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  1. Piltdown Man | Natural History Museum
  2. Study reveals culprit behind Piltdown Man, one of science’s most famous hoaxes
  3. Piltdown Man
  4. Collection highlights

The May 23, edition of Nature presents the new case and a smoking gun? Hinton, a curator of zoology at the museum at the time of the fraud. There are two finds of bones stained and carved in the manner of the Piltdown fossils, a canvas travelling trunk marked with Hinton's initials and glass tubes from Hinton's estate Hinton died in which contained human teeth stained in various ways. The trunk was found in the mids, when contractors were clearing loft space in the British Museum.

The trunk contained hundreds of vials of rodent dissections Hinton was a rodent specialist and a collection of carved and stained pieces of fossil hippopotamus and elephant teeth, as well as assorted bones, that looked as if they belonged in the Piltdown collection. The Nature article claimed that the teeth from the the estate, the contents of the trunk, and the Piltdown remains were stained with the same chemical recipe, a mixture of iron, managanese and chromium.

The recipe appears to have been invented by Hinton and is based on a knowledge of post-depositional processes affecting fossils in gravel. Hinton had published a paper in showing that fossils in river gravels would be impregnated with oxides of iron and manganese, staining them a characteristic chocolate- brown colour.

The motive may have revenge in a quarrel about money or it may simply have been that Woodward was irritatingly stuffy. Hinton was fond of and was famed for his elaborate practical jokes. Hinton was a member of a circle of Sussex-based geologist colleagues and was an expert on the Weald geology. Andrew Currant, a researcher at the museum and Brian Gardiner, professor of palaeontology at King's College, London, made the investigations into the Hinton evidence. Gardiner presented the case against Hinton in his presidential address to the Linnean Society in London on May 24, The case against Hinton is not what it seems.

The motive suggested by Gardiner a quarrel about money does not work because of timing; the incident in question happened in ; the first finds were in More importantly the chemical analyses do not match. The Hinton samples include Manganese; the Piltdown specimens do not. The Hinton samples do not contain gypsum produced from the organic material ; the Piltdown specimens do. Walsh notes that there were legitimate reasons for Hinton to have this material, including doing tests for Oakley.

In any event it would have been physically impossible for Hinton to have been the sole hoaxer because he did not have the requisite access to the site in the period. Although the physical evidence is ambiguous, Hinton's name pops up under a variety of odd circumstances and it seems likely that he knew more that he should have, either by virtue of being a co-conspirator or by virtue of special knowledge not publicly admitted. Harrison Matthews wrote a series of articles in the New Scientist on the Piltdown hoax. In these article he suggested that Hinton believed the finds to be a hoax and that Hinton and Teilhard manufactured and planted ridiculous forgeries to expose the hoax.

In particular the Elephant bone tool was a crude cricket bat, appropriate for "the earliest Englishman". Harrison Matthews described informal dinner conversations in the period during which Hinton implied that "Piltdown was not a subject to be taken seriously" from which Matthews surmised that Hinton "knew more about the hoax and the museum's part in it than he ever admitted".

Other evidence referred to by Matthews included Hinton's correspondence after the hoax was exposed and subsequent conversations in which Hinton obliquely included himself in a small list of suspects. Matthews was sufficiently confident about Hinton's involvement that he was the first to suggest the oft-repeated claim that the first finds were due to Dawson and that in response, Hinton manufactured and planted ridiculous forgeries to expose the hoax.

This is a relatively honorable role for Hinton in comparison with sole hoaxer. It is clear that Matthews respected Hinton, with whom he shared many wide-ranging and interesting conversations during Hinton's retirement. It is likely that Matthews was unable to conceive of his friend being the initiator and solely responsible for the fraud.

Millar argues that Smith was the culprit. Smith was an expert anatomist, and a paleontologist with ready access to a wide variety of fossils. He was suspiciously quiet when Woodward messed up the construction of the Piltdown I skull. It is quite unlikely that Smith had not examined the actual skull fragments. Smith was in Nubia during most of the discoveries; however he came to England at convenient points. Smith had the right kind of personality. When Millar discussed the possibility of Smith with Oakley, Oakley was not surprised. There is, however, no direct evidence against Smith.

As with other "outsider" theories it was physically impossible for Smith to have been the sole hoaxer.

