1906 Skull Was Not The Piltdown Find

Sussex Express & County Herald 1954

A theory which has been in the mind of a Cross-in-Hand resident, Mrs. Florence Padgham, who lives in a cottage on the Isenburst Estate, about the origin of the Piltdown skull–as the fossil cranium will always be known locally–was told by her to an "Express-Herald" reporter, but an expert to whom it was repeated discounted the theory on geological grounds.

The Piltdown skull, unearthed by workmen in a gravel pit and handed to Mr. Charles Dawson, an Uckfield solicitor and archaeologist, was found in 1912. Mrs. Padgham"s father, Mr. Owen Burley, who lived with his family at Victoria-cottages, Nutley, gave to Mr. Dawson in 1906 a skull which was said to have been dug up in Ashdown Forest, precise spot unknown.

"I've often wondered whether the Piltdown skull," said Mrs. Padgham, who was aged 13 in 1906, "is not the selfsame one which I saw and handled, and which was given to my father by a neighbour."

"It was brown with age, and had no lower jawbone, and only one tooth in the upper jaw. I should know it if I saw it again, because it had a mark resembling a bruise on the forehead, as if it had been bruised down to the bone."

"You'll hear more"

Mrs. Padgham said her mother did not like it in the house, and when Mr. Dawson carried out some legal business for them her mother gave it to him. "I remember him saying to my Dad," said Mrs. Padgham: "'You'll hear more about this, Mr. Burley.'"

Her theory that it might be the 1912 skull is discounted, however, if one accepts that the 1906 object was dug up in Ashdown Forest. Geologically, Ashdown Forest and the neighbourhood of Piltdown are vastly different. Whereas a skull could become fossilized in the Piltdown gravel, it would be impossible in the Ashdown Forest sand.

Another point to be remembered is that the skull unearthed at Piltdown was only a cranium, extending to the bridge of the nose. Until Mr. Dawson found other fragments it had no upper jaw.

Mr. Dawson had in his collection of ancient human and animal remains a number of skulls or parts of skulls, and at his death in 1915 they were disposed of either by direct bequests or when his collections of antiquities was sold.

The Piltdown fossil cranium is of primitive man of the Upper Pleistocene period (say, 50,000 years go), and not of the Lower Pleistocene age (500,000 years ago), as was believed when the skull was taken to the British Museum just before World War I.

Protected site

Whatever is believed or doubted about it, however, the British Museum is anxious that the ground from which it was taken is protected.

Mr. E. M. Nicholson, Director-General of the Nature Conservancy, who recently issued two reports covering 1952 and 1953 up to the end of September, said the genuineness of the cranium had not been questioned, s the faking (revealed in investigations completed last November in the Department of Geology at the British Museum) was confined to the jaw and one tooth. In such circumstances the site was of geological importance, and was being protected.

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