Scientific Enthusiasm at Piltdown, Java and Pekin

Lessons of Piltdown

Francis Vere

Evolution Protest Movement 1959


A Study in Scientific Enthusiasm at Piltdown, Java and Pekin.



are hereby made to the British Museum (Natural History), to the Geological Society of London,

and to Watts & Co. Ltd., for permission to quote; also to Mr. Ernest S. Long for kindness in

reading the proofs.


Dramatis Personae

in Piltdown 'Man', called Eoanthropus dawsoni (Dawson Dawn-Man).


1-The Experts

Barlow, F. O. Plaster cast maker to British Museum.

Clark, Sir Wilfrid Le Gros, F.R.S., Professor of Anatomy, Oxford.

Keith, Sir Arthur, F.R.S. (1866-1953), famous anatomist and craniologist; wrote Foreword to

Smith Woodward's Earliest Englishman.

Oakley Dr. K. P., Senior Principal Scientific Officer, British Museum (Natural History) since

1955 applied the fluorine tests.

Smith, Sir Grafton Elliot, F.R.S. (1872-1937), Professor of Anatomy at Manchester.

Teilhard de Chardin, (Professor) P.,Jesuit priest, lectured at Cairo; 1909, at Jesuit College nr.

Hastings, helped Dawson and Smith Woodward at Piltdown.

Weiner, Dr. J. S., M.A., M.Sc., Ph.D., M.R.C.S., Reader in Physical Anthropology, Oxford;

helped to 'debunk' Piltdown 'Man'; wrote The Piltdown For~gery, making Dawson the culprit.

Woodward, Sir Arthur Smith, F.R.S. (1864-1944), Keeper, Geological Dept., British Museum,

from 1901. Friend of Dawson's since 1884.


2. Amateurs & Friends, Etc.


Abbott, Lewis, a rather queer local character, amateur archaeologist.

Clarke, Ernest, of Lewes, visitor to the Dawsons'.

Dawson, Charles, F.S.A., Solicitor of Uckfield, and Steward of Barkham Manor (1864-1916).

Essex, Robert, M.Sc.,, Science Master at Uckfield Grammar School.

Kennard, A. S., palaeontologist.

Kenward, Robert, Tenant farmer at Barkham Manor, Piltdown, father of

Kenward, Miss Mabel, still living (1959) at Piltdown.

Montgomery, John, Head Master of Uckfield Grammar School.

Morris, Harry, bank clerk, of Lewes, eccentric and jealous rival of Dawson's.

Woodhead, Public Analyst at Uckfield, friend of Dawson's.


[1] I am not a member of the Evolution Protest Movement, nor am I seeking to attack the Theory of Evolution. All I am attempting is an analysis of the way in which some of those who believe in it collect and weigh evidence. I seek too to show-out of their own mouths wherever possible-that they are as prone to preconceptions, as susceptible to 'climate' and as liable to prejudice as any other class of man. When I write of scientists I refer only to those who preach that the Theory of Evolution is a proven or probable fact, and I am limiting myself to very few of the advocates of Evolution; to those who were directly concerned with the launching of the Piltdown Man and to those who 40 years later wrecked him. I shall also, shortly, refer to some other Missing Links the evidence for which seems to me very doubtful.

The Piltdown case is a complete example of how scientists (a) collect evidence, (b) weigh evidence (c) argue from evidence.

The Piltdown Man was first accepted, then doubted, then investigated: and finally exposed. Someone had faked a Missing Link and fooled most of the supporters of the Theory of Evolution for about 40 years.

Naturally enough, people wanted to know who the faker was. Luckily for the professional scientists, an amateur had taken perhaps the most prominent part in the discovery of the Piltdown Man and in his presentation to the world. It is now often said that no one knows who committed the fraud, but a great deal has been written in an attempt to prove that the amateur was guilty. Much of this pamphlet will analyse the case against the amateur. The reader is advised to check my statements and arguments by referring to the books I criticize-amongst others The Piltdown Forgery by Dr. J. S. Weiner, M.A., .R.C.S., Reader in Physical Anthropology at Oxford.

