"Innocent Dawson"

The Piltdown Fantasy 1955

Francis Vere

[77] I would like here to try to envisage what happened. I [78] think the story went something very like this: Dawson, attracted by the obvious age of the gravel bed, asks the labourers who dug there to keep for him anything that looks interesting. A workman sees and smashes with his pick what for a moment he thinks is a coconut. He picks up a piece. It doesn't look like a coconut after all. He shows it to Mr. Kenward and tells him how he came by it. Mr. Kenward tells him to hand it to Dawson. He does so.

Dawson is at once interested. He searches when he can spare the time. He finds nothing. The pit is empty but three years later he discovers another fragment of cranium in a spoil-heap. This reminds him, he says in December 1912 to the Geological Society, of the Heidelberg jaw. Now whatever else Dawson might be, he was enthusiastic. And he was gregarious and lacking in the dog-in-the-manger attitude of mind–his surviving friends and clerks are unanimous about that: and Woodward's story of him and the young priests confirms that. It is, I think, certain that Dawson did not keep this to himself There is indeed evidence that he spoke of it to fellow passengers in the Lewes-Uckfield train.

He knew other keen amateur archæologists in Sussex. We have already seen him hob-nobbing with the youthful clerics; we have observed Father Teilhard finding treasure in the pit. Dawson had other friends–there was the Curator of Hastings Museum, there was the famous Mr. Lewis Abbott of Eastbourne whose work with artefacts was extolled by H. G. Wells in his Short History of the World. It is a fair inference that Dawson discussed his finds, pin-pointed the pit for his cronies. I have no doubt that before Woodward appeared on the scene Dawson had taken others to it. There is solid evidence of this.

[79] One or two of those whom Dawson told of the finds decided to play a trick on him. Whoever they were they had the material at hand and the ability to fake it. There was not much material unearthed after all–a few teeth of Stegodon, Mastodon, Hippopotamus, beaver and horse, the base of a deer's antler and the proximal end of the metatarsal of the same beast: the shaped thigh-bone of an elephant (found under the hedge), and about a dozen eoliths and flint implements–the scourings of a collection easily purchasable: as to the modern mandible from any one of three shops still in business. Incidentally, Father Teilhard's theory is 'that somebody might have dumped in the pit some remains of a collection (just in order to get rid of them)'. This supposition is, he adds, scarcely more fantastic than a hoax.

It is not more fantastic. There is a lot in it: and the words 'some remains' are good. Postulate that someone monkeyed with the 'some remains' and there you are.

Some person or persons having decided to fool Dawson and Woodward, the actual operation of 'planting' was ridiculously easy. The relics could have been flung in at any time, whilst Woodward and Dawson were at tea at Barkham Manor: before they arrived, after they left, or some day when they were absent–they worked only at week ends and on holidays.

The staining is a different matter. If it is true that Dawson had recovered five pieces before he went to Woodward the hoaxer could either have misled Dawson into staining them or done it himself in Dawson's presence: he could have borrowed them and done it: he was, one may be sure, fully in Dawson's confidence. And he baited his hook well–the chromate would harden! not stain. As for the abrasions on the teeth–their [80] alteration from true simian to apparent human–I repeat that I do not think it was 'extraordinarily skilful'–a critical examination would have detected the faking. But the hoaxer was lucky–I use the singular noun for convenience–opportunity for critical examination of the original specimens was made unduly difficult, and the joke was not discovered–as I am sure the hoaxer wished: if your object is to make fools of people it is a little disappointing to find them turned into popular heroes. Surely then, the hoaxer should have given the show away himself, That would not have been so easy as it sounds. In the first place, he would be giving himself away, destroying his anonymity, which the discovery of the trick would have preserved. He may have been so situated–have held such a position or gained such a reputation–that a confession from him would have caused him great harm in reputation or in career.

And there was always this–Woodward, Dawson and Co. might not have believed him; have accused him of jealousy; of trying to fool them with the tale of a joke he had never played.

The joke, in short, had got out of hand. Too big for the joker. And a World War intervened. There remain two subsidiary matters. According to the Fifth Discoverers all the material at Piltdown was 'planted'. I have suggested that this is too good to be true. If my reading of events is correct this does not matter–though I wish a genuine fossil or two had remained with which to compare the genuine authentic 'coconut'–about that there can be no doubt at all on any sensible objective consideration of the facts and circumstances. And if the fluorine test is what it claims to be, how can the beaver teeth be said to have been 'planted'? One finding in the Fifth Discovery is a little amusing. In their search for [81] points the Discoverers remind me of nothing so much as a circus elephant trying to pick up pins with his trunk. They have discovered that a few fragments were fixed in lumps of the gravel with chewing-gum. This, surely, is proving too much. Chewing-gum was not unknown in 19I2. I remember as a boy long before 19I2, enjoying rather a different chewing-gum from the present unpleasant variety: you could buy it in rather jolly little nuggets. I have a feeling that old Venus, the workman who helped Dawson and Woodward, may have spat some into the pit, little dreaming that he was hammering another nail into the coffin of the Piltdown Man.

Then there is the shaped elephant's thigh-bone, found in sticky clay where the hedge used to be. This may have been artificially stained: if there is a finding on that I have missed it. I may be wrong but I am under the impression that criticism of that find was limited to its shaping: it had been shaped with a modern steel knife: apparently it could be cut like chalk. The shaping of this implement had puzzled others years ago. The Abbe Breuil–another logical French priest–had suggested that a giant beaver may have bitten through itthere were giants in those days.

It was found in sticky clay in a recently excavated site, where a hedge had recently stood. One can think of no reason why an intelligent hoaxer should or even could 'plant' it there. The trick had worked. And why so deep? Perhaps, after all, the Fifth Discoverers have made a mistake. It would be good news: if only because it would enable the fluorine test to be applied successfully–you would have your authentic brain-case and an animal bone in practically the same deposit– reinforced by the beaver teeth. The second thing to be discussed–very shortly, I have discussed it already at [82] great length–is Piltdown II. Why did the hoaxer 'salt' a field two miles away? He did so, I am sure, not to stifle criticism but to fan it: it was his way of ending the joke: to 'plant' two miles off a tooth and bone that fitted vacant spaces in the Man's skull. If that was not a give-away then it was hopeless to go on trying. But there were vacant spaces in others' skulls. The gulls gobbled the bait again.

I am sure the hoaxer 'promoted' Dawson, as they say, to believe there was something seductively prehistoric about Piltdown II. And Dawson innocently 'promoted' Woodward. To drop a stained and faked tooth and a piece of stained cranial bone in that field would be the work of a moment. And that Dawson talked about it is obvious from the fact that he took Father Teilhard there.

The hoaxer could have got both tooth and bone from the pit. He was probably one of the many enthusiasts helping to excavate. He had certainly, I think, been at the pit before the excavations began. Equally he could have stained bone and tooth and faked the latter. That bit of faking was not so good: the bone contained only small amounts of chromate: and as for the tooth! It had been ground so clumsily that the X-ray showed that at one point a small hole had been drilled into the pulp cavity and plugged with some kind of plastic material And we are asked to believe that the faking was 'extraordinarily skilful' The only reason it failed to be spotted for the fraud it was then and there was not the hoaxer's fault. The X- ray wasn't taken at just the right angle!