Piltdown Man | Natural History Museum

Sollas was a Professor of Geology at Oxford and a bitter enemy of Woodward. He was accused in by his successor in the Oxford chair, J. Douglas, in a posthumously released tape recording. The essential difficulty with this theory is to explain how Sollas or another outsider could have salted the Piltdown site and be sure the fake fossils would be found. One also wonders why, if Sollas were the perpetrator, he did not expose the hoax and thereby damaging Woodward's reputation.

This could have been done behind the scenes easily enough by asking the right questions. The case is circumstantial. The suggested motive is a student jape Teilhard was quite young at the time. It was supposed that Teilhard did not have the opportunity; however Gould shows that this was not necessarily so.

Much of Gould's case rests on ambiguous wording in Teilhard's correspondence. Certainly Teilhard is a plausible candidate for the mysterious friend who helped discover Piltdown II.

Study reveals culprit behind Piltdown Man, one of science’s most famous hoaxes

Gould argues that they had intended to blow the gaffe shortly after the initial finds but that they were prevented from doing so by WW I. By things had gotten out of hand to the point where the hoax could no longer be owned up to. I do not think that Gould's assessment of motive stands up well. It is plausible that Teilhard might have concocted a hoax; that is common for frisky students. However this fraud was planned and prepared years in advance and was executed over an extended period of time; the nature of the execution of the fraud goes well beyond the student jape.

The case against Teilhard is considered in detail by Walsh. He argues fairly convincingly that many of the circumstances stressed by Gould have natural and plausible explanations. Teilhard was also accused of being involved by L. Harrison Matthews who claimed that Teilhard planted the fossil canine tooth in collaboration with Martin A.

Hinton, with Teilhard subsequently "discovering" the tooth. The evidence for this collaboration is that Hinton told his friend Richard Savage that Hinton and Teilhard had visited the site together early in Matthews commented that Teilhard never mentioned this visit, and subsequent developments have damaged Hinton's credibility regarding these clues. Woodward seems to have escaped serious consideration, primarily because he was very much a "straight arrow".

However there is a strong case to be made against Woodward as a co-conspirator with Dawson. The provenance of many of bones used in the construction of the Piltdown specimens has been established; some were not at all readily available. Woodward, and apparently only Woodward, had professional access to all of them. The main focus of Drawhorn's paper is a consideration of this question of the origin of the specimens and who could have provided them.


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  • Study reveals culprit behind Piltdown Man, one of science’s most famous hoaxes | Science | AAAS.
  • Acknowledgements.

Woodward had strong motives. He benefitted directly as co-discoverer of a monumental find. During the period in question he was engaged in an ardent campaign for the position of Director of the BMNH, a campaign in which his tactics were distinctly not "straight-arrowish". The finds directly confirmed the orthogenetic theories that he was advocating. Woodward's participation would explain many of the seemingly fortunate circumstances that allowed the hoax to survive. For example, the hoax would have failed immediately if the jawbone had been tested for organic material; it never was.

Dawson, as a single hoaxer, could have arranged that only skull fragments be tested initially. However it was Woodward who kept Keith from testing the Piltdown specimens even though he had used Keith's services before and after. It was Woodward who carefully restricted access to the specimens. At no time did Woodward give the specimens the careful physical examination that would have exposed the hoax. The vagueness about the location of the second find is peculiar. At one point he designated the site as being at a particular farm on the Netherfield side of the Ouse; later he "forgot" this and designated it as being on the Sheffield Park side, location unknown.

Millar remarked on the "charmed life" of the hoax. Perhaps the charmed life was stage managed. It has been argued that Woodward's correspondence with Dawson establishes his innocence. This is not so. If Woodward were a conspirator their correspondence would have been artifacts, part of the hoax. It should be remembered that copies of Museum correspondence were kept as part of the official record. For many years afterward Woodward returned to the Piltdown site for further digs; nothing was found.

This may be the best argument for his innocence. Although a strong case against Woodward can be made it is not definite. It is impossible to prove that Dawson did not have access to all of the specimens used to construct the hoax. Woodward's "errors" could have been unfortunate incompetence.

Piltdown man has been the focus of many myths and misconceptions, many of which are assiduously repeated by creationists for whom Piltdown man is a popular club with which to assail evolution. Gould and others have criticized the British Museum for keeping the fossils "under wraps". It is true that access to the fossils were restricted. This is normal practice for rare and valuable fossils. However it is doubtful that this "security" protected the hoax. The fossils were available for examination. The tests that exposed the hoax could have been performed at any time.

