21st November 1953. Hoax!
For over 40 years the scientific world had been fooled into accepting that the Piltdown Skull was evidence of primitive man.
Today, in 1953 what was thought to be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries, relating to evolution, ‘Piltdown Man’, was declared to be a hoax.
The revelation resulted from the new Fluoride Absorption Dating Tests which proved the skull was not of the purported age, and which turned out to be a ‘doctored’ human skull linked with the jawbone of an ape. (1)
The tracking-down of a so-called ‘Missing Link’ had caught the imagination over the years and it was in 1912 announced that a ‘discovery’ of a fossilized skull in a gravel bed, had been made by solicitor and antiquary Charles Dawson, near Lewes at Piltdown Common, Sussex.(2)
Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the British Museum, examined the finds and pronounced them genuine, and thus the Piltdown Skull acquired scientific status as Eoanthropus Dawsoni.
Speculation about the hoaxer was rife with even Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes and spiritualist, who lived nearby under suspicion.
He was interested in palaeontology and his book The Lost World came out in 1912, the same year as the ‘discovery’.
Then in May 1996 a canvas travelling trunk was found at the Natural History Museum containing bones which had been stained and carved in the same way as the skull and other artefacts of the Piltdown Man.
The trunk bore the initials of Martin A.C. Hinton, a curator at the museum in 1912 who was fond of practical jokes, even it has been said insinuating an elephant bone, fashioned into a [very British] cricket bat into the gravel layers, which was assumed by the ‘experts’ to be a fossil.
Hinton it is thought rigged up the fakes to deflate his boss Sir Arthur at the British Museum, and suggests collaboration between Hinton, and Dawson, who it was later discovered had created many fake discoveries in his attempt to assume scientific credentials.
Were these people racially motivated keen to prove Britain’s superior role in Man’s evolution?
Were they as eager as those driven to ‘prove’ a King Arthur or Apostolic Succession? Whatever, the search for truth is sadly undermined.
(1) The discovery of the ‘Red Lady’, (in fact a man), of Paviland, Gower in 1823, which pre-dates Darwin, was wrongly calculated when found by the Rev. Buckland, but has been proved to be the oldest human remains discovered in Britain, at 26.000 years old.
(2) Newspapers were full of headlines on 18th December 1912: ‘Missing Link’ and ‘Darwin Theory Proved’.
Ref: dailymail.co.uk/Becky Evans 16.12.2012. Piltdown Man revealed as an Hoax/Pic Images.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/article/piltdown-man/17.2.2011. Kate Bartlett.