As for the second piece of bone found at Piltdown II and also lightly stained with chromate, I am not sure that its importance has been appreciated. It showed (a) that [83] Dawson could hardly have 'planted' it because Dawson when he made the first finds in 1908 and 1911 had locked them up in his office safe–the evidence of his clerk is clear and definite on this: Dawson would therefore not be at all likely to have a separate fragment from another skull handy, but (b) a hoaxer might easily have mixed bones hastily gathered from the Piltdown pit with other bones, in his possession or within his reach: if there is one thing clearer than another it is that the hoaxer had access to a collection of fossils. (c) The fact that both bones are stained is–this is pure surmise–an indication that the hoaxer hoped that Dawson and Woodward would realize that the second, quite ordinary, fragment meant nothing: and from that deduce that other bones of the same colour, might equally mean an ancient brain-case and nothing more. The mess the hoaxer made of the tooth is strong corroboration of the theory that he wanted the hoax to be discovered. He was not to know the X- ray would be bungled.

And what of the rhinoceros tooth found at Piltdown II by 'a friend'? If only we knew who this friend was! We might solve the mystery of the hoaxer's identity! No one has ever suggested that this casual rhinoceros tooth was intended to strengthen the case for the Man. It was just sheer hocus-pocus. One would like to know more about this tooth. Was it submitted to a test? Is there any indication where it came from? Who from amongst Dawson's scientific cronies in Sussex was likely to have elephant teeth from Tunisia or hippo teeth from Malta? Or in the alternative, who had access to any collection containing these things ?

These are the premises from which a detective would begin his investigation: and his patience might well be rewarded. He would probably find that Dawson's [84] collection–for he had one–consisted of fossils and flints he himself had unearthed. And they would be at his home. Not his office like the Piltdown bones.

Let us see if there remains the slightest breath of suspicion against Woodward or Dawson.

[85] X


We have now established (a) that the cranium was undoubtedly genuine and therefore presumably came from the Piltdown gravel pit; (b) that the whole of it could not have been stained, but only some fragments picked up after it had been smashed by a workman; (c) that the staining was not to match the gravel but to match a faked mandible: (it may be that the hoaxer was experimenting–testing the mandible against the fragments, making sure that the former would be of the right colour, making sure it would be an exact match for something that had come out of the soil); (d) that Dawson was probably misled by the hoaxer into believing that staining would harden–when all the hoaxer wanted was a colour to match his faked mandible; (e) that the hoaxer probably wanted the hoax to be exposed, which is why he did his second 'planting' at Piltdown II.

It was–as it turned out–quite unnecessary to stain the fragments. The mandible passed muster easily: as the painted canine did later.

On the above facts–could Woodward have been the hoaxer? No: because he would not want the fraud exposed.

But suppose (d) and (e) are invalid.

It is still incredible that he could have been the hoaxer. If he had stained some fragments he would have stained them all. He would not have bungled the faking of [86] the teeth as we now know it was bungled. And he would never have introduced an alien bone into Piltdown II. And above all, he would not have dared because of the fear of discovery. Gullible he was but he was very intelligent and he had imagination–his reconstruction of the Missing Link proves that. So long as he was Keeper he could keep the fragments under his control, but the day of retirement or death would come– and such men are not content with present fame–they seek glory from posterity. The picture of a future generation detecting that he was a fraud and scandal to his calling would be a sure deterrent.

As you read The Earliest Englishman you get the impression that he was eaten up with enthusiasm, filled with self-satisfaction at the thought that he was a chief instrument in discovering the Missing Link. And the same book shows that he was of the type born not to gull but to be gulled; he believed in fairy tales; he was a wishful thinker, an enthusiast–I suppose you must be if your business lies with dry bones and long dead things: there is a charming passage in The Earliest Englishman about the beaver and the hippopotamus which with a slight twist, a different slant, as they say, might well have figured in Grimm, Hans Andersen, la Fontaine, Æsop and the early editions of H. G. Wells's Short History of the World.

Finally–and not to begin with as was done in The Solution of the Piltdown Problem–Arthur Smith Woodward was an honourable and upright gentleman. True, if I am right about Piltdown II, his behaviour was equivocal. But very very far from suggesting that he was capable of initiating or carrying out a cold-blooded fraud on his fellows: not even for fame 'that last infirmity of noble minds'–if only because he would be [87] well aware that such fame might not endure but might end in obloquy.

Did he–I have heard it very bluntly suggested and chapter and verse given for the opinion–suspect Dawson? All one need say is this: if he suspected Dawson– no matter at what stage of this transaction–he must have been a very unscrupulous person, a disgrace to his profession, to have dictated for publication The Earliest Englishman, which vouches on every page for the genuineness of the Piltdown Man. And had he suspected early on, his duty was to inform the Geological Society: it would have been scandalous not to do so. And extremely foolish, because of the risk of discovery in the future.

Is there any case against Dawson? Did he fool Woodward and through Woodward the world?