As the evidence adduced (a) for the genuineness of the Piltdown Man, (b) for his being a fake and (c) for the identity of the faker, is adduced by scientists it is well worth bearing in mind what Professor Vayson de Pradenne said about scientific evidence. He was Director of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris, and Professor at the Ecole d'Anthropologie. He was himself a believer in Evolution. In 1925 his book Fraudes Archeologiques was published. A quarter of a century before the exposure of the Piltdown fraud, it is remarkable how his words apply to that classic. He writes: 'One cannot insist too strongly that honour ('honesty') in popular language, that is, probity in money matters) is quite different from scientific integrity. A man who would think it dishonourable to use the smallest sum of money which did not belong to him may be guilty of archaeological deceit.' Not deliberate fraud; the Professor points out that there is no case of what he calls any 'serious' archaeologist being deliberately fraudulent. But where pre-conceptions are involved is a different story. When we examine the Piltdown fraud-if fraud it was-we shall see [2[ how closely the Professor's words apply to Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, Sir Ray Lankester, Sir Grafton Elliot Smith and other equally eminent gentlemen. Professor Vayson de Pradenne writes: 'On the other hand one often finds men of science possessed by a pre-conceived idea, who, without committing real frauds, do not hesitate to give observed facts a twist in the direction which agrees with their theories. A man may imagine, for example, that the law of progress in pre-historic industries must show itself everywhere and always in the smallest details. Seeing the simultaneous presence in a deposit of carefully finished artefacts and others of a coarser type, he decides that there must be two levels: the lower one yielding the coarser specimens. He will class his finds according to their type, not according to the stratum in which he found them. If at the base he finds a finely worked implement he will declare there has been accidental penetration and that the specimen must be re-integrated with the site of its origin by placing it with the items from the higher levels. He will end with real trickery in the stratigraphic presentation of his specimens; trickery in aid of a pre-conceived idea, but more or less unconsciously done by a man of good faith whom no one would call fraudulent. The case is often seen; and if I mention no names it is not because I don't know any.'

That the gentlemen who Iaunched the Piltdown Man were possessed by the pre-conceived idea that a Missing Link possessing his features would one day be found will become abundantly clear when we observe their pattern of behavior. That the scientific world in general had the same idea was neatly summed up by that famous scientist Sir Arthur Keith in his Antiquity of Man, published in 1924: 'That we should discover such a race as Piltdown, sooner or later, has been an article of faith in the anthropologist's creed ever since Darwin's time.'

And, W. J. SolIas observed in Ancient Hunters, the Piltdown Skull was 'a combination which had indeed been long previously anticipated as an almost necessary stage in the course of human development.'

And the eminent scientists who broadcast on the fraud on July 2nd, 1954, agreed that the 'climate' was favourable to a skull such as the Piltdown Man's.

That the gentlemen who 40 years later wrecked the Piltdown Man were possessed by the pre--conceived idea that he was a fake is clear (a) from Dr. Weiner's The Piltdown Forgery, notably chapters 2 and 3 and (b) from The Solution of the Piltdown Problem by J. S. Weiner, K. P. Oakley, and W. E. Le Gros Clark, F.R.S., a Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Geology, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1953. The relevant sentences are: 'But there is another possible explanation of the apparent contradictions shown by the Piltdown remains: that the mandible and canine tooth are actually those of a modern ape . . . which have been deliberately faked to simulate fossil specimens. It was not till one of us (J. S. W. in the course of personal discussions put forward this proposition fairly and squarely as the only solution (my italics) of the Piltdown puzzle, pointed out that the organic content of the mandible had never been examined, and moreover demonstrated experimentally that artificial abrasion of the teeth of a chimpanzee combined with appropriate staining produced an appearance astonishingly similar to the Piltdown molars and canine that we decided on a critical study of all the Piltdown material with this specific possibility directly in view (my italics).