Piltdown Man

The single most important thing that protected the hoax from exposure was that nobody thought of the possibility. However in reading the history of the find it is clear that the leading paleontologists had access to the Piltdown man specimans. For example, Hrdlicka examined them; his rejection of the mandible and cranium being from the same animal was based on direct examination. Wilfred Le Gros Clark, a member of the team that exposed the forger, wrote to Hinton reminding him that Woodward had in fact allowed other specialists to examine the originals.

The charge seems to have stuck, however. Frank Spencer, The Piltdown Forgery , p. It does seem to be the case that access to the fossils was quite restricted in later years. In his autobiographical book By the Evidence Leakey said when he saw Piltdown in This is a half truth; almost no one publicly raised the possibility of a deliberate hoax. There were rumors circulating, however. In general, however, the finds were accepted as being genuine fossils but were not accepted uncritically as being from an ancient human ancestor.

There was an early and recurring doubt that the jaw and the skull were from two different animals, that the jaw was from an archaic chimpanzee and that the skull was from a relatively modern human being. Notable critics include Dr. Initially there were many more critics, e. However the finding of the second skull converted many of the critics. Finding a jaw from one animal near the skull of another might be an accident of juxtaposition -- two such finds is quite unlikely to be an accident.

Lenoir and Hrdlicka remained unconvinced none-the-less. Franz Weidenreich in , in his book "Apes, Giants, and Men" Note that Weidenreich was an extremely respected scientist, having done most of the work on the Peking Man skulls:. It should also be mentioned that in Ashley Montagu and Alvan T. Marston mounted major attacks on the interpretation of the Piltdown fossils as being from a single animal. This claim appears in creationist sources.

Gary Parker's pamphlet "Origin of Mankind", Impact series , Creation-Life Publishers makes the claim without qualification or source. Lubenow's Bones of Contention remarks that it is said that there were doctoral dissertations but does not give a source. This claim is clearly in error. When one considers the small number of PhD's in paleontology being granted currently and the even smaller number 80 years ago and the diversity of topics chosen for PhD theses a figure of half a dozen seems generous; in all probability there were none whatsoever.

Spencer and Keith's works have extensive references and bibliographies of the primary research literature. There are no references to any doctoral dissertations.

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Likewise Millar's bibliography contains no references to any doctoral dissertation. It is not clear whether this claim is a simple fabrication or whether it is an erroneous transcription from another source. In the introduction to The Piltdown Men , Millar says "it is estimated that some five hundred essays were written about [Piltdown man]". This estimate is credible, the edition of H.

Wells' The Outline of History remarks "more than a hundred books, pamphlets, and papers have been written [about Piltdown Man]". Quenstedt listed over references in in Hominidae fossiles. Millar gives no source, evidently not considering the matter to be important enough to document. However it probably was the editorial in the 10 July issue of Nature vol. The editorial unsigned says:. By coincidence, Spencer's The Piltdown Papers contains letters, i. However this cannot be the source of the number since The Piltdown Papers appeared well after Parker's pamphlet and Millar's book.

The most plausible explanation for this myth is that Millar and Parker both used the same source, the Nature editorial, and that Parker assumed that papers and memoirs were dissertations. In turn Lubenow's source was probably the Parker pamphlet. The truth, however, is unknown. It has been argued that this is a good example of science correcting its errors.


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This argument is a bit roseate. As the Daily Sketch wrote:. Far from being a triumph of Science the hoax points to common and dangerous faults. The hoax succeeded in large part because of the slipshod nature of the testing applied to it; careful examination using the methods available at the time would have immediately revealed the hoax. This failure to adquately examine the fossils went unmarked and unnoticed at the time - in large part because the hoax admirably satisfied the theoretical expectations of the time. The hoax illuminates two pitfalls to be wary of in the scientific process.

The first is the danger of inadequately examining and challenging results that confirm the currently accepted scientific interpretation. The second is that a result, once established, tends to be uncritically accepted and relied upon without further reconsideration. Robert Parson pointed out in a talk. Piltdown "confirmed" hypotheses about our early ancestors that were in fact wrong - specifically, that the brain case developed before the jaw. The early Australopithecine fossils found by Dart in South Africa in the 's failed to receive the attention due to them for this reason.

