Date: 09-24-05 23:08
The Piltdown Man Fraud
by Dr A J Monty White
Britain’s Greatest Hoax. That was the title of the ‘Timewatch’ investigation of the Piltdown Man fraud, shown on BBC2 television recently.1 Viewers were presented with a great British ‘whodunnit’ that tried to identify those who made monkeys out of the scientists of the day.
The history of the discovery of the earliest Englishman (as Piltdown Man was so often called) is fairly common knowledge. A laborer was supposedly digging in a gravel pit near the village of Piltdown in Sussex in southern England when he found a piece of bone. He passed it to the local amateur archaeologist of the district, Charles Dawson, who verified its antiquity and pronounced that it was part of a skull which was possibly human. Dawson began to search for the rest of the skull and, in 1912, a jawbone was discovered. Sir Arthur Smith Woodward of the British Museum verified that the skull had human features and the jaw was ape-like. The fossils became known as Piltdown Man and were called Eoanthropus dawsoni which means ‘Dawson’s Dawn Man’. In 1915, another Dawn Man was found a couple of miles away from the site of the first find. Fossil remains of animals that lived with Piltdown Man, together with the tools that he used, were also found at the two sites. At last, here was ‘proof’ that apes had evolved into humans in England.
Almost forty years later, in 1953, Piltdown Man was exposed as a forgery, mainly through the work of Dr Kenneth Oakley. He showed that the skull was from a modern human and that the jawbone and teeth were from an orangutan. The teeth had been filed down to make them look human. The bones and teeth had been chemically treated (and sometimes even painted) to give them the appearance of being ancient. In addition, it was also shown that none of the finds associated with Piltdown Man had been originally buried in the gravel that had been deposited at Piltdown. The Piltdown Man fraud was a great embarrassment to the UK scientific community and questions about it were even asked in the House of Parliament.