The idea is not the least fantastic in the story of the Piltdown Fantasy. The reasons against it are formidable, satisfying to the mind, conclusive. (a) Dawson, even if he had had the skill to do the faking, would never have dared. He had no guarantee against discovery. It would have been fatal to him. His reputation as an amateur archæologist would have wilted; his reputation as a responsible lawyer would have suffered; he would have become an object of scorn. The concentrated fury of the palæontologists, archæologists, biologists and geologists of the world would have shrivelled him–which, incidentally, is a potent reason why the real hoaxer kept so discreetly in the background. (b) If Dawson had been fooling Woodward he would never have told Woodward one of the means he was employing–staining. (c) He was physically incapable of filing an ape's teeth to resemble a man's. He lacked the technical skill. His dentist–now retired–told me, [88] not on my asking but spontaneously, that one day being in the same compartment as Dawson in the Uckfield-Lewes train, the latter produced a jaw–it was probably a cast–and a canine tooth from a bag and begged him to show exactly into which socket it went, as he did not know. The dentist has the liveliest recollection of the incident: and it sprang to his mind as soon as he heard Dawson had been accused. (c) Dawson would never have left a second–and irrelevant–bone at Piltdown II. It would have been dangerous and pointless, and–as it is to be hoped has been made clear–a clear warning, a give-away, that there had been a 'plant' at Piltdown II. (e) He would not–even if he had the necessary technical skill–risk faking a mandible that might miss its mark: that might not combine with the cranium: if Woodward was infatuated others were not. And Dawson could not have foreseen that Woodward would disregard one of the primary principles of his trade and make it practically impossible for others to examine the original specimens. (f) The skull was genuine. Dawson, therefore, started fair: as his talk with the workmen and Mr. Kenward indicates. On any showing, the faking followed the finding of the cranium. Would Dawson have dared to introduce a bogus antique ape's mandible into a place where a genuine human one might still be? The hoaxer would not mind such a contretemps–but it would have exposed Dawson to the gravest suspicion then and there. I shall refer to this matter of the genuine human mandible a little later. (g) Dawson and Woodward had been friends for thirty years. Some of Dawson's friends are still alive. They are shocked at the suggestion that he would betray Woodward; his surviving clerks, his stepson, are similarly shocked. He was the last man in the world to betray a friend, even if [89] there had been no chance of discovery. There remains the Sussex Archæological Society, or at least a member or some members of it: because we have seen how the Chairman of the Council attended the ceremony of the unveiling of the monolith and suggested that the Society might consider maintaining the memorial. We have seen most of what was said against Dawson in connexion with the Sussex Archæological Society. There is the effort at psychology; then there is the statement that Dawson purchased the house where the Sussex Archæological Society had its headquarters, from agents who understood he was buying it for the Society. He then ejected the Society. The inference we are asked to draw is, I suppose, that a man who behaves like that is capable of betraying a close friend and risking his own reputation in the process. The argument is logically a non sequitur and offends against common sense. But one would have liked to know a great deal more. I am under the impression that when you buy a house lawyers draw a deed of conveyance which you sign. Are we to understand that Dawson signed not as an individual but as representative of the Society? If not, if he signed for himself, are we seriously asked to believe that the agents believed he was acting for the Society? He was not even the Society's solicitor. Lewes is not a metropolis. Who were these agents who were so easily taken in? And even if they were, only people with recollections stiff rankling over the 'ejectment' would use the incident as the foundation for accusing a dead man of fraud and treachery. The allegations went further: 'In the course of a quarrel with a local archæologist Mr. Dawson was known to have "doctored" some flint implements.' And therefore, one supposes, in the course of a long friendship with a world-famous geologist, 'doctored' an [90] ape's jawbone? Humbug! But the accusation of doctoring flint implements is serious: unless it was some kind of joke. And that being so, it deserved the fullest details; the reader was entitled to know who the local archæologist was, what the quarrel was about, what flint implements were doctored and how and where. All we have is a bare statement, without proof, and I for one would not condemn an honourable man on the ipse dixit of any gentleman who is member of a Society which Dawson ejected. At least in 1938 the Chairman of the Council of the Society did not seem to bear any malice nor to know that Dawson had 'doctored' flint implements. Perhaps he had heard the accusation and dismissed it as foolish. A foolish quarrel perhaps–as foolish as the accusation. (h) Dawson's conduct all through the Piltdown transaction from 1908 till his death in I916 is consistent and prima facie honest. Only an honest man would have told Woodward that he had stained some of the bones: only an honest man, it seems to me, would have dawdled from 1908 to 1912 before approaching Woodward. It does not take three years to stain five bones and, if I know anything about human nature, had Dawson been perpetrating a fraud, he would have acted with more eagerness. A hoaxer, on the other hand, would have had either to induce Dawson to stain the bones himself or to allow him to stain them: he need not have been on the scene as early as 1908. If Dawson did perpetrate this hoax the ordinary rules of conduct and probability have no application to the case. We cannot judge him. He was a lunatic. The learned magistrates on the Bench at Uckfield had advice from a Clerk who was a madman, and a madman presided at the court barons at Barkham Manor....

[97] Who then was the hoaxer? It is one of the charms of the Piltdown Fantasy that it has its hero–known, labelled, notorious: he was the Piltdown Man, known sometimes as the Missing Link, sometimes as Eoanthropus Dawsoni. But its villain lurks anonymous, offstage, stained perhaps to match the surrounding scenery and be invisible to the eye and mind.

But it is only fair to the reader to put before him such evidence as the writer has been able to collect. And leave the reader to sort out the jumble for himself. If he can....

This evidence may be quite irrelevant to the mystery; it may not solve the problem: and, unless one were sure of the identity of the person involved, it would be unwise and unjust to hint at it, whether he be alive or dead. But for what it is worth here is the evidence.

Dawson's office at Uckfield looked on the playing field of the Grammar School. One of the masters of that school at the time was a gentleman very well known in scientific circles: Mr. Robert Essex, B.Sc., M.Sc. He gained the B.Sc. at Birmingham University, and became M.Sc. as the result of research work carried on in South Africa and at Cambridge. He is the author of various scientific papers. Until recently he was a master at Boothams School, York. Up to December 1952 this gentleman had always believed that he was, to use his own words 'one of the first people to have a view (unauthorized) of the jaw'.

One morning he had walked across the school playing field and was passing Dawson's office on his way to the High Street, when one of Dawson's clerks called out to him to come in. He did so. This clerk–he was killed in the war of 1914-1918–held half a fossilized jaw in his [92]hand. Mr. Essex took it and examined it closely–he was interested in such things.

'Where did this come from?' he asked the clerk.


'Who brought it?'

'One of the diggers,' the clerk replied: he did not seem to know the digger.

'And where did you get it from?'

'From that bag.'

The clerk pointed to a rough canvas bag. The digger, said the clerk, had come in, asked for Dawson, been informed that Dawson was busy in court, left the bag saying that he would come back.

Mr. Essex recognized the bag. It belonged to someone he knew. He advised the clerk to put the half jaw back or he would get into trouble with Dawson.

This half jawbone–Mr. Essex is prepared to take his oath on it–had three molars and other characteristics (as you will hear in a moment) very different from the Piltdown mandible which induced Woodward and Dawson to think they had discovered the Missing Link.

Mr. Essex was later told by the clerk that the 'digger' had returned, had been told that Dawson was still away, had picked up his bag and left.

This incident at Dawson's office is vouched for by another witness, one who was Dawson's articled clerk, Mr. H. H. Wakeford. I quote from a letter written by him to me on 3 March 1954. I had sent him a little questionnaire. 'I do remember quite clearly one of the diggers from the pit bringing a bag to the office but unfortunately who opened it or any description of the man I cannot recall but I did see the jawbone myself'

This was forty-one years ago: it would have been strange had he remembered more: it is natural that he [93] should remember the jawbone. Such things are not often brought into lawyers' offices.

In December 1953 the news broke that the Piltdown Man's mandible was a fake, a modern ape's. M Essex read the news. Up to that moment he had always believed that the half mandible he had held in his hand and examined in Dawson's office was the original, actual half jawbone which Dawson had found in the Piltdown gravel pit.

Mr. Essex–the whole business being reopened–began to go over the old ground again, to put the facts in order, to try to think out how the mandible he had examined–an obvious fossil–could possibly be a modern orang utan's or chimpanzee's. In the course of this recapitulation of this he saw a photograph in an illustrated weekly of 'the inner side' of the Piltdown mandible. He was, he says: 'at once struck by the fact that it was not the same (1) This one had two molars and an empty socket–mine had three molars in position. (2) The inner surface was more corrugated in the fake. (3) The fake had a longer front part. In other words mine was a solider, shorter, smoother jaw with 3 molars and now that I have seen the original fake I know mine was a deeper, more uniform purple brown.' The italics are his.

He does not say so but he means, I think, that the mandible he had seen was indubitably human.

This information–and what I am about to discuss now–he did not keep to himself. He at once passed it on to the scientists who were interested.

When it became clear to him that the half jawbone he had examined–the one he had believed up till that moment was part of Piltdown Man–was in fact not that half jawbone he remembered something else. He remembered how once years ago round about the period [94] when he had examined the jaw in Dawson's office he had been on what he calls 'a botanizing walk' with a friend in the neighbourhood of Barkham Manor. When near the Manor they met Mr. Kenward's younger son Robert (he was one of the innumerable young men killed in the war of 1914-1918. Robert asked them if they had seen X (our friend has not written X but a different letter). 'X,' said Robert, 'was very, very upset and running round in circles because he had lost something and he wouldn't say what it was.' The italics are again his.

