Primary Suspect


Piltdown Man Forgery

Jaw and Tooth of Modern Ape

"Elaborate Hoax"

From our Museum Correspondent

London Times November 21, 1953


The startling discovery that one of the most famous of anthropological specimens, the Piltdown skull, is in important parts-and therefore in general effect-a forgery has been made as a result of investigations just completed in the Department of Geology at the British Museum (Natural History) and in the Department of Anatomy of the University of Oxford.

The full details of these investigations are being published by Dr. J. S. Weiner, Dr. K. P. Oakley, and Professor W. E. Le Gros Clark in the new number of the geological series of the museum's Bulletin, to be issued to-day.


Not Genuine Fossils

Briefly, the conclusion of these scientists is that, though the fragments of the cranium are genuine remains of primitive man, the large piece of mandible and the separate canine tooth "are actually those of a modern ape (chimpanzee or orang) deliberately faked to simulate fossil specimens.

That the jaw and tooth were those of an ape has been maintained before now by several distinguished anthropologists, but they have always assumed them to be genuine fossils, and have merely thought that, though found in association with the cranium fragments, they had wrongly been presumed to belong to the same creature. Never until now has it been suspected that they represent a deliberate attempt to mislead.

The various pieces of the Piltdown skull were submitted in 1949 to the test for fluorine content to ascertain their age. It was then clear that neither the cranium nor the mandible was of the Lower Pleistocene period, as they had been widely held to be. The test was not, however, at that time developed to the point of accuracy necessary to distinguish, with the limited material available in this case, Upper Pleistocene from later bones, and there was therefore nothing to show that all the remains were not of that period.


New Tests

Now the fluorine test is more advanced, and the Piltdown remains have been retested, with the result that it is clear that whereas the cranium is Upper Pleistocene (say, about 50,000 years old) the mandible and canine tooth are modern. Another test, that of nitrogen content (which recent American experiments have shown to decrease with time at a more or less uniform rate), has produced the same result.

It therefore became evident that the jaw-bone and canine tooth, since they were not those of any recent type of man, must be those of an immature ape (whether chimpanzee or orang is not determinable in immaturity) and could not therefore represent any animal native in contemporary England. The jaw and tooth must, in other words, have been brought to Piltdown through some recent agency.

That is not all: it has also been established that the jawbone had been stained with bichromate of potash and iron. This, the writers of the article say, "seems to be explicable only as a necessary part of the deliberate matching of the jaw of a modern ape with the mineralized cranial fragments."

They also find that the molar teeth of the mandible, and also the isolated canine tooth, have been artificially pared down.


"No Parallel"

The writers add: "From the evidence which we have obtained, it is clear that the distinguished palaeontologists and archaologists who took part in the excavations at Piltdown were victims of a most elaborate and carefully prepared hoax. Let it be said, however, in exoneration of those who have assumed the Piltdown fragments to belong to a single individual, or who, having examined the original specimens, either regarded the mandible and canine as those of a fossil ape or else assumed (tacitly or explicitly) that the problem was not capable of solution on the available evidence, that the faking of the mandible and canine is so extraordinarily skilful, and the perpetuation of the hoax appears to have been so entirely unscrupulous and inexplicable, as to find no parallel in the history of palaeontological discovery."

The further point is made that the exposure of the fraud "clarifies very considerably the problem of human evolution." For Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus ), as he has hitherto appeared to be, was a curiously aberrant form, entirely out of conformity both in character and time with the evidence of human evolution from other parts of the world.


Canine and Jawbone Of Piltdown

The isolated canine tooth and large fragment of jawbone of the Piltdown skull.


The authors of the article do not identify the perpetrator of this fraud-but "Who did it?" is a question many will ask. The discovery of the "Piltdown skull" was due to Charles Dawson, a solicitor who lived at Hastings and who was an amateur collector of fossils. He died, highly regarded by scientists, in 1916, aged 52. At some, now uncertain, date workmen, whom Dawson had asked to keep a look out for fossils while working in a gravel pit at Piltdown, in Sussex, found what they called a "coco-nut," broke it with their pick, and subsequently gave him a piece, the rest having been thrown away. This he recognized as part of a very thick human skull, and by careful search he eventually found four more pieces. These finds he took in 1912 to Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, of the British Museum (Natural History), an authority of international reputation and unassailable integrity.


