Was Piltdown finder its faker?

Norman Hammon

London Times 31 Oct 1996

YET another solution to the Piltdown mystery has been proposed, which for the first time in decades does not involve ruining the reputation of a distinguished "discoverer" of Piltdown Man, is fingered as the only villain. Instead, the Sussex solicitor Charles Dawson, the "discoverer" of Piltdown Man, is fingered as the only villain.

At least ten men have been accused, with varying degrees of plausibility, of being the forger, among them Teilhard de Chardin, the theologian and palaeontologist, Sir Arthur Keith, the distinguished anatomist, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The most recent suggestion, earlier this year, was that Martin Hinton of the Natural History Museum was the perpetrator, based on the discovery of a trunk in the museum attic containing staining materials. The Piltdown forgeries were unmasked in 1953 when the bones were found to have been stained to make them look like fossils.

The attempt to implicate Hinton was condemned in the journal Nature by Professor Edward Hall of Oxford University, who carried out some of the earliest scientific analyses of the forgeries. "Charles Dawson, a proven fraudster in other spheres, seems a much more likely candidate," Professor Hall said.

Now a book by the American author John Evangelist Walsh has come to the same conclusion, although Mr Walsh believes, unlike Professor Hall, that Dawson worked alone. In Unraveling Piltdown he lists the numerous scientific frauds that Dawson perpetrated in Sussex, including fake Roman brick-stamps and a forged figurine which suggested that the Romans invented cast iron centuries earlier than was thought.

Mr Walsh suggests that one reason for Dawson's actions, in pursuit of scientific honours which included Fellowships of the Society of Antiquaries and the Geological Society (although the ultimate prize of an FRS escaped him), may have been sibling rivalry. His younger brother Trevor was knighted, and then made a baronet.

Mr Walsh details a plausible way in which Dawson could have "salted" the bones, teeth, and stone tools at Piltdown under the nose of his scientific ally, Sir Arthur Smith Woodward of the Natural History Museum. The fakes were cooked up in Dawson's basement workroom, and spent only hours, or even minutes, in the ground at Piltdown.

Most were found on spoil heaps, not in a firm geological context, and Dawson himself "found" almost all of them, Mr Walsh points out. While his immediate associates did not suspect their jovial companion of fraud, local antiquarians long acquainted with Dawson were sceptical, and accusations of fakery surfaced in America within a few years.

Mr Walsh is scornful of the case against Hinton. This "riddle of the tenth man", as Professor Hall called it, may or may not be the last atttempt to involve an accomplice, in the light of Mr Walsh's analysis.






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