On these facts Mr. Essex bases a theory. I give it, though for a reason which I think sufficient, I do not agree with it. The theory is this (again I use his own words, except that I write X when he employs another letter): 'X found the real jaw. At first he intended to hand it over but when he got home and, still not knowing anybody had seen the jaw, he planted one (1) as near in size as possible (2) as far away anatomically as possible–faked to look like a fossil. I take it his idea was that after he had led Mr. Dawson and Sir Arthur up the garden quite a distance he would have re-found [Mr. Essex's italics] the real one but he didn't because I am certain he lost it on the day we met Robert–otherwise he would have said what he had lost. And that explains why he never [his italics again] admitted his hoax.'

This is a very ingenious theory, plausible, consistent with the facts then known. But it cannot hold water because we now know that many of the other remains in the pit were faked. All of them, according to the scientists. It was not merely a matter of re-finding the real jaw: the hoaxer would have had to confess to 'planting' teeth and other things. In other words, his behaviour was not accidental but deliberate.

[95] There is a little more evidence. It is relevant to the famous shaped tool, the elephant's thigh-bone cut with a modern steel knife, though it may, in truth, have no relevance to the mystery of the Piltdown Man. Shortly it 1S this. Mr. John Montgomery, headmaster of the Uckfield Grammar School, was in the habit of spending his vacations in France. By the time the unique tool, as Woodward calls it in The Earliest Englishman–the shaped elephant's thigh-bone–had been grubbed from under the hedge, scores of people knew what was going on at Piltdown. Dawson, a bubbling enthusiast like a good many amateurs in other things besides geology, made no secret of the finds. And he showed them to his acquaintances right and left. Amongst those who saw the shaped thigh-bone was Mr. John Montgomery. He had seen one like it before. It was in the Dordogne on one of his vacations. He had stopped to ask the way from a farmer who was thatching a small rick. The man was using what looked like a stone 'bat' to knock in his thatching peg. Mr. Montgomery saw the tool was a fossil and had been shaped. He asked the man where he had got it. The man pointed to the mountain and said: 'from the caves up there'.

Now the district in question has been the happy hunting-ground of fossil hunters for generations. At a guess, at least half the band who helped Woodward and Dawson at the gravel pit knew it and had hunted for remains in it. Amongst them was X. He had done field work there.

To condemn X on this evidence would be unjust and foolish. You could use it equally against anyone else who had done field work in the Dordogne.

And the evidence of the half human jaw in Dawson's office is by no means conclusive. Mr. Essex identified [96] the bag. But neither clerk identified X. Someone may have appropriated X's bag. On the other hand there seems to be little doubt that X had lost something when Mr. Robert Kenward saw him: and had refused to say what he had lost. Are the three facts connected? If Mr. Essex's theory is incorrect what is the explanation?

At this stage it is imperative to dispose of one matter still outstanding. It is this: if the cranium–the 'coconut'–had been in the gravel pit for thousands of years– as is highly probable–it follows that the whole skull must have been there.

There must therefore have at some time been a genuine human jawbone in the pit. The hoaxer before 'planting' the ape's jawbone must (a) have found and removed what was left–or what he believed was left–of the human jawbone, or (b) taken the risk of its being found– which might have killed his hoax at birth.

The probable explanation is, I think, this: X found half a human jawbone, not improbably after he had 'planted' some faked teeth and tools. But before or after does not really matter. There is no special virtue in half a jawbone. It might have been a whole one or less than half. But having found it he took it away his intention being to 'plant' half a simian jawbone. And I suggest he 'planted' a half because he was not sure that the other half of the genuine human one had vanished: though after all those years and in those particular circumstances the odds were it had gone. Had the half human jawbone turned up it would have been a minor but none the less a good joke.

So X was on his way to wherever he lived with the half human jawbone–(the one the clerk abstracted from the bag, the one Mr. Essex saw)–and looked in to see Dawson. It was not even a bold thing to do: would you [97]expect a clerk in a lawyer's office to search your bag when your back was turned? And–anyhow–it is by such mistakes that many murderers are caught. Not that X was in any such category. X had conceived and was executing the most brilliant practical joke in history: even Captain Koepenick and de Vere Coles would salute him!

He took the human relic away. He brought back half an ape's mandible. And that is what I think he lost. And–naturally–he dare not tell Robert Kenward. But it was only a half. He brought the other half along later. The lost half may still be lying amongst the flints in some field by Barkham Manor. More likely it has been ploughed to pieces. Or, of course, he may have found it again.

But there are still difficulties. It is easy to jump to a false conclusion. If X was a friend of Dawson's–as the hoaxer must have been–why did the clerks fail to identify him? The whole atmosphere of the transaction –the casual leaving of the bag in the office–suggests that X was a friend. How is it then that the clerk could not tell Mr. Essex who he was? ' One of the diggers,' said the young gentleman who had so coolly opened the bag: a phrase which is, in effect, meaningless. And had there been anything distinctive about the digger's clothes the clerk would surely have mentioned it.

Another conclusion may safely be drawn. On the day X came to the office neither Woodward nor Dawson was at the pit. They worked only at week-ends and on holidays and on that day Dawson was 'busy in court'. Now, Dawson and Woodward had begged the young ladies at the Manor to keep an eye on the pit, not to allow any strangers to go near it and possibly interfere with its contents. X was, therefore, presumably, one of the regular helpers.

It is typical of the Piltdown Fantasy that no one can give the date when X came to Dawson's office.

Who was X? Was he the un-named friend who found the rhinoceros tooth at Piltdown II? Was he an old associate of Dawson's like the late Mr. Lewis Abbot? Was he a younger and more mischievous person? If he was I am sure he never contemplated the possibility that his joke would fool the scientific world for forty years.

Who was the hoaxer? It would be easy to write 'your guess is as good as mine'. But that would be unfair because I know–and you do not–the names of the many people who helped Woodward and Dawson to their fantastic Discovery.

The Piltdown Fantasy has shown that eminent geologists, palæontologists and archæologists may be gulled.

It would be amusing if these distinguished gentlemen fooled nobody but themselves. But they lecture the world from the seats of the mighty, from a platform as infallibly firm as the monolith in the drive of Barkham Manor.






This book was finished when news of more frauds by Dawson broke in some Sunday newspapers on 14 November 1954, and one had this succinct headline: MORE FAKES BY GREATEST HOAXER. On the following Monday The Times had an article from its Hastings correspondent headed MUSEUM EXHIBITS DISCREDITED PILTDOWN SKULL MAN'S 'FINDS'. The inverted commas glittered like daggers in the moonlight. Below in slightly smaller type was PLAGIARISM IN HISTORY.

The Daily Mail was emphatic: 'PILTDOWN' MAN FAKES MAGNUM OPUS.

On the evidence then available the Daily Mail was not exaggerating. But, as we shall see, the evidence was very far from complete.

A Brighton paper quoted the Curator of the Public Museum and Art Gallery at Hastings as having said: 'Five of the specimens from the Dawson collection in the Museum have been discredited, and others may follow suit.' I will wager they will follow suit Before the Piltdown Fantasy ends every fragment and specimen acquired, no matter how, by Dawson in the course of over thirty years will have been proved to be bogus. L'appetit vient en mangeant.

