Piltdown Man Hoax Is Exposed:
Jaw an Ape's, Skull Fairly Recent
New York Times November 22, 1953
London, Nov. 21Part of the skull of the Piltdown Man, one of the most famous fossil skulls in the world, has been declared a hoax by authorities at the British Natural History Museum.
It is now stated that the jaw-bone associated with the skull is that of a modern ape, probably an orangutan, that has been "doctored" with chemicals to give it an aged appearance.
In addition, it is said that the cap of the skull is genuine but far more recent than had been believed50,000 instead of 500,000 years old.
This declaration in the current issue of the museum's bulletin has been made after twenty years of rumors and uneasy speculation among European paleontologists about the authenticity of the bones.
The report, signed by Dr. J. B. Weiner, Dr. K. P. Oakley and Prof. W. E. Le Gros Clark, said "The faking of the mandible [jawbone] is so extraordinarily skillful and the perpetration of the hoax appears to have been so entirely unscrupulous and inexplicable as to find no parallel in the history of paleontological discovery."
Paleontology is the science dealing with the life of past geological periods. It is based on the study of fossils.
The relics of the so-called first Englishman were unearthed in a gravel pit in the hamlet of Piltdown in Sussex, forty-five miles south of London in 1911. The first bone was handed to Charles Dawson, a local lawyer and amateur geologist, by workmen who had apparently mistaken the skull for a "petrified coconut" and smashed it into pieces.
Mr. Dawson took the find home but apparently thought little about it. Several years later he found other portions of the skull some distance away and realized that he had found fragments of a "very thick-headed man."
The bones were taken to the Natural History Museum in London, where the Keeper of Geology, the late Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, pronounced them to be a portion of an ancient human parietal bone, part of the skull.
Within a year the Piltdown man was famous. The gravel pit was combed for other bones. Mr. Dawson found the right half of a jawbone at the same spot where the skull pieces had been turned up. Some teeth believed to be human were also found.
Sir Arthur Keith, famous British paleontologist, spent more than five years piecing together the fragments of what he called a "remarkable" discovery. He said the brain case was "primitive in
some respects but in all its characters distinctly human."
The Piltdown man was named Eoanthropus dawsonii, or Dawn Man, in honor of its discoverer, and paleontologists throughout the world handled it with reverence.
Although the fossil was generally accepted as the earliest known specimen of sapient man, as opposed to the apeman of China and Java, many research workers reserved their opinions about the disputatious jawbone.
Skeptical British paleontologists said it was probably a relic of another specimen that had been found in accidental conjunction with the Piltdown cranium.
The late Franz Weidenreich, who unearthed the Pekin man, said bluntly that the jaw was that of an orangutan, a statement that puzzled paleontologists here since no anthropoid apes are known to have inhabited Britain.
Although the name Piltdown became a landmark in the history of man's search for his earliest ancestors, the skull itself was placed in 1939 in what the British Museum politely called a "suspense account."
Meanwhile Mr. Dawson had died.
Tested for Fluorine
The first serious doubts about the authenticity of the skull were voiced in 1949. Chronologists reviewed the remaining evidence at the site and said that neither the skull cap nor the jaw was "particularly old."
These doubts were finally solved by Dr. Oakley, who tested all the bones for their relative content of fluorine absorbed from the soil. He found they contained "very little fluorine," a circumstance suggesting that the "relics" were relatively recent.
Now the opinion of comparative anatomists and further tests by chemists have established that the jaw is that of a modern ape treated with potassium bichromate and iron salt, giving it an aged appearance.
It has also been established that the teeth have been pared down so that they could have been associated with the jaw of a primitive man.
The cranium is believed to be genuine but about 50,000 years old. This age brings the "first Englishman" into line with scores of early men found in Europe and elsewhere.
But it is assumed that the jaw was "planted" at the gravel pit. By whom? The writers of the museum bulletin are not prepared to say categorically that it was Mr. Dawson, the venerated lawyer and geologist of Sussex.
The Times of London, however, says that if the hoaxer were proved to be Mr. Dawson "it would be but one more instance of the desire for fame (since money was certainly not the object) bringing a scholar into dishonesty."
This abrupt devaluation of the Piltdown man means that the oldest skull of sapient man found in the world is the relic from Swanscombe, on the south bank of the Themes Estuary. It is about 200,000 years old and was found in conjunction with many "datable" flint hand axes. Paleontologists who have spoken eloquently about its antiquity are doubly thankful that it has been shown to be genuine by Dr. Oakley's telltale fluorine technique.
Hooton Jolted by the fact
Providence, R. I., Nov. 21 One of he world's most famous anthropologists expressed surprise tonight at the new plight of the Piltdown man.
The Providence Journal quoted Prof. Earnest A. Hooton of Harvard as expressing shock and disbelief at the implications of the hoax.
As to the effect of the exposé on the study of anthropology, the Journal quoted Dr. Hooton as saying:
"It doesn't disturb our ideas of human evolution at all. If it is right that the head is a fake it loses all its significance and removes a very puzzling link."
Professor Hooton told The Journal that the findings "impugn the honesty" of the late Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, formerly keeper of the British Museum and one of the most famous geologists of Britain.
"It is like implying that the Secretary of the Treasury is running a counterfeiting business on the side," Dr. Hooton commented.
At the same time Dr. Hooton described two of the scientists who collaborated on the report which branded the Piltdown man a fake as "very reputable and distinguished fellows."
"I know them both," he said of Dr. K. P. Oakley and Prof. Le Gros Clark.