The entire reconstruction of the history of the evolution of humanity was thrown off track until the 's. Prominent anthropologists, such as Arthur Smith Woodward , Arthur Keith , and Grafton Elliot Smith , wasted years of their lives exploring the properties of what turned out to be a fake. The lingering suspicion that one of them might have been involved in the forgery will cloud their reputations forever.

More than five hundred articles and memoirs were written about the Piltdown finds before the hoax was exposed; these were all wasted effort. Likewise articles in encyclopedias and sections in text books and popular books of science were simply wrong. It should be recognized that an immense amount of derivative work is based upon a relatively small amount of original finds.

For many years the Piltdown finds were a significant percentage of the fossils which were used to reconstruct human ancestry. It is a black mark on science that it took 40 years to expose a hoax that bore directly on human ancestry. Creationists have not been slow in pointing to the hoax, the erroneous reconstructions based on the hoax, and the long time it took to expose the hoax. Lewis Abbot was a jeweler in Hastings. He knew Dawson since through the Hastings museum. He was an authority on Wealdan flora and fauna and its ancient gravels and, more generally, the geology of southern England.

Weiner described him as "fiery, bombastic, inspiring and weird. Barlow was a staff member of the British Museum of Natural History. He prepared plaster casts of the Piltdown skull. William Butterfield was the curator at the Hastings museum. Ordinarily of calm and placid temperament, he quarreled with Dawson over Dawson's appropriation of some dinosaur fossils for the British Museum. He discovered Australopithecus Taung baby and was the principal early exponent of an African origin for humanity.

Charles Dawson was an amateur archaeologist, geologist, antiquarian, and was a collector of fossils for the British museum.


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  4. He was the original person to seriously search for fossils in the Piltdown quarry. In he and Woodward discovered the the first Piltdown skull. In he discovered the second skull. He died in shortly after the finds. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a neighbor of Dawson's and had an interest in paleontology. At one point he participated in the Piltdown digs. He was the victim of the "fairies in the garden" hoax.

    Doyle wrote The Lost World and a number of popular mysteries.

    April Fools 2013: Top 3 Hoaxes in Science

    Edmonds was a British geologist in the Geological Survey. His papers in and cast doubt respectively on the assigned age of Piltdown man and on there being a plausible source for Piltdown animal fossils. Stephen Jay Gould is a paleontologist at Harvard University.

    Gould and Niles Eldredge introduced the "punctuated equilibrium" theory. Gould is the author of a number of popular collections of essays. He has suggested that Teilhard de Chardin was the author of the hoax. Hinton was a member of the Sussex circle of paleontologists before the hoax and a curator of zoology at the British Museum at the time of the fraud. He was an expert on the effect of deposition of fossils in gravel. Hinton was noted for his practical jokes. Sir Arthur Keith was an anatomist and paleontologist, keeper of the Hunterian collection of the Royal College of Surgeons, and president of the Anthropological Institute.

    L Harrison Matthews was an eminent English biologist who wrote an influential series of articles in New Scientist in in which it was postulated that Dawson planted the original finds and Hinton, with the aid of Teilhard, planted the later objects. Matthews was a friend of Hinton. Grafton Elliot Smith was a fellow of the Royal Society and in became the holder of the chair of anatomy at the University of Manchester. Smith had made a special study of fossil men. He was one of the select crew that participated in the Piltdown dig. Sollas was a Professor of Geology at Oxford.

    He was acerbic, ecentric, and a bitter enemy of Woodward and of Keith. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a friend of Dawson, a Jesuit, a paleontologist, and a theologian. He participated in the discovery of Peking man and Piltdown man. He is popular for his theological theories which are considered heretical by the Catholic church.

    Weiner was an eminent paleontologist. In he realized that Piltdown man might have been a hoax. His specialty was paleoichthyology. Pycraft, who was in charge of the anthropology section which dealt with fossil humanity, was an ornithologist. Neither was knowledgable about human anatomy, a fact which facilitated the hoax.

    This section lists major sources. Tom Turrittin's bibliography page is a comprehensive post bibliography of Piltdown man material. A Framework of Plausibility for an Anthropological Forgery: Volume 2 devotes about pages to Piltdown man, with many references to primary research literature. Page contains the cited material. The second book is a collection of archival materials that Spencer investigated in his research.