Says The Times: 'The Curator told your correspondent that the Dawson collection included a quantity of [100] flint implements among which were some copies by "Flint Jack", a well-known faker....' The Times correspondent then named some specimens. Amongst them was 'a prickspur from Lewes which Dawson claimed to be Norman'. The British Museum had rejected the claim.

'Grave doubts' were felt about an axe head 'he claimed to have found in a slag heap at Beauport near Hastings'. And from Beauport Dawson had 'acquired' a statuette and claimed it was 'the earliest example of cast iron in Europe'. It 'first came to light' in 1893. A little later: 'Mr. Baines said that the statuette was accepted by the Society of Antiquarians but some doubt was cast on it and the story of its discovery seemed to be as enveloped in mystery as that of the Piltdown skull.' A number of authorities had tested it; it was cast iron, but probably fairly recent, 'and might have been brought home by Dawson from the continent'. A small anvil, dated 1515, 'was also under suspicion'.

The tendency to mix fact and opinion is of course universal. But the Curator's reported comments seemed to indicate a bias against Dawson. He might have brought the statuette home. On the other hand someone else might. And what is the mystery in a working man smashing with his pick what he thought was a coconut, If there is a mystery about the statuette it would have been fairer to tell us what it was.

The Curator, if he was faithfully reported, seemed convinced of Dawson's guilt, especially when he discussed what the Daily Mail called the MAGNUM OPUS. This is a work in two volumes: The History of Hastings Castle by Charles Dawson. It was published by Constable in 1909.

The Curator is reported to have told The Times cor[101]respondent that a local bookseller had brought to his notice a manuscript dealing with Hastings Castle: the Curator recognized the handwriting to be William Herbert's. Herbert had excavated at the castle in 1824. The Curator found the manuscript and Dawson's History 'to be almost identical, although re-arranged and with a lot of extraneous matter added'. The Times correspondent could be asked how two works can be almost identical when one of them has been re-arranged and contains a lot of extraneous matter.

In a Preface of five pages to his History, Dawson, The Times reports the Curator, 'makes reference to' Herbert's manuscript 'in five lines, saying that he had made full use of it'. The Curator is then reported to have said: 'There can be little doubt in my mind that Dawson used Herbert's material, and, easing his conscience in the Preface, had passed it off as his own work.'

Indeed if that is the whole story it looks as if Dawson had faked his MAGNUM OPUS; as if the headline PLAGIARISM IN HISTORY was literally true. But it is not the whole story. It is nothing like the whole story.

One cannot but be thankful that this charge of stealing another man's work has been made, because it is the one charge we can test for ourselves. It is not a charge held proven by those who are counsel, witnesses for the prosecution, judge and jury all rolled into a single, harmonious, unanimous whole. I do not mean one is unable to deal with the other charges; but only on the material supplied by the experts. We cannot attack bones with the scientists' weapons; we can only use our own common sense and our ability to analyse and to think logically.

But this charge can be tackled. The History of Hastings [102] Castle is still available. One may study the Preface; one may even read the book, if one is of the stuff from which martyrs are made.

The Preface is of four-and-a-half pages, and in it Dawson sets out the plan, the scheme of the book. In the very first paragraph he admits his work is a gathering together, a compilation of the works of others. ' Concerning Hastings Castle a recently-published book informs its readers that "one of the charms of this venerable ruin is, that no authentic record of its history exists". It is, therefore, with some diffidence that the author intrudes upon this state of bliss by presenting to the public a connected series of records, unrivalled in local history, relating to the castle.' The italics are, as usual, mine.

That is frank enough: but he dots the i's and crosses the t's. In the second paragraph: 'The author believes that average readers will prefer to read their ancient records and chronicles, in the same way as most persons read their Bibles, that is, by means of a translation, and he has provided accordingly.'

In the third paragraph: 'The plan of the present work at the outset was an ambitious one, namely, to take as a type an English Castle and Barony, the details of the history of which were almost unknown; to search out the records in the British and foreign depositories, public and private; and finally to arrange them in chronological order, interspersed with extracts from contemporary chronicles, in such a manner that the whole collection will tell its own story.' Will tell its own story!

In the sixth paragraph: 'The aim of the whole work is thus to present to the reader the most reliable data obtainable, retaining, to a great extent, all the vigour and beauty of the original draftsmanship....'

Retaining the vigour and beauty of the original drafts-[103]manship! And because he does that, because he is honest enough to admit it, he is a faker! And because he is a faker he did the Piltdown frauds!

The seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth paragraphs are concerned with old histories. The eleventh deals with Herbert s manuscript: 'The next account of any importance is by William Herbert who, in the year 1824, wrote the letterpress of Moss's History of Hastings, but without acknowledgment by the ostensible writer. This must be regarded as the first serious attempt to unravel the history of the Castle.' In the present circumstances it is amusing to hear Dawson rebuking Herbert for what looks uncommonly like a bit of plagiarism!

That is by no means the end. There are three more long paragraphs–twenty, twenty-one and twenty-two. It is already obvious that Dawson's work is a collection, a stringing together of old records. One wonders whether all local historians are as frank.

Here is the twentieth paragraph: 'For any record of the transactions conducted among the ruins of Hastings Castle, which took place in 1824, the author for a long time sought in vain; but at last he discovered some drafts in manuscript of such a description in the Guildhall Library, where Mr. Herbert, above mentioned, was formerly the librarian. Mr. Herbert, it seems, had been employed by Mr. Thomas Thorpe (the compiler of the catalogue of the Battle Abbey Documents in 1835) to examine the deeds and documents (then known as 'The Pelham Evidences') in the possession of Thomas, second Earl of Chichester, with a view to the identification of the boundaries of the lands adjoining the Castle. This he had done in a full and conscientious manner. Upon the introduction of Mr. Moss, he had conducted, for Lord Chichester, the excavation of Hastings Castle [104] initiated by the discovery of certain remains by Mr. Joseph King (the architect of Greenwich Hospital), who was engaged in excavating the Castle cliff for the building of Pelham Crescent and St. Mary's Church, now situate below the Castle. Mr. Herbert was indefatigable; he noted and planned almost every detail that was discovered, and subsequently prepared in handsome form a fair copy of his work, which he delivered to Lord Chichester.'

The twenty-first paragraph: 'Upon hearing of the present author's researches Lord Chichester (the fourth Earl) in 1897 most generously presented him with this invaluable record. Mr. Herbert's work is executed in a fine neat hand, and the text is illustrated by maps and drawings plotted out by an artist named B. Howlett. Some of these drawings, executed in black and white wash, are originals, and others are copied from certain eighteenth-century drawings by James Lambert of Lewes and S. H. Grimm, now in the British Museum and in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The author in the compilation of the present work has made free use of this magnificent record.'

He goes on in the twenty-second paragraph: 'Thus splendidly equipped, the author, by leave of Lord Chichester, commenced a further series of excavations at Hastings Castle, with a view of verifying Mr. Herbert's previous discoveries, which had subsequently been covered over, as well as to test many other doubts and theories. For assistance during these operations the author is greatly indebted to Mr. John Lewis, C.E., F.S.A., and for his drawing of the plan which appears in this section of the work.'

