Piltdown Man

F. J. M. Postlethwaite

London Times November 1953


[9] Sir,-I have read with considerable indignation the penultimate sentence of your Museum Correspondent's report of November 21 concerning the Piltdown Man forgery in which he says: "If that third person were to prove to be Charles Dawson, it would be but one more instance of desire for fame (since money was certainly not here the object) leading a scholar into dishonesty." Charles Dawson was my stepfather and great friend so I cannot pass by in silence the unfair and quite unnecessary sentence in an otherwise excellent statement of facts.

I spent short periods of leave from the Sudan at our home in Lewes during 1911 and 1912 when the search for fragments of the skull was proceeding and my stepfather devoted most of his spare time at the gravel deposit and so did Dr. Smith Woodward. I do not think they were always there together, but they may have been. Later Father Teilhard joined them. I was abroad when the half of the lower jaw and the eye tooth were found. All this happened over 40 years ago and my memory might be at fault, but I have always understood that as the pieces of the skull were found they were handed over to Dr. Smith Woodward for safe custody and later reconstruction.

Charles Dawson was an unassuming and thoroughly honest man and very painstaking, as when he wrote The History of Hastings Castle , entailing years of research. From an early age he was interested in flint implements and fossils, uncovering the bones of some saurian near Hastings. He exercised his great general knowledge in many ways, discovering natural gas at Heathfield and becoming an authority on Sussex iron. His hobbies extended in many directions, but it is doubtful whether he could be described as a great expert in any single subject.

Until the discovery at Piltdown he did not display any particular interest in skulls, human or otherwise, and so far as I know had none in his possession. To suggest that he had the knowledge and the skill to break an ape's jawbone in exactly the right place, to pare the teeth to ensure a perfect fit to the upper skull and to disguise the whole in such a manner as to deceive his partner, a scientist of international repute, would surely be absurd, and personally I am doubtful whether he ever had the opportunity of doing so.

No-Charles Dawson was at all times far too honest and faithful to his research to have been accessory to any faking whatsoever. He was himself duped, and from statements appearing in the Press such is evidently the opinion of those who knew him well, some of whom are scientists of repute.

Yours faithfully,

F. J. M. Postlethwaite.

Cascoigne's Hotel, Lyndhurst, Hampshire, Nov. 23.