Tribute to Research


Woodward was greatly interested and joined Dawson in the further examination of the Piltdown site, which he visited many times. Some more fragments of the cranium were found; then, in Woodward's words, "on a warm evening after an afternoon's vain search, Mr. Dawson was exploring some untouched gravel at the bottom of the pit when we both saw half of the human lower jaw fly out in front of the pick-shaped end of the hammer which he was using." This was the jawbone now shown to be that of a modern ape.

In the same way, in the next year, an eminent French scholar, Father P. Teilhard de Chardin, then a young priest studying at Hastings, was induced to examine some rain-washed gravel where he found the canine tooth-now also shown to be that of a modern ape. 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 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. That the deception-whoever carried it out-has, though cunning and long successful, at last been revealed is a tribute to the persistence and skill of modern palaeontological research.




More Doubts on Piltdown Man

Second Discovery Suspect

Implements Stained Artificially

By Our Special Correspondent

London Times November 23, 1953


The story of the hoax practiced upon the world of learning by the faking of a modern ape's jawbone to match the genuine cranium of Piltdown Man was carried a stage further over the weekend.

Dr. K. P. Oakley, of the Department of Geology, British Museum (Natural History), who with the help of analysts perfected the tests that uncovered the fraud (reported, in later editions of The Times on Saturday) stated that "we have other things up our sleeves in connexion with Piltdown."

He has established that the second Piltdown Man, as was t be expected, is as questionable as the first. Many who began by being sceptical about the association in the first Piltdown Man of a human brain-case with an ape-like jaw and canine tooth were converted to the belief that the association was genuine, and not fortuitous, when in 1915 other remains with the same characteristics were reported to have been found at a second site reputedly two miles away from the site of the first discovery in 1912.

In other words, it is hard to resist the inference that the forger, whoever he was, had the coolness and scholarly skill to try to out-manoeuvre expert doubts about the 1912 remains by making possible in 1915 a discovery of a corroborative kind.

A Genuine Fossil


Mr. Charles Dawson, the Hastings solicitor, makes his appearance in the second discovery, as in the first. Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, head of the British Museum Geology Department for 22 years, is said never to have been shown the second site, and Dawson died in 1916 before he had fixed it on a map.

Tests of two pieces of skull reputed to be from the second site show that one is a genuine fossil, the other piece (occipital) is comparatively modern and has been made to match the first by artificial staining. A tooth claimed to be from the second site shows sign of artificial abrasion, and almost certainly came from the spurious Piltdown mandible. The true fossil "probably belongs to the skull from the first site."

Nor, Dr. Oakley states, are the Piltdown implements "all they should be." Tests show that some of these have been stained artificially to look more than their age. The famous Piltdown bone implement, for example, is certainly a genuine fossil elephant bone, "but it appears to have been worked in a way that would be impossible with a crude flint tool." It was, in fact, made too perfect. Mr. Dawson suggested that the tool might have been turned up in gravel by a workman and thrown into the hedge where it eventually came again to light.

Dr. Oakley comments that "if you try to work a green bone with a flint, you get nowhere; but a fossil that has been waterlogged will cut like cheese."


Museum Exhibit


During the weekend the museum staff were preparing an odd exhibit: a display illustrating the fraud that imposed on the good faith of many scholars who worked there, and upon which, after patient investigation, the scholars of a later day have now brought startling retribution.

Those scholars who were deceived, often against their judgment, have more in their defence than the extraordinary skill brought to bear by the creator of the cheat. Their successors point out that since 1912 and 1913 many more links in the chain of human evolution have been discovered to serve as a guide. One of them is the pre-Neanderthal Swanscombe Man, which has been given a complete true bill under the fluorine tests that prove the Piltdown ape-man to be Bogus.

The Swanscombe Man was discovered in 1935 and 1936, when two fragments of human skull were found in gravels of the 100ft. terrace of the Thames, at Swanscombe, Kent. In some details they resemble the bones of the Piltdown skull. Swanscombe Man is placed in the Middle Pleistocene period, between the second and third glaciations; Piltdown Man is put between the third and last glaciation.

In spite of the forgery of the mandible, the Piltdown brain-case can still be regarded as a genuine fossil of Upper Pleistocene age. Although less old than the Swanscombe skull, "it is nevertheless important as representing an early member of our own species," but not nearly so early as was originally claimed for it.