One wonders what processes of mensuration and dialectic compressed this frank and verbose story into The Times ' ' five lines'! He explains that his work is a collection [105] of records, which, to a great extent, he proposed to employ in the original. Herbert's manuscript is the most complete, the best; Lord Chichester has given it to him; he is making free use of it.

What more could a man do who was compiling a book of that nature? And–after all–not to put too fine a point upon it–Herbert had been long dead; the manuscript was not copyright.

The Curator is reported to have referred to the fact that Dawson added a lot of extraneous matter. The dictionary meaning of 'extraneous' is 'of external origin, not naturally belonging, foreign'. The word does not apply. There is a lot of matter in Dawson's History of Hastings Castle: but it is the matter he said he had used, 'a connected series of records, unrivalled in local history, relating to the castle'. The implicit suggestion that he threw in extraneous matter to hide his theft of Herbert's words and work is not only unjust; it is foolish. And I was soon to find that such an idea had never entered the Curator's head.

It may be worth noting that on page 8 of the History of Hastings Castle there is reference to an event taking place in 1869 and on page 10 a footnote mentions the year 1857, dates well after the date of Herbert's work, 1824.

And would Dawson, a lawyer, have allowed Herbert's manuscript to reach–either before or after his death–a second-hand bookseller's at Hastings, of all places in the world, had his conscience not been quite clear? But this is argument. The matter is beyond argument.

The charge that we have been able to examine has broken down hopelessly. Let us be very wary of accepting those that we are unable to examine.

It was difficult to extract from The Times article exactly what Dawson had 'claimed'. I wrote to the [106] Curator on Tuesday 16 November 1954. He replied by return. I had misunderstood The Times article; I had wrongly concluded that the Curator had 'told' the correspondent about Dawson's 'finds' and about his plagiarism at a private interview or at least at one given by the Curator to the Press.

A reporter had been present when the Curator addressed some members of a body called The Friends of the Museum: no deliberate attack had been made on Dawson. In fact, the Curator can speak of his own personal knowledge on two points only–about an 'oar mace' and about The History of Hastings Castle. About the latter he thought Dawson had been ungenerous but did not suggest he had behaved like a rogue.

The Curator does not wish his letter quoted. I have respected his wish: but regret that the reader cannot have his point of view, which does him great credit.

The Times is silent about the oar mace; the Daily Mail mentions it. It is an amusing story, illustrating Dawson's childish gullibility. He saw a mace at a pawnbroker's in Kent; it bore the arms of Hastings. That was enough for Dawson; he promptly bought it, presented it to the Museum, and produced a history for it based on ill-digested local knowledge: an imaginary history.

There, I think, you have Dawson. A wild and woolly enthusiast.

One may now look at the second prong of the attack– the 'Flint Jack' fakes, the 'grave doubts' about this, the 'mystery' about that, the 'suspicions' about the other. Luckily–except for 'Flint Jack'–delightful name–we have the best possible evidence about the prickspur from Lewes, the axe-head said to come from the slag heap at Beauport, the small anvil dated 1515 and the cast iron Roman statuette. The witness is Mr. R. L. Downes, of [107] the Faculty of Commerce, Birmingham University. Mr. Downes in a letter to The Times published on 22 November 1954 tells us that it was he who originated the investigation into 'the four iron objects' and that he is one of the 'authorities' referred to by the Curator.

Mr. Downes states that the statuette is of grey-cast iron and a miniature replica of a Roman statue. He says the suggestion that the thing is 'of recent and continental origin' is 'only one possible explanation'. He adds that 'the possibility of its being genuine cannot be ruled out'. (The Society of Antiquaries may have been right to accept it after all!)

Mr. Downes says the other three specimens are doubtful: they may be fraudulent but 'there is no evidence to prove any particular person responsible'.

He warns us against drawing conclusions and ends with this remarkable sentiment: 'We must wait for a complete review of the evidence of Mr. Dawson's activities, ranging from his honest and talented work to his undoubted deceptions, before passing any judgement on him or on such debatable specimens.'

Undoubted deceptions? Has Mr. Downes fallen into the trap he warned us against? Has he passed judgement on the Piltdown frauds? Or on what? If so, where is the point in a complete review of Dawson's activities? He is found guilty before his activities have been reviewed. Give a dog a bad name. And if the dog happens to be dead, then sheer reiteration will perpetuate his bad name, evidence or no evidence.

If the Piltdown Fantasy is to continue, if Dawson's lifelong activities are to be investigated, let us hope the investigators will not be those who have already found him guilty.

It is a vain hope. It is equally vain to hope that [108] casting back forty years–sixty years and more if Dawson's whole career is to be examined–will produce the truth. It will merely produce a foregone conclusion.

As for 'Flint Jack': would Dawson knowingly put fakes by a notorious faker under the expert eyes of Curators of Museums? A much more reasonable inference is that he himself was fooled. His surviving friends are emphatic that he was a wild enthusiast, and, in the words of his stepson: 'His hobbies extended in many directions, but it is doubtful whether he could be described as a great expert in any single subject.'

Smith Woodward, seeing five normal, common-or-garden fragments of a prehistoric man, at once caught fire and ended–after finding four more cranial fragments and half an orang-utan's jawbone–in convincing himself and many others as eminent that he had found the Missing Link. Dawson was not–and is not–unique in this enthusiasm. It tends to make one gullible: but in two directions; causing some to see swans where there are only geese, others geese where there are swans. It depends on one's preconceptions, unconscious prejudices, bent of mind. Dawson is like a red rag to a bull with many modern anthropologists and their disciples. The 'climate' is against him.

If the Hastings specimens or some of them are fakes, it is at least as possible that Dawson was the victim as the perpetrator. Just as Smith Woodward was fooled and claimed to have found the Missing Link; just as some people have joyfully leapt to the conclusion that the specimens at Hastings are spurious 'finds' by Dawson.

A weekly local newspaper was inspired by the Hastings sensation to publish a series of articles on Dawson's activities. One of them dealt in part with the purchase [109] by Dawson of the house which was the headquarters of the Sussex Archæological Society. The transaction is already mentioned in this book, but a little more light is thrown on it: 'Dawson's discovery of the Piltdown Skull in the autumn of 1912,' says the newspaper, no doubt referring to his finding four cranial bones in the autumn of 1911, 'was received with cold reserve by many of his fellow members of the Sussex Archæological Society, for they had already had an unhappy experience with him. In plain words, they were prejudiced against him.

At the annual meeting of the Society's council in 1904 the Chairman announced that Dawson had bought Castle Lodge, Lewes, the Society's headquarters and had given the Society notice to quit: 'the purchase by one of our members, and its consequences, took the council completely by surprise, as it understood that if the property was to be sold the Society should have the option of acquiring it,' said the Chairman.

It looks as though Dawson had pulled a fast one, as they say. I do not try to justify him.

The newspaper then quotes what the Society's honorary editor, Mr. S. F. Saltzman, wrote in the History of the Sussex Archæological Society, Volume 85, which was apparently to celebrate the centenary (1846-1946). The italics are mine: 'The vendors seemed to have believed that he was buying the house on behalf of the Society. The blow was entirely unexpected and naturally caused something like consternation.'

