Cro-Magnon rock shelter at Les Eyzies

Lartet was born near Castelnau-Barbarens, departement of Gers, France, where his family had lived for more than five hundred years. He was educated for the law at Auch and Toulouse, but having private means elected to devote himself to science. The then recent work of Georges Cuvier on fossil mammalia encouraged Lartet in excavations which led in 1834 to his first discovery of fossil remains in the neighborhood of Auch. Thence forward he devoted his whole time to a systematic examination of the French caves, his first publication on the subject being The Antiquity of Man in Western Europe (1860), followed in 1861 by New Researches on the Coexistence of Man and of the Great Fossil Mammifers characteristic of the Last Geological Period. In this paper he made public the results of his discoveries in the cave of Aurignac, where evidence existed of the contemporaneous existence of man and extinct mammals.

In his work in the Périgord district Lartet had the aid of Henry Christy. The first account of their joint researches appeared in a paper descriptive of the Dordogne caves and contents, published in Revue archéologique (1864). The important discoveries in the Madeleine cave and elsewhere were published by Lartet and Christy under the title Reliquiae Aquitanicae, the first part appearing in 1865. Christy died before the completion of the work, but Lartet continued it until his breakdown in health in 1870. His son Louis Lartet followed in his father’s footsteps.

The most modest and one of the most illustrious of the founders of modern palaeontology, Lartet’s work had previously been publicly recognized by his nomination as an officer of the Légion d’honneur; and in 1848 he had had the offer of a political post. In 1857 he had been elected a foreign member of the Geological Society of London, and a few weeks before his death he had been made professor of palaeontology at the museum of the Jardin des Plantes. He died at Séissan.