Problem Clarified


The experts emphasize that the removal of the ape-jawed Piltdown Man from the fossil record, in fact, clarifies the problem of human ancestry by disposing of what seemed to be an evolutionary aberration. The ape's jaw-bone and tooth that had been falsely associated with the human cranium were so entirely out of character that, even allowing for different parts of the human skull having evolved at different rates, it had become increasingly difficult to reconcile them with the evidence since found elsewhere.

What manner of person was Charles Dawson, who died with the honour upon him of being primarily responsible for the Piltdown discoveries? Sir Arthur Smith Woodward gave a sketch of him in The Earliest Englishman (The Thinker's Library): "Charles Dawson was one of those restless people, of inquiring mind, who take a curious interest in everything round them.... Nothing came amiss to his alert observation. When I first met him, in 1884, he lived at Hastings (St. Leonards) and was collecting fossil bones of extinct reptiles from the quarries in the Wealden sandstone round the town, and his collection was soon important enough to be accepted by the British Museum.

"He always took care, indeed, to submit his discoveries to experts, who discussed them and stimulated him to further exertions. He was a solicitor by profession, but during his leisure he lived in the world of scholars who were engaged in research. It was while performing one of his professional duties that Mr. Dawson was led to discover the fossil human skull at Piltdown."

The Piltdown ape-man is not the first forgery to deceive scholars. In archaeology there has been a number of deceptions. One was the eighteenth-century case of Beringer, whose students carved objects and hid them for their unsuspecting master to find. Another case, in zoology, involved the Australian Kammerer, who sought to prove the so-called inheritance of acquired characteristics. In lay terms, it turned out that somebody had made the swellings in male newts on which the proof of the theory depended by injecting Indian ink.



Early Man

London Times November 24, 1953


Now that Dr. J. S. Weiner, Dr. K. P. Oakley, and Professor Le Gros Clark have demonstrated that the jaw of the Piltdown skull is that of a modern ape, though the fragments of the cranium are from a genuine human fossil, it is opportune to consider how the discovery of this curious imposition affects the general present understanding of the evolution of man. The subject is one which the layman often finds confusing, partly because the state of knowledge is constantly changing, but even more because the story of man's ancestry is spread over so many millions of years and investigation is taking place, simultaneously, at different points in that story and in many parts of the world. The first fossil human skull to be discovered by scientists was that found at Gibraltar, by Lieutenant Flint, of the Royal Artillery, in 1848. Eight years later another skull was found in the Neanderthal near Dusseldorf and afterwards recognized as belonging to the same type at the Gibraltar specimen. Neanderthal man-who might easily have been Gibraltar man (indeed the name Homo calpicus was at one time suggested)-thus came into the ken of modern science, the first in discovery, but not in age, of the several types of primitive man now known.

By the end of the Oligocene period there existed a common stock from which both modern men and modern anthropoid apes are descended. At about the time when the Oligocene was succeeded by the Miocene, say thirty-five million years ago, the branches from which the apes have developed, first that which led eventually to the gibbons, then that from which the orang-outang, the chimpanzee and the gorilla have come, left the stock from which sprung man. The divergence was gradual. It was long before any creature existed to which the word man could be applied in anything like its modern significance-nor, of course, was there then anything like a modern ape. At about this point of divergence existed Proconsul and Limnopithecus, two of the fossil apes from Kenya which have attracted so much attention during the last twenty years. Of these Limnopithecus was certainly a little way out along the branch that led to the gibbons, whereas Proconsul was somewhat nearer the heart of the tree.

Throughout the long years of the Miocene and Pliocene-that is to say down to about a mere one million years ago-stretched the Hominidae, the stock from which man was to come but which was not yet man. About the end of the Pliocene there came the Australopithecines, stretching up through the Lower Pliocene for half a million years. These are the creatures of which a number of forms have been found in South Africa from 1925 onwards. Australopithecus at Taung and Plesianthropus at Sterkfontein among them, discoveries associated especially with the names of Professor Raymond Dart and the late Robert Broom. The Australopithecines seem to have had scarcely more brain capacity than the modern great apes, and their largest brains only just reached the minimum size of those of the earliest known true men. They did, however, walk on two feet and had teeth like those of men. In a discourse before the Royal Institution last week Dr. Kenneth Oakley concluded that the Australopithecines were living at the time that pebble-tools were being made in Africa, but these were made not by them but by some more advanced Hominid.