That is the best Mr. Saltzman can do. It is at best a theory unsupported by any evidence. Dawson is not here to give his explanation, but perhaps the then Chairman of the Society, Brigadier-General Godfrey-Fausset, had heard it; we have seen and heard him in 1938 at the [110]unveiling of the monolith which commemorated Dawson's discovery of the Piltdown Man.

Perhaps, too, the 'something like consternation' had melted in the blaze of favourable publicity which in those days warmed the ancient bones of the Missing Link. Then came a frost and 'something like consternation' came back with it. Or has another feeling developed in forty years?

Dawson's friends say he wanted the house as he was getting married: as he did. That would explain though not excuse his conduct. They also say that it is nonsense that he led the vendors to believe that he was acting on behalf of the Society: he was not the Society's solicitor. His friends are probably right. They say, too, that through his efforts the Society was enabled to secure other suitable headquarters. If that is so, it reduces the whole transaction to comparative insignificance.

So insignificant that it would hardly be news and should certainly by now have ceased to agitate the members of the Sussex Archæological Society.

And what buying a house behind people's backs has to do with staining bones, filing teeth or faking fossils, is surely beyond the craziest logic of Cloud-cuckoo-land. It is like saying of a property owner charged with murdering his wife's lover: 'Of course he did it; because he sued a tenant for rent ten years ago.'

But–give a dog a bad name.



Since I wrote Appendix One more attacks on Dawson have developed–most of them based on forty-year-old gossip. But three articles in the Sunday Times of the 9th, 16th and 23rd of January 1955 adumbrate Dr. J. S. Weiner's The Piltdown Forgery, which, though it will have been published six weeks before this book, will appear after the latter is in the press–too late, therefore, to be considered. But one may safely assume that the three articles are consistent with Dr. Weiner's book and a fair summary of at least parts of it.

The three articles are called 'a fascinating study in real-life detection', and cover much of the ground traversed in this book, referring to matters I have already dealt with, for example the location of Piltdown II. I have nothing to add to nor to subtract from what I have already written.

One alleged fact is new to me: it appears that even the Piltdown gravel itself is 'unfavourable to fossil preservation'. That is all very well: but if the 'coconut' is genuine, then–willy-nilly, tests or no tests–the gravel did contain an ancient skull. We shall shortly see how Dr. Weiner tackles this.

The first article deals with Dr. Weiner's 'Explorations' in Sussex. A character sketch of Dawson is given. I will not comment on it. But Dr. Weiner discovered that [112] Dawson 'was not remembered with unanimously friendly feelings and he found a 'surprisingly meagre representation of his achievements in the local museums'.

This may of course be due to the fact that they are in other museums.

And–this seems to raise the darkest doubts in Dr. Weiner s mind–the Sussex Archæological Society had amongst its exhibits 'no specimens of his finds, only a cast of the reconstruction of the Piltdown Man and an enlarged model of a Piltdown molar, all acquired only in 1928'.

But what seemed most significant to Dr. Weiner was the absence of any reference to the Piltdown finds in the 'Sussex Archæological Collection' for the years 1911 to 1916.

It is indeed strange. But what exactly does our detective want us to conclude? That the Sussex Archæological Society suspected Dawson of being a cheat and his Piltdown finds a fraud? If that be so, perhaps someone will explain (a) why a cast of the fraud and a model of the fraudulent molar were exhibited at the Society's museum in 1928 ? (b) why for forty years the Society did not denounce the frauds or at least criticise the finds in their publication? (c) why the Society's President made a laudatory speech at the unveiling of the Monolith at Piltdown in 1938 ?

The plain answer to these questions is that honourable men would not do these things if they believed they were dealing with a fraud.

I wonder if the members of the Society have yet realised the implications of Dr. Weiner's insinuations.

The reason why there was so little enthusiasm for Dawson is given by Dr. Weiner himself–though for a different purpose–and I have dealt with it in Appendix One. It is a human, natural reason. The Society [113] resented Dawson buying their premises and ejecting them. Honourable men may resent and demonstrate their resentment. But honourable men do not exhibit what they suspect are frauds nor permit their President to belaud a cheat.

In Appendix One the reader has considered the accusations against Dawson based on his History of Hastings Castle. When I read of these I at once got the History of Hastings Castle to see if these accusations were justified: the reader knows with what result.

I am, of course, not an eminent scientist. According to the Sunday Times the Curator of Hastings Museum 'told Dr. Weiner that half Dawson's material had been copied shamelessly, and with quite inadequate acknowledgement from an early nineteenth-century manuscript'. And Dr. Weiner seems to have accepted this with no further check nor inquiry–an action, incidentally, quite contrary to the best Scotland Yard theory and practice.

One wonders if Dr. Weiner took everything he heard with equal credulity. Where, for instance, did he learn that Dawson had been asked by the Sussex Archæological Society 'to act' on their behalf in the purchase of the premises which he bought for himself? I gravely doubt this. Dawson was not the Society's solicitor. And–if he behaved so unprofessionally–why did the Society not ask the Law Society–the body that keeps a jealous eye on solicitors' professional conduct–to deal with him?

But when Dr. Weiner faces a fundamental fact he attains heights of fantasy in excess of anything yet encountered in this fantastic affair. The reader does not need to be told again how important the 'coconut' is. If it is genuine, if it was the skull, then most of the case against Dawson disappears–the argument has already been worked out to the best of my ability.

[114] Clearly the 'coconut' has weighed upon Dr. Weiner's mind: so able a man would realise that its genuineness would go not only a long way to exculpate Dawson; it would go all the way to show that the gravel had in fact preserved ancient bones.

Our detective is in a very difficult position. He cannot deny that the workman found the 'coconut'; the evidence is too clear, too well authenticated. But unless the coconut is out of the way the rope that was to hang Dawson will turn out to be a rope of sand.

So what does Dr. Weiner do? With a superb gesture he rings the changes! He produces another 'coconut'! Let us quote: 'In 1908 Dawson inspected much of the Piltdown gravels and knew very well what they might yield'. Did he? One had the impression that the gravels were 'unfavourable to fossil preservation'. But let us press on: we mustn't miss this: 'What exactly was found by the workman in that year can only be surmised, but it was probably a modern skull. For this, he could later have substituted a fossil skull he had acquired elsewhere burying it, together with the orang jaw and all the specimens required to prove antiquity.' Including the thigh-bone found after a hedge had been up-rooted? Well, well.

We will not quarrel–though we could–with the unwarranted assertion that what exactly was found by the workman can only be surmised. But it was probably a modern skull. A modern skull! How did it get there? How did it find itself buried under gravel so hard that strong men had to break it open with picks? How did it come to be found just when Dawson had asked the workmen to look out for fossils? And in the very place? By what imaginable act of man or nature could it have been brought and buried there? These and a hundred [115] other unanswerable questions arise out of Dr. Weiner's wild and disingenuous theory. It outrages every canon of common sense and probability. It is an insult to the intelligence.

Is Dr. Weiner serious? One is afraid he is. There is no other way to eliminate the 'coconut'. And unless and until the 'coconut' is eliminated, the stick with which Dr. Weiner beats the dog with the bad name will break in his hand. We should be grateful to Dr. Weiner: he has shown us what may happen when scientist abandons fact and plunges into speculation.