The fundamental objection to Piltdown Man in 1953 was that his ape's jaw and human cranium; contradicted the latest 'finds.' The new theory is that a Missing Link's jaw is more or less

human and his cranium more or less simian. Had the latest 'finds' been different Piltdown Man might still, fake he seems to be, be occupying an honourable branch on the evolutionary tree. As the authors of the Solution of the Piltdown Problem put it, the Piltdown Man 'was actually a most

awkward and perplexing element in the fossil record.'

That the professional scientists were possessed by the pre-conceived idea that the fraud was not

the work of one of them is clear (a) from The Times of Saturday, November 21st, 1953. In an article by [[3] its Museum Correspondent - his identity was not disclosed, but the context shows he was a prominent figure in the British Museum-three names are mentioned as being concerned in the excavation of the Piltdown Man: Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, Father Teilhard de Chardin and Charles Dawson-the amateur. The Museum's Correspondent says: 'Thus two witnesses of the highest character either found, or helped to find, the bones now known to be spurious, and it is hard to resist the conclusion that the jaw and tooth had been put there by some third person, in order that they might be so unimpeachably discovered. If that third person were to prove to be Dawson (my italics) it would be but one more instance of desire for fame (since money was certainly not here the object) leading a scholar into dishonesty.' Two professionals and one amateur! The former are acquitted in advance: the identity of the guilty party is not left in much doubt! (b) From The Solution of the Piltdown Problem, in the preliminary Note to which Mr. W. R. Edwards, the Keeper of Geology, assumes that 'one can be certain' (my italics) 'that after they came into the late Sir Arthur Smith Woodward's possession they (the 'finds') could not have been treated or tampered with either chemically or physically,'-which is an acquittal before the evidence was considered: this acquittal was probably right, but that is not the point. In the body of the Bulletin-4th paragraph, page 145-it is said 'it is now clear that the distinguished palaeontologists and archaeologists who took part in excavations at Piltdown were the victims of an elaborate and carefully prepared hoax.'. .Dawson may be included as a distinguished palaeontologist and archaeologist, in which case the point is not valid; (c) Weiner's admission in The Piltdown Forgery at page 203, that 'to condemn Dawson on considerations of this sort is to base the case ultimately on arguments by exclusion' (my italics). It is a little difficult to understand exactly what is meant and we shall need to refer to it again. We shall see at all events that the possibility of any one else being guilty is excluded until a rather vague supposition on the penultimate page 204, that Dawson 'might have been implicated in a "joke," perhaps not even his own, which went too far.' This still leaves Dawson with guilty knowledge; (d) Dr. Oakley and Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, equally with Dr. Weiner, began an actual study of the Piltdown remains with the specific possibility that they were a fake directly in view; (e) Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark's pre-conceptions will become demonstrably clear when we refer to his History of the Primates, (f) Dr. Oakley may or may not have been the contributor to The Times of November 21st, 1953, at least the article is based on The Solution of the Piltdown Problem of which he was part author: of the three authors he is the only one who works at the British Museum; (g) Dr. Oakley was in touch with The Times, because on Monday, November 23rd, statements are printed which he made to that paper's Special Correspondent. In The Times of November 23rd it is emphasised that the fluorine tests perfected by Dr. Oakley uncovered the fraud and it is said that Smith Woodward was never shown a second site on which-as we shall see-other bones were found.




Before dealing with the theory in general I propose to examine its origin. How did the Piltdown affair start? There is one witness still living who was residing at Barkham Manor at Piltdown, near Uckfield, in Sussex, when it started. It was in the drive of Barkham Manor that the excavations were made. [4] That witness is Miss Mabel Kenward of Piltdown. On February 23rd, 1955, the following letter from her appeared in The Daily Telegraph . (The letter was first sent to The Times, which refused to print it).

'In view of the publicity given to my family in Dr. J. S. Weiner's book: The Piltdown

Forgery, may I tell you the plain and simple truth about the actual finding of the Piltdown Skull? Mr. Charles Dawson came periodically to our home, Barkham Manor. He was steward of the Manor and came to preside over the Manorial Court which was held in the house, though the Court was not held regularly. On one occasion he noticed my father's workmen digging gravel by

the side of the drive leading up to the house and asked if he might be allowed to watch for anything that looked different from the ordinary gravel stones (flints). One day when they were digging in unmoved gravel, one of the workmen saw what he called a coconut. He broke it with his pick, kept

one piece, and threw the rest away. The piece was handed to my father, who gave it back to the men,

telling them to give it to Mr. Dawson. There is no doubt about the authenticity of this story and it is recorded by Lewis Abbott in 1913 and later by Sir Arthur Smith Woodward. I knew about it at the time. For Dr. Weiner to say in his book that the coconut story sinks into obscurity is absurd.

