The Prehistoric World, Chapter 2
The epoch following on after the [Oligocene] is designated as the Miocene. We must remember that, though recent in a geological sense, yet it is immensely remote when measured by the standard of years. We must inquire into all the surroundings of this far away time. The geographical features must have been widely different from the present.
In the first place, the elevation of land to the north must have been sufficient to have connected the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere—North America, with Asia27 and Greenland; and this latter country must have been united with Iceland, and, through the British Islands, with Europe. But, to compensate for this land mass to the north, large portions of Central and Southern Europe were beneath the waves.28 The proof of this extended mass of land is to be found in the wide distribution of similar animals and plants in the Miocene time. All the chief botanists are agreed that the north Polar region was the center from which plants peculiar to the Eocene and Miocene epochs spread into both Europe and America.29[emphasis added-DD] We may mention that the famous big trees of California are simply remnants of a wide-spread growth of these trees in Miocene times. They can be found in a fossil state at various places in British America, in Greenland, and in Europe. They are supposed to have originated somewhere in the north, and spread by these land connections we have mentioned into both Europe and America. But this is not the only tree that grew in the Miocene forests of both continents. The magnolia, tulip-tree, and swamp cypress are other instances.30 Eleven species, growing in the Rocky Mountain regions in Oligocene times, found their way to Europe in the Miocene times,31 driving before them the plants of a tropical growth that had hitherto flourished in England. Now this implies land connection between the two continents. Furthermore, animals both large and small are found common to the two countries.32 The climate over what is now the North Temperate Zone, and even further. north, must have been delightful. There is ample testimony to this effect in the rich vegetative remains over wide areas.
In Spitzbergen, within twelve degrees of the pole, where now a dwarf willow and a few herbaceous plants form the only vegetation, and the ground is most of the time covered with snow and ice, there were growing, in Miocene times, no less than ninety-five species of trees, including yews, hazels, elders, beech, elms, and others.33 But it is in the Miocene forests of the continent of Europe where we meet with evidence of a singularly mild climate.
There were at least eleven species of palms growing in Switzerland; and one variety of them grew as far north as Northern Germany.34
We can not give a list of all the species. On the one hand, there were elms, willows, poplars, oaks, and beeches, thus far similar to the forest growth of temperate regions. Mingled with these were forests of trees like the tulip-tree, swamp cypress, and liquid amber or sweet gum of the southern part of the United States—plants whose home is in the warm and moist regions of the earth. But there were also representatives of the tropical regions—such as fig-trees, cinnamon-trees, and camphor-trees: these are found growing now in tropical countries. Fruit-trees of the cherry, plum, and almond species were also to be seen. Prof. Heer points out how all this should convince us that a large part of Europe, in the Miocene Age, possessed a climate not unlike that of the Madeira or Canary Islands[emph added-DD] to-day. He calls especial attention to the fact that these trees were nearly all of evergreen species, and that a severe winter would destroy them. He finds one hundred and thirty-one species of the Temperate Zone—species that can stand a moderate amount of cold, but not very hot and dry climates. He finds eighty-five species of tropical plants that could not possibly live where the Winters are severe. Mingled with these were nearly three hundred species whose natural home is in the warm, temperate portions of the earth. The only way you can explain this motley assemblage of trees is, to suppose that in what is now Europe was a climate free from extremes, allowing the trees to put forth flowers and fruits all the year round. "Reminding us," says Prof. Heer, "of those fortunate zones where Nature never goes to rest."35
Let us now inquire as to the animals that roamed through these great forests we have been describing. The Miocene period extended over a long lapse of time, and considerable change took place among the animals belonging to the different parts of this age. We will only give a general outline for the whole period. The marsupials lingered along into the early stages of this period, and then disappeared from Europe. The rhinoceros were present in the early stages, and continued through the entire age. We meet in this period animals of the elephant kind, two species, the mastodon and deinotherium. Antelopes and gazelles wandered in vast troops over the plains of Hungary, Spain, and Southern France. Carnivorous animals resembling tigers and hyenas found abundance of animal food. Herds of horse-like animals fed on the rich herbage of the meadows. The birds were largely represented. In the woods were to be seen flocks of gayly feathered paroquets and trogons. On the plains secretary- birds hunted the serpents and reptiles, which furnished them food—and eagles were on the watch for their prey. Cranes waded in the rivers for fish. Geese, herons, and pheasants must have been abundant.
Our main interest centers in the order Quadrumana. We must remember that this order appeared in the Eocene. Several species were present in the Miocene. They wandered in the forests of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy, and doubtless found abundant food in the figs and bread-fruit, walnuts, almonds, dates, and other nuts growing there.36 One of the most important is regarded as belonging to the same genus as the Gibbons[Pliopithecus].37 This is the genus which has been sometimes regarded as making a nearer approach to man than any other monkey.38 Others, however, consider it as belonging to an extinct family.39 In addition to this species there were at least three other species: thus there was no absence of simian life in the Miocene.40[There was also aleaf-monkey much like a langur, and possibly a sort of macaque-DD]
From the sketch we have thus far drawn of the Miocene Age, it seems to have been a very favorable one in every respect. One writer41 affirms, that "the world never experienced a more beautiful period." And indeed it seems as if the facts bear out this statement. A genial, temperate climate was the rule, even to high northern latitudes. We need not doubt but that there were grassy plains, wooded slopes, and rolling rivers. Was man present to take advantage of all these favorable surroundings? Did he wander through the evergreen forests, and hunt the deer, antelope, and hogs—the hipparions, and mastodons, and deinotheres—then so numerous?42 We know of no inherent improbability of his existence at that time. An ape belonging to a highly organized genus was then living in Europe. Every condition considered necessary for the primeval Garden of Eden was then satisfied. ..
[Atlantis was also frequently compared to the Garden of Eden, with the same forests. However, worsening climate and lack of conservation measures meant that the Atlantean environment was depleted toward the end and they began raiding their neighbors, which is the point of Plato's story. However, the natural state of the island of Atlantis described earlier in Plato's account does sound like the same kind of forest, abounding in fruits and nuts, fragrant woods and spices, flowers and brightly-coloured tropical birds, wading birds, leopards and jackals, and monkey and elephants. It benefitted from the humid warmth of the Gulf Stream which it prevented from ever reaching the Western shores of Europe-DD]
28. Haywood's [trans.] Heer's "Primeval World of Switzerland," p. 296.
29. Dawkins's "Early Man in Britain," p. 20.
30. Ibid., p. 43.
31. Dana's "Manual of Geology," p. 498.
32. Dawkins's "Early Man in Britain," p. 42.
33. Dana's "Manual of Geology," p. 514.
34. Haywood's [trans.] Heer's "Primeval World of Switzerland," p. 334.
35. Haywood's [trans.] Heer's "Primeval World of Switzerland."
36. Dawkins's "Early Man in Britain," pp. 57 and 64.
37. Ibid., p. 57: also, Haywood's [trans.] Heer's "Primeval World of Switzerland."
38. Nicholson's "Manual of Zoology," p. 605.
39. Dawkins's "Early Man in Britain," p. 58.
40. Ibid. 58.
41. McLean: "Mastodon, Mammoth, and Man," p. 67.
42. Dawkins's "Early Man in Europe," p. 66.