Dr. Weiner, it may be noted in passing, suggests Dawson substituted a 'fossil skull'. The reader will remember the attempt made to prove that the 'coconut' was not a fossil. One is tempted to leave Dr. Weiner to his fantasies at this point. But the words of such as he carry weight. Let us examine them a little further. He introduces Mr. Lewis Abbott, a gentleman I have mentioned. Let us quote the Sunday Times again: 'Just how deeply Dawson managed to involve him in his schemes emerged in a remarkable revelation made by Abbott himself in 1924. The skull, he said, had been in his possession six months before Smith Woodward saw it, and had been soaked by Dawson and himself in bichromate "to harden it".'

Dr. Weiner here places himself alongside Piltdown's oldest inhabitant who, the reader will remember, alleged he was there when Dawson and Smith Woodward found the skull. Surely Dr. Weiner knows that Smith Woodward never saw the skull. All he saw was five bones Dawson brought to him and the four he found himself. And the skull was reconstructed from these bones; and casts were made.

1924? More than thirty years ago and a dozen years [116] after the Piltdown finds. And we have to wait till now for this 'remarkable revelation'.

And if Dawson and Abbott soaked the skull in bichromate how is it that there was 'no chromate in the cranial fragments subsequently collected that summer–either in the right parietal or in the small occipital fragment found in situ by Smith Woodward himself'. The quotation–as the reader is well aware–is from The Solution of the Piltdown Problem, of which Dr. Weiner was joint author with Dr. Oakley and Professor le Gros Clark

The absence of chromate in the right parietal and the small occipital fragment was used in The Solution of the Piltdown Problem to prove the hoax. Now the staining of the whole skull is used to prove the same thing! You cannot use the argument both ways. There is a limit to ad hoc argument. May I be acquitted of presumption if I say that I do not believe Dr. Oakley and Professor le Gros Clark would indulge in it.

In the best 'go-dun-it's' a secret drawer often yields evidence. In this story of real-life detection it is the long-forgotten bottom drawer of a cabinet. This cabinet belonged to a Mr. Harry Morris; this gentleman was well known in Mid and East Sussex. He was a frantic collector of very doubtful 'eoliths', which were in 1913, I believe, examined and condemned by a committee of expert geologists. This infuriated poor Morris: and Dawson's fame further enraged him. Morris's executor exchanged the cabinet for a collection of birds' eggs. Dr. Weiner traced and examined the cabinet. In a bottom drawer he found one flint which Morris 'had somehow or other acquired from Dawson'. Across the flint Morris had written: 'Stained by C. Dawson with intent to defraud (all). H.M.' There were also notes by [117] Morris: 'Stained with permanganate of potash and exchanged by D. for my most valued specimen. H.M.' With a crank like Morris any specimen he exchanged would undoubtedly be his most valued. But how he, hating Dawson as he did, ever came to part with his 'most valued specimen' I cannot for the life of me understand.

The next note is more curious still: 'I challenge the S[outh] K[ensington] Museum authorities to test the implements of the same patina as this stone which the imposter Dawson says were "excavated from the pit". They will be found [to] be white if hydrochlate[?] acid be applied. H.M. Truth will out.'

Having issued his challenge and called on the gods to witness that Truth would out Morris promptly buries the challenge in a drawer and Truth with it!

Dr. Weiner accounts for this strange conduct (a) by Morris's fear that people would think he was trying to discredit Dawson 'to avenge his own defeat'. All one need say is that Morris was the kind of fellow who if he could harm one he hated would not give a fig for what other people might think; (b) Dr. Weiner suggests that Morris 'flinched from the possibility that in unmasking Dawson he might end up by disproving the authenticity of Piltdown Man'.

So to make sure of keeping the matter secret Morris tells the gentleman who was to be his executor that Piltdown Man was a fraud and puts Dawson's alleged faking of a flint in writing to make doubly sure! Morris was undoubtedly eccentric but behaviour of that kind is so inconsistent as to make his evidence valueless.

And what of the next note? 'Judging from an overheard conversation, there is every reason to suppose that the "canine tooth" found at Piltdown was imported from France.' [118] Was Dawson one of the conversationalists? That is highly improbable: because, had he been, Morris would undoubtedly have written 'Dawson imported the "canine tooth".' But in the improbable event of Dawson having been one of them, who was the other? Was it someone to whom Dawson was conveying his suspicions? Or someone in league with Dawson? I doubt either alternative. If Dawson suspected and did not intend to act on his suspicions, he would confide in no one–unless it was Smith Woodward, and this I do not believe. And if it was a co-conspirator you would expect Morris to mention his name and Dawson's.

If Morris did overhear a conversation it was probably between two other people. And who they were is a matter of guess-work.

If Morris heard and correctly heard the conversation– the 'canine tooth' seems to have been imported from France. It fitted the mandible, therefore the mandible must have been imported too, and as the mandible fitted the skull of a young female orang here is an opportunity for some more real-life detection. The skulls of young female orange are far from common. Forty years ago they were just as difficult to get. Dr. Weiner, I am sure, made inquiries at London shops.

There seems to have been one more note: 'Watch C. Dawson. Kind regards.'

This legacy of hate–for what else can you call it?was part of the exchange Morris's executor made for a collection of birds' eggs. I think the executor was wise not to trouble his head with so tainted a bequest

The third article in the Sunday Times deals with two others who feared to disclose their suspicions. They were afraid of being 'laughed at for their pains'! One of them 'was a close friend of Harry Morris'. They [119] knew that Dawson operated a sort of witches' cauldron in his office, boiling bones in porcelain pots.

One of these gentlemen was Major R. A. Marriott, D.S.O., who was Governor of Lewes Prison. He died in 1930. The other was Captain Guy St. Barbe, who was one of Dawson's clients.

One cannot help regretting that fear of ridicule deterred these gallant gentlemen from producing their evidence at the time. As years pass the memory may be unconsciously distorted by opinion, prejudice and outside gossip.

But there was one person to whom Major Marriott probably spoke. That was the celebrated palæontologist, A. S. Kennard, a man of the highest character and attainments. Kennard, like Marriott and Captain St. Barbe, believed that the Piltdown relics were bogus. And he never hid his belief He said he knew who the hoaxer was. But he did not consider Dawson was the hoaxer.

I failed to observe any reference to this in the Sunday Times.


In the Sunday Times of 23 January 1955, the President of The Sussex Archæological Society dealt sharply with Dr. Weiner's allegation that the members of the Society 'asked Dawson to act on their behalf' for the purchase of their premises. The President wrote: 'the statement is completely untrue'.

How does Dr. Weiner get out of that? He had, he explains, understood from the President that 'Dawson had used the notepaper' of the Society in the negotiations: and [120] he regrets that he 'failed to realise that the use of the paper was completely unauthorised'.

This, of course, is sheer nonsense. Clubs and Societies with reading rooms supply writing paper for the use of their members. And, anyhow, he had no business to jump to the conclusion he did.

But the incident suggests the possibility that the story of real-life detection contains some ill-digested fact and spurious reasoning.

In contrast to Dr. Weiner's curious dialectic let us end with a sentence from a letter of 11 January 1955, written by a simple countrywoman, the daughter of the stout old yokel Venus who did the heavy digging for Smith Woodward and Dawson: 'No one will ever make me beleive that Mr. Dawson did any cheating.'

The italics–and spelling–are hers.