Old bones crack riddle of Piltdown Man

Michael Hornsy and Tim Jones

London Times 23 May 1996



TELL-TALE initials on an old canvas travelling trunk found under the roof of

the Natural History Museum could finally have solved the riddle of Piltdown

Man, the most notorious scientific fraud of the century.

A collection of carved and stained old bones inside the trunk is said to prove

beyond doubt the identity of the perpetrator of the hoax.

Brian Gardiner, Professor of Palaeontology at King's College, London, today

names him as Martin Alistair Campbell Hinton, a former curator of zoology at

the Natural History Museum in London, who died in 1961.

His evidence, which he will set out tomorrow in his presidential address to the

Linnean Society, is based on years studying and analysing the contents of the

trunk, which bears Hinton's initials.

Professor Gardiner said yesterday: "I first learnt of the trunk's existence in

1988. I was already almost sure that Hinton was the perpetrator. Lengthy

examination of the contents has now confirmed my suspicions."

The trunk was discovered by maintenance contractors clearing the loft space in

the south-west tower of the museum in the 1970s. It came to the attention of

Andrew Currant, a researcher at the museum, who mentioned its existence to

Professor Gardiner. Crucially, the two men discovered that the rodent

dissections, pieces of fossil hippopotamus and elephant teeth and other bones in

the trunk were stained with iron and manganese in the same proportions as the

Piltdown specimens. Traces of chromium also found in both are likewise

thought to have been used in the staining process.

Discovery of the skull in 1912 at a gravel pit at Piltdown in Sussex caused a

sensation as it appeared to provide proof of the "missing link" between man and

ape and neatly tied in with prevailing views of human ancestry. But scientific

tests in the 1950s proved that the skull came from a modern human being and

the jaw from an orang-utan, while other artefacts at the site were all shown to

be of recent date.

For years the prime suspect was Charles Dawson, a lawyer, antiquary and

second-rate geologist who had unearthed the find and who had long yearned for

scientific recognition.

Many others have fallen under suspicion, including Sir Arthur Keith, a former

president of the Royal College of Surgeons, William Sollas, a former Professor

of Palaeontology at Oxford, Teilhard de Chardin, the palaeontologist priest,

and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Professor Gardiner's findings are reported in today's issue of the scientific

journal Nature.

Next page: Ministers rally MPs as support ebbs for divorce reform Bill

Copyright 1996.


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