Yours faithfully,

Mabel Kenward.'

Dr. Weiner had two interviews with Miss Kenward.

When a Reader or Lecturer elects to leave the lecture room and traipse over the countryside collecting evidence he should not complain if he is treated with the same degree of respect accorded to the village constable. During these very two interviews, for example, he was told that Miss Kenward had stayed at Barkham Manor during 1914-1918 and done war work from there; he records that Miss Kenward went away to war-work in 1914. This is in no sense because he wished to remove a witness from the scene; it is solely bemuse in the rush to collect evidence he unconsciously sacrificed accuracy to speed.

'I never went away to war work from Barkham Manor and I never told Dr. Weiner that I had."

Letter from Miss Kenward to the present writer.

The 'coconut' story proved very troublesome to Weiner.

Reduced to its simplest terms this is the story: in 1908 one of two workmen who were digging gravel alongside the drive of Barkham Manor saw what he took to be a coconut embedded in the gravel, smashed it with his pick and later gave one piece to Dawson. Weiner's attempt to whittle down the story is based on contradictions in the versions given by the witnesses.

At page 189 of his book, Weiner puts the point for decision. He calls the question the 'Piltdown Riddle' and proceeds: 'Was the pit completely barren at the birth of the Piltdown Man or did he begin life there as a burial? Was the cranium genuinely in the gravel or had it been "planted" there when the workmen found it?'

Before the publication of his book, but most probably after it was in the publisher's hands, three articles appeared in The Sunday Times on the 9th, 16th and 23rd of January, 1955; these articles were entitled The Piltdown Mystery. Even if he wished, Weiner cannot escape responsibility for them. In the note introducing them they are said to be 'a fascinating study in real life detection written by Joyce Emerson in collaboration with Dr. J. S. Weiner,' and are also said to be 'based on Dr. Weiner's forthcoming book: The Piltdown Forgery.'

The Sunday Times articles are a sustained attack on Dawson, and the reader is left in no doubt that the collaborators are convinced of his guilt. Even his motive is examined and held probably to stem from 'a genuine belief that just such remains must surely exist in the Weald and also in his own fierce longing that it should be he who would have the honour of giving them to the world. After devoting a [5] great deal of his time and industry to searching the Piltdown gravels, is it not understandable if his impati-ence got the better of him and he resolved to nudge the perverse site into action ?'

The second article deals with the finding of the first bone; after pointing out that a long time must have elapsed between Dawson's request to the workmen to look out for fossils and their

handing him the fossil bone, the article continues: 'It seems certain that it was after some considerable lapse of time, probably in 1908, that the workmen presented him with their find. That this incident did in fact take place was confirmed by various people who knew of it at the time' (my italics).

But one cannot be sure that the article gives Weiner's final opinion. There should have been opportunity to say so in the book even in a footnote. One must therefore consider what Weiner's book says about the 'coconut' story. At page 129 he points out that Sir Arthur Smith Woodward and Lewis Abbott-a rather queer character mentioned in Miss Kenward's letter-give different versions of the story and that Dawson's obituary notices adopt Woodward's which is told by Miss Kenward, who believes her father was apprised of the find by the workmen themselves. But Dawson writes nothing explicitly of a 'coconut'; he seems to contradict it in his surmise 'that when the workmen first dug up the skull it was complete in most of its details, and that was shattered and mixed with the gravel before any part of it was noticed by them.' Weiner italicises the last nine words and concludes: 'Thus the origin of the 'coconut' story sinks into obscurity.'


