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Palaeontology

Who was behind the 1912 Piltdown Man hoax ?

By T.K. Randall
August 11, 2016 · Comment icon 11 comments



Piltdown Man fascinated palaeontologists when it was first revealed. Image Credit: PD - John Cooke
The man responsible for the infamous hoaxed skull has finally been exposed more than 100 years later.
A fossil primate skull hailed as the 'missing link' between modern man and our primate ancestors, Piltdown Man generated much excitement when it was first unveiled in London back in 1912.

Discovered in Sussex, the skull exhibited a remarkable combination of features from both man and ape such as a chimp-like jaw and a set of teeth which seemed both human and ape-like.

The reason for this however would soon become clear - the entire thing was a hoax.

By 1953 scientists had determined that the skull was actually a combination of human and orangutan bones dating back only a few centuries.

Whoever was responsible had gone to extreme lengths to make it seem convincing, even going as far as to artificially age the fossil fragments by meticulously filing them and staining them with acid.
The fossil was described as "so entirely unscrupulous and inexplicable as to find no parallel in the history of paleontological discover."

Even more incredible was the fact that the person responsible for the deception would continue to evade identification for decades despite numerous investigations in to the skull's origins.

Now though, following a renewed effort to identify the culprit, investigators have finally revealed the hoaxer to be none other than Charles Dawson - the man who first unearthed the remains.

"Whether Dawson acted alone is uncertain, but his hunger for acclaim may have driven him to risk his reputation and misdirect the course of anthropology for decades," the team wrote.

"The Piltdown hoax stands as a cautionary tale to scientists not to be led by preconceived ideas, but to use scientific integrity and rigor in the face of novel discoveries."

Source: Washington Post | Comments (11)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by universal skeptic 6 years ago
You can't be serious, Calibeliever.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Rlyeh 6 years ago
Pretty sure he's being sarcastic.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Calibeliever 6 years ago
Tongue-in-cheek of course. Half mocking those who try to invalidate science because one scientist did one thing wrong that one time
Comment icon #5 Posted by universal skeptic 6 years ago
Thanks for the clarification, Rlyeh & Calibeliever. My sarcasm detector obviously failed me. :)
Comment icon #6 Posted by Professor Buzzkill 6 years ago
Piltdown man was the catalyst for the theory of evolution being popularised. The fact that it took 40 years to be proved a hoax is quite damning.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Calibeliever 6 years ago
True enough. It's more of an indictment of those at the time that wanted it to be true so badly they never looked too closely at it. In fact, other more legitimate evidence was discarded in some cases because it didn't fit with this "discovery". 
Comment icon #8 Posted by aquatus1 6 years ago
Piltdown Man hadn't even been popular for a year before it began being debunked.  Multiple papers published in Nature showed how the remains were that of ape and human.  The collection of the remains was so reckless that a scientist of the time commented it seemed almost intentional, in order to make it harder to fit it together properly and definitively identify it as a known creature.  Even the scientists who supported Piltdown Man admitted that it seemed like an aberration From the wiki:  
Comment icon #9 Posted by paperdyer 6 years ago
Come on.  We all know the Human Cylons are the missing link.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Codenwarra 6 years ago
Sixty-three or so years ago Kenneth Oakley and Joseph Weiner, the two British scientists who exposed the hoax concluded that Dawson was the hoaxer. After visiting the region where Dawson had been active and interviewing surviving acquaintances of Dawson, Weiner found that some of them regarded the Piltdown finds as forged. More recently it has emerged that Dawson was an habitual forger of antiquities and was almost certainly the only hoaxer. To be blunt, accusations levelled at others like Teilhard de Chardin and Martin Hinton do not make sense, as Hinton's dispute with Woodward postdated the ... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by Codenwarra 6 years ago
See "Unravelling Piltdown" by John Evangelist Walsh, who was a Wisconsin based historian.  Published about 20 years ago.  


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