For the first known true men, existing, say, half a million years ago, one has to turn to the genus Pithecanthropus, which includes the two Java men and Peking man, the earliest being the second Java man, Pithecanthropus robustus discovered by Professor G. H. R. Von Koenigswald about 1938-39. The brutish-looking Pithecanthropus men can be regarded in some ways as intermediate between the less-than-human Australopithecus of South Africa and the genus Homo to which modern man belongs and of whose existence in a primitive form there are some signs at about the end of the Lower Pleistocene-that is to say at this same period some 500,000 years since. Pithecanthropus was nevertheless really a man-a tool-maker and a regular user of fire.

The development of Homo sapiens was not, however, all straightforward in a single stream. Groups which became isolated, for example, by ice age conditions, grew into aberrant forms. Notable among these, in western Europe, was Neanderthal man, with his strongly marked eyebrow ridges, who separated from the remainder about 300,000 years ago-approximately the date of the skull found at Swanscombe. It is a strange fact and proof of this aberrance that the later forms of Neanderthal man are less like modern man than were the earlier. Up to now the Piltdown skull, with a curiously ape-like jaw, was thought to be an extreme aberrant form, even though recent dating experiments had shown it to be no more than 50,000 years or so old. Now it becomes clear that the genuine parts of it-the cranial fragments-are much nearer to the general development of modern man, and indeed are from one of the two earliest skulls which are certainly those of Homo sapiens, the other being that found at Fontéchevade in 1949.

From the long and fragmentary known history of man it is still difficult to draw any general conclusions. It seems likely that the most primitive Hominids, and some early specimens of Homo, may have come from Africa, but the more modern types may have arisen in Western Asia, where, incidentally, discoveries at Mount Carmel have revealed a mixed population of a form of Homo sapiens, near to Cro-Magnon man of some 30,000 years ago, living, and perhaps interbreeding, with men like those of Neanderthal. Much remains to be learnt. The solution of the Piltdown problem is an important step forward in understanding.



Piltdown Man Hoax

Protest against "Attacks"

London Times November 26, 1953


The memory of Mr. Charles Dawson, the Hastings solicitor, who was concerned in the finding of the partly discredited Piltdown remains, was defended by Dr. A. Marston against "attacks" made in The Times on Saturday and in a B.B.C. broadcast later on that day, at a meeting of the Geological Society of London last night.

Dr. Marston, a dental surgeon and anthropologist, who discovered the Swanscombe Man, addressed the Fellows immediately after Dr. K. P. Oakley, of the Department of Geology, British Museum, had explained with the help of lantern slides why the team of expert investigators of the Piltdown Man had concluded that the jawbone of a modern ape had been faked to match a genuine braincase of Upper Pleistocene Age.

"I am here," said Dr. Marston, "to protest again the attack which has been made against Mr. Dawson in The Times and in the B.B.C. broadcast on Saturday. It has been very strongly hinted, if not definitely stated, that Mr. Dawson took the canine tooth and lower jaw of a modern ape...."

At this point Professor W. B. R. King, F.R.S., the president, intervened to say that it was not a case of trying to justify or to condemn anything that had appeared in the newspapers or on the B.B.C. They were hoping to get Dr. Marston's views on the jaw itself.

Dr. Marston replied that he had received a letter from Barkham Manor confirming the integrity of Mr. Dawson, and after a further intervention from the chair, he said "they should not attack this man-it is so simple to prove that the canine tooth is not modern."


Lantern Slides


After showing a series of lantern slides, with a narrative setting out his reasons for believing that the Piltdown tooth and jaw were not modern nor artificially stained or abraded, Dr. Marston asked how they could accuse a dead man's memory and besmirch his name. How could they account for the fact a lawyer had such deep insight into dental anatomy that he could for years puzzle the greatest anatomists? Not one of the teeth was interfered within any way by Mr. Dawson.

The charges had been made to hide their own ineptitude. The sycophantic humility of the museum tradition had for the past 40 years been playing a hoax on public opinion. Now they made a scapegoat out of Mr. Dawson, who died in 1916 and could not answer back. "Let them try to tackle me," added Dr. Marston.

He then asked the chairman to read the letter he had received from a person who knew that Dawson did not fake anything. The chairman declined, with the comment that public information "does not in any way accuse Mr. Dawson of this; it says these things are a fake."

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