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The inscription on the memorial stone reads:

Here in the old river gravel Mr Charles Dawson, FSA found the fossil skull of Piltdown Man, 1912-1913, The discovery was described by Mr Charles Dawson and Sir Arthur Smith Woodward in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 1913-15.

The nearby pub was renamed The Piltdown Man in honour of it.

[edit] The forgery exposed

[edit] Scientific investigation

From the outset, there were scientists who expressed skepticism about the Piltdown find. G.S. Miller, for example, observed in 1915 that "deliberate malice could hardly have been more successful than the hazards of deposition in so breaking the fossils as to give free scope to individual judgment in fitting the parts together." In the decades prior to its exposure as a forgery in 1953, scientists increasingly regarded Piltdown as an enigmatic aberration inconsistent with the path of hominid evolution as demonstrated by fossils found elsewhere.[1]

In November, 1953, The Times published evidence gathered by Kenneth Page Oakley, a professor of anthropology from Oxford University demonstrating that the fossil was a composite of three distinct species. It consisted of a human skull of medieval age, the 500-year-old lower jaw of a Sarawak orangutan and chimpanzee fossil teeth. The appearance of age had been created by staining the bones with an iron solution and chromic acid. Microscopic examination revealed file-marks on the teeth, and it was deduced from this someone had modified the teeth to give them a shape more suited to a human diet.

The Piltdown man hoax had succeeded so well because at the time of its discovery, the scientific establishment had believed that the large modern brain had preceded the modern omnivorous diet, and the forgery had provided exactly that evidence. It has also been thought that nationalism and racism also played a role in the less-than-critical acceptance of the fossil as genuine by some British scientists. It satisfied European expectations that the earliest humans would be found in Eurasia, and the British, it has been claimed, also wanted a first Briton to set against fossil hominids found elsewhere in Europe, including France and Germany.

[edit] Identity of the forger

The identity of the Piltdown forger remains unknown, but suspects have included Dawson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Arthur Keith, Martin A.C. Hinton, and Arthur Conan Doyle as well as numerous others.

  • Teilhard had traveled to regions of Africa where one of the anomalous finds originated, and was residing in the Wealden area from the date of the earliest finds.
  • Hinton left a trunk in storage at the Natural History Museum in London that in 1970 was found to contain animal bones and teeth carved and stained in a manner similar to the carving and staining on the Piltdown finds.

The recent focus on Charles Dawson as the sole forger is supported by the gradual accumulation of evidence regarding other archaeological hoaxes he perpetrated in the decade or two prior to the Piltdown discovery. Beginning in 1895, he appears to have made dozens of minor 'discoveries' including the first evidence of cast-iron figure-casting in Roman Britain, a medieval clock face, a flint arrowhead and shaft, and a number of other remarkable finds that were later, long after his early death, proven to be forgeries. On one occasion, as an example, a collection of flints he exchanged with another collector, Hugh Morris, turned out to have been aged with chemicals, a point Morris noted down at the time and which was later unearthed. There were also numerous individuals in the Surrey area well-acquainted with Dawson who long held doubts about Piltdown and of Dawson's role in the matter, but given the sheer weight of scholarly affirmation regarding the find few if any were willing to publicly speak out for fear of being ridiculed for their trouble.[citation needed]

Sometimes he may have appropriated the finds usually made by workmen by reporting them to scientific journals as if they were his own discoveries. Most of his written works proved to be uncredited collations of the work of others, material that but for the period would have drawn outright accusations of gross plagiarism. His History of Hastings castle is a prime example.

His initial motivations may well have lain along the lines of gaining further fame and notoriety in his native Surrey, but it is clear that his increasingly successful early frauds may well have emboldened him to pull off the master stroke that would have landed him his most cherished goal, that of a fellowship in the prestigious Royal Society. It was a long ambition that ultimately went unfulfilled.

