John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury

Annie Lee | Dec 6, 2023

Table of Content


John Lubbock, first Baron of Avebury, was born in London in 1834 and died in 1913. Son of a British banker, the baronet John William Lubbock, who excelled especially for his mathematical research in the field of probabilities and its applications to the world of bank insurance; he was also devoted to astronomy, especially the study of the tides and planets. Therefore, he came from a family of good social position, wealthy and with a very extensive cultural base, which gave him an unusual breadth of vision and concerns. With a racist, colonizing and dehumanizing tendency, he lost his validity because of this evolutionist vision of societies and cultures.

He studied at the prestigious college of Eton, Berkshire, near Windsor and, from there he went on to help his father in his bank, until he succeeded him in office and his noble title (year 1865). Taking advantage of his position, he devoted himself to politics, becoming a member of parliament between 1870 and 1880. He then focused his efforts on his financial career, becoming president of the British Bankers' Association in 1879. Between 1888 and 1892 he was president of the London Chamber of Commerce and, from the following year, vice-president and then chairman of the London County Board.

Among its most celebrated and peculiar initiatives is the establishment of the so-called Bank Holidays in 1871. The United Kingdom has few public holidays in relation to other European countries, especially if compared to Spain; therefore, the recognition, by the British Parliament of a public vacation was very celebrated. They are called Bank Holidays because even banks and other financial institutions were closed and all types of large-scale commerce were prohibited (the truth is that, even today, many stores remain open, as well as museums, sports centers, etc.).

However, combining his financial and political career, he devoted himself to the study of biological and historical sciences, achieving from the British Parliament the enactment of a law for the protection of ancient monuments in 1882 (in addition to chairing the Linnean Society of London (the first scientific society in the world dedicated to the dissemination and implementation of a systematic biological taxonomy based on the proposals of Charles Linnaeus). He maintained a close relationship with Charles Darwin, of whom he was a neighbor since 1861 (although their research paths must have influenced each other, they followed parallel, but not equal, paths). In fact, Lubbock, upon Darwin's death in 1882, organized a pressure group (together with parliamentarians and illustrious men) with which he managed to get this distinguished character to be buried in Westminster Abbey, next to Isaac Newton.

Due to his scientific prestige, he received numerous honors, positions and awards, including honorary appointments at the universities of Edinburgh, Dublin, Wurzburg, Oxford and Cambridge, the latter of which he became a councilor in 1886. In addition, in 1878 he was appointed to the board of the British Museum in London. Shortly before his death he was promoted from the title of baronet to Baron of Avebury and became a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom (a body of nobly titled scholars and specialists who advise the British crown on various matters).

Personally, he stood out for his optimism, his defense of peace and tolerance of ideas, as well as the implementation of modernity, since he blindly trusted in the benefits of human progress, not only in the field of technology, but also in its social aspects (in this sense, he published a book entitled La vida dichosa that achieved an astounding success, with more than one hundred editions and numerous translations).

Although the importance of John Lubbock for the scientific development of Archaeology and Prehistory (at least in the West) is evident, we cannot consider Lord Avebury as a great discoverer, not even as a field archaeologist; he was more of a cabinet archaeologist. We cannot compare Lubbock's work with that of Heinrich Schliemann in Troy, or with the discovery of Neanderthal by Hermann Schaaffhausen, nor with those of Eugène Dubois in Java, with the discoveries of Boucher de Perthes in the valley of the Somme (France) or the findings of the lost cities in the jungle of Yucatan (Palenque, Uxmal, Copán), by the American archaeologist John Lloyd Stephens. Nor did he develop great theories like Darwin on evolution; or like Charles Lyell on geological stratigraphy; or like Richard Owen on paleontology. But to understand why he is so important we must take into account the context in which he lived: the Victorian Era.

The previous century, the idea of the biblical calendar, developed jointly by James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, according to which, by means of the data provided by the Old Testament, it was possible to deduce that the birth of the Earth took place in the year 4004 B.C.; and the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, John Lightfoot, who was able to calculate the exact day of creation: October 23rd at 9 o'clock in the morning, was born. Thus was born the Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar, which was widely accepted during the 17th and 18th centuries. In fact, to contradict this calendar was considered blasphemy in Victorian England. Thus, the findings of evolutionary researchers (Lyell, Darwin, Dubois, Owen...) were rejected or explained under the prism of Ussher and Lightfoot creationism, as a mirage that the blasphemers considered as proofs that refuted the Bible itself. As late as 1825, one of the great discoverers of dinosaurs, Georges Cuvier, justified the presence of the remains of "primitive men" as a consequence of the Universal Flood that had caused human civilization to degenerate into savagery.

However, when John Lubbock published his book Prehistoric Times in 1865, it was a real revolution. A man of his position and prestige published a book aimed at the general public (in fact, it was not a scholarly work, but an informative one) in which all these achievements were defended and which became a real best seller; and it continued to be so for 50 years, since in 1913 the seventh edition was published (the same year in which its author died). In that time, Lubbock was collecting very serious innovations in prehistoric science.

Although the term Prehistory had already been used for the first time in 1851, Lubbock popularized it and made it replace the old expressions such as Diluvian or Antediluvian. The fundamental general ideas that he defended in this book were:

It is true that Lubbock's contributions seem to be reduced to those of a mere observer and a syncretic disseminator, but it must be considered that he was, to a great extent, responsible for the acceptance of the advances of Prehistory in the present society, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition, at a time when very important archaeological discoveries took place. He himself defended Darwin when he was publicly judged, he was a follower of Lyell and many others. He declared with pride and a certain defiance on the first page of his book:


  1. John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury
  2. John Lubbock
  3. ^ a b c d e f Mithen, Steven (2006). After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01570-8.
  4. ^ a b c d e  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Avebury, John Lubbock, 1st Baron". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 51–52.
  5. ^ "Court Circular". The Times. No. 36850. London. 19 August 1902. p. 8.
  6. ^ "Royal Statistical Society Presidents". Royal Statistical Society. Archived from the original on 17 March 2012. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  8. Ussher, James (1650 reedición moderna en el año 2003). Annals of the Ancient and New Testaments. ed. Larry and Marion Pierce, Green Forest, AR: Master Books. ISBN 0-89051-360-0.
  9. «John Lubbock, 4º baronete e 1º Barão Avebury». Darwin Correspondence Project (em inglês). Consultado em 7 de dezembro de 2020
  10. ^ [a b] SNAC, SNAC Ark-ID: w6445q8m, omnämnd som: John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury, läs online, läst: 9 oktober 2017.[källa från Wikidata]
  11. ^ Hansard 1803–2005, Hansard-ID (1803-2005): sir-john-lubbock, läst: 22 april 2022.[källa från Wikidata]

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