    His book is based in part on research of Ian Langham; Langham died in and Spencer was asked to finish the investigation. The Piltdown Forgery , J. Weiner, Oxford University Press, London, , is a republication of the edition. The Earliest Englishman , A.

    Collection highlights

    Woodward, Watts and Co. London, , is Piltdown man's last hurrah in respectability. Piltdown man appears in a number of web pages, mostly as an arguing point in pages expounding creationism and in pages refuting creationist claims. Piltdown man apparently also the name of a rock group. Related web pages include:. As part of a thesis project Tom Turrittin created a comprehensive bibliography of references to the Piltdown man hoax since its exposure in He has made this material available on the web in the form of two pages.

    One page contains the full bibliography; the other contains an overview, including material on "whodunit" theories which is more thorough than the coverage here. The page links are the mirrored copy of the overview , the mirrored copy of the bibliography , the original copy of the overview , and the original copy of the bibliography.

    These pages were last revised January 27, Origins Archive is a general resource for issues relating to evolution and creationism. Jim Foley's fossil hominids page is an excellent overview of what is known about fossil hominids. There is a page on Piltdown man.

    The Origins of Mankind Web Links page is a resource page for human evolution. Bonnie Sklar's anthropology pages includes a page on Piltdown man ; it's focus is on the anthropological issues. The Piltdown man page appears in The Skeptic's Dictionary , a collection of essays about popular pseudoscience topics. It relies heavily on Gould. The Piltdown Forgery contains a book review of J. Weiner's book on the hoax. Doug Lundberg has a page on the Nature article accusing Hinton.

    It is also reviewed by Orson Scott Card. The Museum of Unnatural Mystery has a Piltdown page briefly covering the major players. It has a photo of Hinton and Dawson. Andrew Hudson , a resident of Sussex has a page of links to Piltdown man pages. He commends the wines of the Barkham Manor Vineyard which occupies the site of the "discovery".

    The Barkham Manor Vineyard maintains the historic marker; their page has a small map of the area. So it seemed fortuitous when, 5 years later, Charles Dawson, a professional lawyer and amateur fossil hunter in Sussex, U. Smith Woodward and Dawson jointly presented their findings to the Geological Society of London in From their first excavation, they claimed to have discovered several pieces of a humanlike skull, an apelike mandible, some worn molar teeth, stone tools, and fossilized animals.

    As more and more hominin fossils were discovered over the next few decades in Africa, China, and Indonesia, however, Piltdown Man lost its significance as a singular missing link. Further analysis revealed they were an amalgam of carefully carved and stained human and ape bones. The potential perpetrators included Dawson and Smith Woodward, naturally, but also Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest who assisted the excavation, and Martin Hinton, a volunteer who worked with Smith Woodward, among others.

    Isabelle De Groote, a paleoanthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom, began looking into the question in , applying modern scanning technology and DNA analysis to the original materials. She and colleagues compared computer tomography CT scans of the mandible and teeth to known ape specimens and concluded that all these pieces originated from an orangutan. DNA sequencing of the teeth suggested they all came from the same orangutan, which De Groote suspects the forger or forgers might have obtained from a curiosities shop.

    The human bones, already recognized to be from at least two individuals, revealed fewer secrets. Unfortunately, the researchers were unable to extract DNA from the bones, and radiocarbon dating failed. Examining the CT scans, De Groote also noticed a strange, off-white putty on the surface of virtually every bone. This putty had been painted over and stained, and in some cases was used to fill in cracks and gaps that the forger accidentally created.

    Inside the crania and teeth, she found tiny pebbles stuffed inside hollow chambers sealed over with the same putty. De Groote thinks the hoaxer used these pebbles to weigh down the bones, as fossilized bones are noticeably heavier than recent bones. Taken together, the consistency of technique used across all the Piltdown Man fragments suggests that a single person pulled off the hoax , the team reports today in Royal Society Open Science.

    The likeliest hand belonged to Charles Dawson, who died almost exactly years ago, De Groote says. An amateur geologist, archaeologist, and historian, he regularly attended meetings of geologists and anthropologists, she notes. He was an inveterate fossil hunter with access to collections and the knowledge of what prehistoric finds should look like.

    He also had a habit of small-time forgery, with several other of his less-celebrated findings later being shown to be fakes. More than anything, he was desperate for acceptance and recognition within the U.