Weiner does not give Miss Kenvvard's version, which is not the same as Woodward's. Miss Kenward's is in her letter quoted above-and she, remember, is giving first hand evidence. Woodward's version is to be found on page 7 of The Earliest Englishman: 'The men dug up what they thought was a coconut.' Miss Kenward says that one of them saw what he thought was a coconut-Woodward then deals with one or two irrelevant matters and continues: 'as it was a little bulky, they broke it with a shovel and threw away all but one piece which they put in a waistcoat pocket to show Mr. Dawson at the first opportunity. . . .' Miss Kenward says that the man broke it with his pick, kept one piece and threw the others away: he broke it, that is, whilst it was still in the gravel.-

There is no similarity at all between Woodward's and Miss Kenward's versions. It is interesting to see that in the first paper they read to the Geological-Society on the Piltdown Man (The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society for March, 1913), Woodward and Dawson point out that 'the fragments of cranium show little or no sign of rolling or abrasion, save an incision at the back of the parietal, probably caused by a workman's pick' (my italics).

Picks, as some still living at Piltdown can depose, were employed in the operation because spades could not break the hard gravel.

Abbott's version was that Dawson himself found the first piece after the men had smashed the

'coconut' and thrown away the pieces.

The divergent versions of Woodward, Dawson and Abbott-none of whom were anywhere near where the incident took place-if they show nothing else, illustrate the fallibility of evidence as given by professional and amateur anthropologists. Woodward's version is quite fantastic. The men would never have smashed the object after retrieving it Anyone knowing Sussex countrymen will know that when they-if both were there-handed the fragment to Dawson they probably never said about having a round object they took for a coconut; first because they would have hesitated to confess to a ridiculous mistake-because they must have realised that Mr. Kenward would not tell them to hand a piece of coconut to Dawson-secondly, because they would fear that if Dawson heard they had smashed and flung away something whole he would not be so generous as if he believed that they were handing him a solitary fragment.

But the 'coconut' story was amusing: it was repeated by the Kenwards to Dawson and Woodward [6] and, spreading, got altered and improved as stories will. Nor, as we shall see, is it for Weiner to find fault with scientists who do not accurately report what they hear.

If Weiner had forgotten about the 'coconut,' which, after all, is purely incidental, and confined himself to the fundamental fact that a workman handed a fragment to Dawson he would have saved himself a great deal of argument.

The incident is essentially trivial-what does it matter if the workmen believed he saw as coconut or a cannon ball? The sole point is-did he find it and hand a fragment of bone to Dawson?




At page 189 of The Piltdown Forgery Weiner reverts to the 'coconut' story: writing of the piece of cranium, he says: 'This piece which was part of the brain-case, the 'coconut,' smashed by the labourers, according to the story the origins of which are by no means clear.' Three pages later Weiner writes 'The contemporary documentary records are indeed very unsatisfactory, as has already been pointed out, and for the acquisition of the first cranial piece we have only Dawson's own vague account of 1912 to go on' and for an explicit mention of the 'coconut' only that of Abbott and another in the Antiquity in February' 1913.'

It should be said here that Dawson's account is very far from vague. It can be read in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society for March, 1913, already quoted; after describing how he came to ask the workmen to keep any bones or fossils for him he says: 'Upon one of my subsequent visits to the pit one of the men handed me a small portion of an unusually thick human parietal bone.' What is there the least vague about that ?

Weiner goes on: 'It is hard to believe that this story might have been a later invention, seeing that Dawson gave out the first news to Woodhead very probably in 1908 and the two friends could hardly have gone back for their immediate search without the knowledge of the tenant, Mr. Robert Kenward. Miss Mabel Kenward feels sure her father was apprised of events at that time, though whether he was first informed of the find by the labourers remains uncertain.' A reference to Miss Kenward's letter to The Daily Telegraph will show that it is not at all uncertain. Weiner proceeds: 'Dawson himself heard of it from the labourers who had also kept a piece to give to him (though it is possible they may have been acting under instructions from Mr. Kenward). Dawson told frequently of the labourers' part (even if he did not clearly record the 'coconut' episode ) in the next few years and could hardly have had reason to fear anyone's seeking confirmation of the men.' Weiner thus accepts the story that the men handed the first cranial piece to Dawson. All the posher has been for nothing. But through his failure to use available evidence (MIiss Kenward's) he has not realised that the men were not possibly but certairly acting under the instructions of Mr. Kenward, who had been apprised of the find by the men. Neither would it have advanced matters if Dawson had clearly recorded the 'coconut' episode.

