Features of Piltdown Skull "Deliberate Fakes"

Lower Jaw that of Chimpanzee?

Manchester Guardian November 23, 1953

Recent improvements in the technique of fluorine analysis made possible some of the tests which led three scientists to conclude that the mandible and canine tooth of the "Piltdown skull" were "deliberate fakes." The report of the three investigators–Dr. J. S. Weiner, Dr. K. P. Oakley, and Professor W. E. Le Gros Clark–appears in the "Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History).

Fluorine tests carried out in 1949 says the report, did not resolve the seeming contradictions between "a cranium closely similar to that of Homo Sapiens" and "a mandible and canine tooth of simian form." Not until Dr. Weiner suggested one possible explanation–"the mandible and canine tooth are actually those of a modern ape (chimpanzee or orang) which have been deliberately faked to simulate fossil specimens"–did the investigators take what they now find to be the right track.

Experiments produced evidence that the peculiar way in which the teeth were worn down could well have been brought about by the artificial abrasion of chimpanzee's teeth.

"No doubt"

Further and more advanced fluorine tests left "no doubt that, whereas the Piltdown cranium may well be Upper Pleistocene ... the mandible, canine tooth, and isolated molar are quite modern." An analysis of the nitrogen content of these and other fossils as well as of modern bone and teeth, confirmed this result.

Other tests showed that the outer coating on the mandible and teeth did not correspond to that on the cranium. The black coating on the canine tooth turned out to be not, as the first discoverers had thought, ferruginous but "a tough, flexible paint-like substance."

"Whereas the cranial fragments are deeply stained (up to 8 per cent of iron) throughout their thickness, the iron staining of the mandible is quite superficial. A small surface sample analysed in 1949 contained 7 per cent iron, but, when in the course of our re-examination this bone was drilled more deeply, the sample obtained was lighter in colour and contained only 2-3 per cent of iron."

The first pieces of the skull to be discovered, but not later ones, had been mistakenly dipped in a solution of bichromate of potash. It was, says the report, not to be expected that the mandible (which was excavated later) would be chromate stained.


"In fact ... the jaw does contain chromate .... The iron and chromate staining of the Piltdown jaw seems to us to be explicable only as a necessary part of the deliberate matching of the jaw of a modern ape with the mineralised cranial fragments.

"It is now clear (the investigators conclude) that the distinguished palaeontologists and archaeologists who took part in the excavations at Piltdown were the victims of a most elaborate and carefully prepared hoax. Let it be said, however, in exoneration of those who have assumed the Piltdown fragments to belong to a single individual, or who, having examined the original specimens, either regarded the mandible and canine as those of a fossil ape or else assumed (tacitly or explicitly‚ that the problem was not capable of solution on the available evidence, that the faking of the mandible and canine is so extraordinarily skilful, and the perpetration of the hoax seems to have been so entirely unscrupulous and inexplicable, as to find no parallel in the history of palaeontological discovery.

"Lastly, it may be pointed out that the elimination of the Piltdown jaw and teeth from any further consideration clarifies very considerably the problem of human evolution. For it has to be realised that 'Piltdown Man' (Eoanthropus) was actually a most awkward and perplexing element in the fossil record of the Hominidae, being entirely out of conformity both in its strange mixture of morphological characters and its time sequence with all the palaeontological evidence of human evolution available from other parts of the world."

Part of the Piltdown mandible






The "Piltdown Skull" a Forgery

By our Zoological Correspondent

Manchester Guardian November 23, 1953

The fact that it has taken the staff of the Natural History Museum a matter of forty years to declare that the skull of Piltdown man or Eoanthropus, is a fake is not altogether surprising. Palaeontology is not only a relatively new and inexact science in itself, but the men who classify the remains of what are presumed to be man's ancestors deal in time scales which are marked off in tens of thousands of years.

It is known that sapient man emerged in the Pleistocene Age, but nobody is yet prepared to say how long that important period lasted. Estimates range from four hundred thousand to a million years, and the critical sub-periods vary accordingly.

The new evaluation of Piltdown shows that the skull cap is perhaps about fifty thousand and not five hundred thousands years old, while the jawbone is that of a modern ape "doctored" with chemicals, and the teeth have also been faked. These disclosures must be an embarrassment to many, particularly those who have spoken enthusiastically about the merits of the so-called "first Englishman."

The bones of this composite creature have been in dispute for many years. Even the word "skullduggery" has been heard at the meetings of learned societies, but it is to the credit of one man that he consistently opposed all claims made about the antiquity of the finds. That man was the late Franz Weidenreich, the great German paleontologist, who investigated and wrote the monographs about Peking man.

When the bones of the Piltdowner were reconstructed for the fifth time by Heinz Freiderichs, Weidenreich wrote (in 1932): "The mandible shows all the characteristics of an anthropoid mandible and may belong to a form similar to the orang-outang." The skull cap, he thought, was "modern."

Much of Weidenreich's criticism was directed at Sir Arthur Keith, now in his eighty eighth year, who, like Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, Elliot Smith, and Freiderichs had spent many years in piecing the bones together. Sir Arthur Keith at one time was an ardent supporter of Piltdown Man, but tended to modify his views when the skull of Swanscombe Man was found on the south bank of the Thames near Dartford.

Weidenreich still disagreed with him, and pointed out that in the fossils of man and all other mammals there was a strict correlation between the size and form of the braincase and the size and form of the jaws. The larger the former, the more reduced the latter, and conversely. This rule holds good for all anthropoids and hominoids. Weidenreich said that the Piltdowner alone defied the law.

[The report of the three investigators on the "Piltdown Skull"–Dr. J. S. Weiner, Dr. K. P. Oakley, and Professor W. E. Le Gros Clark–appears in the "Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History)."]