Solving the Piltdown Man Scientific Fraud

From Scientific American:

So who did it? Suspects have ranged from French priest and palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin to writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but many archaeologists naturally suspect Dawson. But the evidence has so far been lacking. And if it were indeed him, how can we be sure he didn’t have any accomplices? Now, a century after his death, new evidence obtained by my colleagues and me points the finger of suspicion even more firmly at Dawson, and suggests a sole hoaxer was responsible.

Dawson announced the discovery of the new fossil hominin—Eoanthropus dawsoni—together with palaeontologist Arthur Smith Woodward. It was Dawson who first contacted Woodward, then keeper of palaeontology at the Museum of Natural History in London, about having found a new human fossil. He wrote that the fossil would “rival” the German fossil jaw belonging Homo heidelbergensis, the first early human species to live in colder climates.

Scientists had become increasingly interested in finding the missing link between humans and apes ever since the publication of Charles Darwin’s “Descent of Man” in 1871. The discovery of Piltdown Man put Great Britain at the forefront of palaeoanthropology by demonstrating that early humans had big brains and apelike jaws. The publication generated great interest from scientists and the general public alike.

The material consisted of an ape-like jawbone containing two worn molar teeth and parts of a human-like braincase. These were fraudulently planted in a gravel deposit near the village of Piltdown, in Sussex, UK. Associated with these were primitive stone tools and fragmentary fossil mammals, all stained dark reddish-brown like the gravels, suggesting an early Pleistocene or Pliocene date (2.6m years or even older). After Dawson’s death, a second collection of skull fragments and a molar tooth which Dawson had told Smith Woodward originated from a second site—referred to as Piltdown …

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