Weiner continues: 'Granting, then, the possibility that the workmen did find a portion of skull, it is still conceivable that what they found was not the semi-fossil Eoanthropus but was some very recent and [7[ quite ordinary burial. This uninteresting skull could have been quickly retrieved in that shallow pit, and thereafter a substitution made, in stages, of the much more arresting fossilized, suitably treated, thick skull which happened to be in the culprit's possession and which (with the stimulus of the cranium-less Heidelberg jaw) may well have started him off on the enterprise."

This is surely one of the wildest theories ever put forward by a serious scientist to support the case he is endeavouring to make. Recently some one was buried in the drive of Barkham Manor-in gravel thousands of years old and so hard that it has to be broken with picks. A workman digging there shatters the cranium of the recently buried skull with a pick and hands a piece to Dawson. The latter takes it away, and step by step, piece by piece, in turn buries in the space dug a fossilized cranium. Semi-fossilized, according to Weiner, though this, to say the least, is doubtful.

Now Weiner is an authority on physical anthropology. When he writes of a 'very recent and quite ordinary burial one must assume that he means what he says. If the burial was (a) 'very recent' and (b) 'quite ordinary' one would surely be entitled to expect a little more than a jawless skull. Where was the skeleton? Where at least were the larger bones-the thigh bones, say, or the arm bones? Was the body not even wrapped, put in some sort of coffin? And why this solitary interment? Or is Weiner suggesting that only a cranium was buried? Surely not: the burial of a cranium could not be called 'quite ordinary.' The Lords of the Manor of Barkham did not decapitate their churls and bury the skulls in the Manor drive.

And if they had done so it would not have been forgotten. There would have been a living tradition about it at Piltdown.

The cranium smashed by the workman's pick was embedded in ancient gravel: it was the cranium whose bones were subsequently tested by the scientists; it was, on their own showing, fifty thousand years old. It had, if its first fragment was the one handed to Dawson by the workman and later, with four more fragments, by Dawson to Woodward, undoubtedly lain in the gravel for thousands of years. Dawson could not have put it there, nor, for that matter, could any contemporary of his. And if so, then, so far as the cranium was concerned, it was not bogus, it had not been faked. Whatever faking may have been done afterward, Dawson had at all events started with a clean slate and the gravel did hold at least one fossil or semi-fossil. One may perhaps point out here that if Weiner believes in the impossible idea that there had been a 'very recent and quite ordinary burial' there, one is entitled to believe in a much more likely ancient burial there fifty thousand years ago: the skeleton in such a case is much more likely to be untraceable, as has happened with not a few 'finds' said to be genuine.

It is not 'a probability' that the workmen found a portion of the skull. It is a certainty.

But the modern scientists, those who established the fraud were, it is suggested, unconsciously biased against the idea that the original skull was ancient. A recent burial, a subsequent substitution, would help to establish (a) the non-fossiliferous nature of the gravel; (b) the likelihood of Dawson's guilt.

After putting forward his theory of recent and ordinary burial, Weiner proceeds to anticipate objections 'even if some pieces of the original skull were overlooked.' He writes: 'They would almost certainly have disappeared in the next three or four years as the gravel was removed for road-making-a fact which Dawson thought must have overtaken some of the "real" Piltdown fragments. Moreover there is little or no guarantee in Dawson's own records that the excavations of 1912 and later were made on the spot where the labourers first found their piece of bone-a piece which in fact had been in their possession for some unspecified time. There were no landmarks set and the area was frequently under water.'