Phillip Tobias makes a strong case that Dawson had a scientific collaborator, and implicates Arthur Keith. Tobias details the history of the investigation of the hoax, dismissing other theories, and listing inconsistencies in Keith's statements and actions.[3] More recent evidence points to Martin Hinton.[4]

[edit] Relevance

[edit] Piltdown and early humans

In 1912, the Piltdown man was believed to be the “missing link” between apes and humans by the majority of the scientific community. However, over time the Piltdown man lost its validity, as other discoveries such as Taung Child and Peking Man were found. R.W. Ehrich and G.M. Henderson note, “To those who are not completely disillusioned by the work of their predecessors, the disqualification of the Piltdown skull changes little in the broad evolutionary pattern. The validity of the specimen has always been questioned.”[5] Eventually, in the 40s and 50s, more advanced dating technologies, such as the fluorine absorption test, scientifically proved that this skull was actually a fraud.

[edit] Relative importance

The Piltdown man fraud had a significant impact on early research on human evolution. Notably, it led scientists down a blind alley in the belief that the human brain expanded in size before the jaw adapted to new types of food. Discoveries of Australopithecine fossils found in the 1920s in South Africa were ignored owing to Piltdown man, and the reconstruction of human evolution was thrown off track for decades. The examination and debate over Piltdown man led to a vast expenditure of time and effort on the fossil, with an estimated 250+ papers written on the topic.

The fossil was sufficiently influential for Clarence Darrow to introduce it as evidence in defense of Scopes during the Scopes Monkey Trial. Darrow died in 1938, more than ten years before Piltdown Man was exposed as a fraud. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard met less fortunate timing, listing Piltdown Man as one of the ancestors of humanity in his book Scientology: A History of Man, and describing him as having "enormous" teeth and being "quite careless as to whom and what he bit." Piltdown Man would be exposed as a hoax just months after the publication of Hubbard's book.

The hoax is still cited by creationists as evidence of the failure of science and scientists in addressing the origins of man,[6] though it has been pointed out that it was science and scientists that discovered it was a fraud[7] albeit after an extremely long time.[6] The notoriety of the hoax remains strong and in November 2003, the Natural History Museum held an exhibition to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its exposure.[8]

[edit] Timeline

  • 1908: Dawson discovers first Piltdown fragments
  • 1912 February: Dawson contacts Woodward about first skull fragments
  • 1912 June: Dawson, Woodward, and Teilhard form digging team
  • 1912 June: Team finds elephant molar, skull fragment
  • 1912 June: Right parietal skull bones and the jaw bone discovered
  • 1912 November: News breaks in the popular press
  • 1912 December: Official presentation of Piltdown man
  • 1914: Talgai (Australia) man found, considered confirming of Piltdown
  • 1925: Edmonds reports Piltdown geology error. Report ignored.
  • 1943: Fluorine content test is first proposed.
  • 1948: Woodward publishes The Earliest Englishman
  • 1949: Fluorine content test establishes Piltdown man as relatively recent.
  • 1953: Weiner, Le Gros Clark, and Oakley expose the hoax.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. , a b c Lewin, Roger (1987), Bones of Contention, <http://www.clarku.edu/~piltdown/map_expose/chain_of_fraud.html> 
  2. , The Piltdown Man Discovery, Nature, July 30, 1938
  3. , Current Anthropology (June 1992)[1]. Retrieved on 2008-06-08.
  4. , TalkOrigins. Retrieved on 2008-06-08.
  5. , "Culture area", in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 3, pp. 563-568. (New York: Macmillan/The Free Press).
  6. , a b Harter, Richard (1997). Creationist Arguments: Piltdown Man. Retrieved on 2007-08-29.
  7. , Caroll, Robert Todd (1996). Piltdown Hoax. Retrieved on 2007-08-29.
  8. , The Natural History Museum Annual Review 2003/2004. Retrieved on 2007-11-17.

[edit] References

  • The Times, November 21, 1953; November 23, 1953
  • The hoax exposed: The Piltdown Forgery by Joseph Weiner 1954
  • The case against Smith: The Piltdown Man by Ronald Millar 1972
  • The Neanderthal Enigma by James Shreeve © 1995
  • Unraveling Piltdown by John Evangelist Walsh © 1996

[edit] External links


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