On the next page, 194, we find this: 'If this suggestion of the substitution of the famous "Man" for an indigenous skull could be sustained-and it is inherently possible-Dawson would again be inescapably incriminated (my italics). All one need say about this paragraph is that it is inherently possible that [8] the moon is made of green cheese and that the word "again" demonstrates the scientific zeal for having the best of both worlds: if Dawson did not substitute, he is incriminated-if he did substitute, he is incriminated-"inescapably" in each case!

Weiner should not assume that the original skull would almost certainly have disappeared any more than he should assume that the 'very recent and quite ordinary burial' was burial of a cranium only. Dawson at least, were he the cunning rascal you are asked to believe he was, would have realised if the labourer had handed him a non-fossilised and recently buried piece of cranium, that there was a serious probability that skeleton bones would still be in the gravel....

So the recent ordinary burial is jettisoned! We now have Dawson breaking open ancient gravel so hard that workmen had to take picks to it, burying the 'arresting' suitably-treated fossilized skull, somehow restoring the gravel surface to its original condition so that picks had to be used on it again, and then sitting back and waiting for the chance that someone might sometime come across his faked cranium! ...



Dawson was a solicitor with an office in Uckfield; he was Clerk to the Justices and Steward of Barkham Manor. He was an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist. Amongst other discoveries he found the following: (i) A transitional boat, half coracle and half canoe; (ii) a transitional horseshoe; (iii) a transitional weapon-being a neolithic stone club with a wooden haft; (iv) the first use of cast iron; (v) a Norman prick spur; (vi) a cross between a goldfish and a carp; (vii) the sea serpent - which he saw from Hastings pier; (viii) a new race of men-found amongst the skeletons at the Royal College of Surgeons; (ix) an oar mace that belonged to the Water Bailiff of Hastings-this he had picked up at a pawnbroker's in Kent. It had nothing to do with the Bailiff.

He was the most credulous of men where his hobby was concerned. He would 'twist' and 'nudge' anything to fall in with his preconceptions. He had only to see something old to invest it with qualities tending to prove it unique and, if possible, transitional. He did not fake these things.


Dawson, in a sentence, was the confidence trickster's dream. So, indeed, were Smith Woodward, Ray Lankester, Elliot Smith and many more who should have known better. If Piltdown did nothing else it proved that men of science are simply not to be trusted where their preconceptions are involved. ...

[11] Dawson simply says: 'In somewhat deeper depressions of the undisturbed gravel I found the right half of a human mandible.'

The thing-found at the bottom of a hole already dug-was the jaw of a modern female orang outang. In the jaw were two teeth doctored to look human. Yet-so steeped were the eminent Woodward and the transitional-crazy Dawson in their faith in the advent of a Missing Link-that both label it human. Of the two Woodward, the professional, is surely the more blameworthy.

But he was not the only one to be so thoroughly fooled. In December Woodward and Dawson presented this grotesque freak to an excited and crowded meeting of the Geological Society. Woodward, duped by his preconceptions, had convinced himself that 'it seems reasonable to interpret the Piltdown skull as exhibiting closer resemblance to the skulls of the truly ancestral mid-Tertiary apes than any fossil human skull hitherto found.' ...

[12] The canine found by Teilhard strengthened, as has been said, the case that the Piltdown Man was an individual with 'the most primitive and most simian brain so far recorded' (vide Sir Grafton Ellliot Smith ) and a simian jaw with human teeth.

The Theory of Evolution may be right, but surely it is not right to hold it as a faith....

[13] What a lucky man was Teilhard! A flint in situ and a stegodon fragment within two days of beginning inspection in 1912, and the invaluable canine within a few hours of his arrival in 1913! And, if Dawson really did do the faking, what an actor he must have been to engage in an intensive search in mid-summer, searching and sieving, excavating a deep hot trench-a portly lawyer getting on for fifty-when at any moment, weeks before Teilhard arrived, he could have produced his doctored canine either by pretending to find it himself or leaving lt. for Woodward to find. If he had 'planted' it he would know where it was. Is it not "inherently possible'-to use one of Weiner's phrases-that some one other than Dawson had 'planted' it and Teilhard by sheer good luck found it? Or even that the latter had brought it?

The canine did much to strengthen the position of Piltdown Man.

We are considering scientific witnesses and at this stage it is appropriate to make an observation or two about Teilhard. Can any one, reading of the services he rendered to Woodward and Dawson at Piltdown, doubt that he was as keen as any one else forty years ago in the search for the Missing Link? If not, was he pretending to be keen for some reason of his own? His writings prove him to have been a fanatical evolutionist.. . .

[21] Abbott is alleged to have said to Edmunds that he had the skull for six months before Woodward saw it and he and Dawson had soaked it in chromate to harden it. In the second article in The Sunday Times, January 6th, 1955, in discussing Lewis Abbott this is said: "Just how deeply Dawson managed to involve him in his schemes emerge in a remarkable revelation made by Abbott himself in 1924. The skull, he said, had been in his possession six months before Woodward saw it and had been soaked by Dawson and himself, "to harden it." Such staining, thus admitted, was dismissed by Woodward as a mere error on the amateur's part. Yet it has turned out to be linked with the incriminating iron staining which Woodward did not dream to be deliberate.' ...

Lewis Abbott, like Dawson, was a crazy enthusiast. He claimed to have put Dawson on the track of the Man.

He had, at the Hastings Museum, exhibited human teeth of a pre-human ancestor. He thrust himself into the Piltdown business from the first, as is clear if he told Edmunds that he had had the skull in his possession for six months. He gave his version of the 'coconut' story. Weiner - p. 102- says that he wrote 'to Woodward a few weeks before the December meeting in 1912 to point out with some vehemence that Dawson would not have made the discovery but for his inspiration and instruction.' This is a clear admission that he was, so to speak, in the swim even before the 'coconut' was found. On his own admission he had stained the five pieces with chromate. Would it not have been safer to go more deeply into his doings before excluding everyone except Dawson? I do not suggest that Abbott was guilty: I do not think he was.

Here we come to the evidence that Mr. Essex made available to Weiner, Oakley and Le Gros

Clark. Mr. Essex's evidence was first hand. He was present when the incident took place. So was the late Mr. John Montgomery, headmaster of the Uckfield Grammar School. When the latter saw the shaped thigh bone he told Dawson that he had seen one like it before; and he told him where. 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. He 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.'

A 'real life' detective, a professional, would never have let Mr. Essex's information go unchecked. Inquiries in the Dordogne-happy hunting ground of fossil hunters-would probably have proved the truth or otherwise of Mr. Montgomery' statement: if one small farmer used these shaped tools, the chances are that others did. From that the detective would have tried to discover if Dawson had been to the Dordogne or knew some one who had been there: he would have checked on Lewis Abbott, on others who had been involved in the affair (innocent, most of them) from the first: he would have questioned any who were still alive. Teilhard de Chardin, for instance. But nothing like that seems to have been done.

Was the late Mr. Douglas Dewar, a retired judge and therefore an expert in such matters, right when he wrote that before scientists embarked on their investigations into Missing Links, they ought to have lessons in the laws of evidence? ...

[24] The 'canine tooth,' as we know, was found by Teilhard de Chardin: and it was found the day after Teilhard returned from France; he spent the night at the Dawson's at Lewes and came to Piltdown next day. The tooth fitted the mandible; if Morris was right, the mandible too must have been imported from France; so must the molar found at Piltdown II. Did Weiner, who interviewed

Teilhard about Piltdown, direct his attention to this note of Morris's? If not, why not? And if he did, was a note made of Teilhard's answer? After all, we-the public-are the jury in this case of The Scientists versus Dawson, and we are entitled to all the evidence; just as we are entitled to all the evidence when claims are put forward that fragments of skull belong to an Ape-Man. The reader will appreciate that my primary object in this close examination of Weiner's methods is to demonstrate that, where their preconceptions enter into a case, even the ablest and most honourable of scientists unconsciously go astray. We should be careful, therefore, in accepting their conclusions about Missing Links in general. The Piltdown Man resulted from the mating of Wishing Thinking with Non Sequitur. So, one cannot help suspecting, did the other Ape-Men come into being. ...

Back to the

Back to the

Back to
Defending DAWSON