Piltdown Man: a Re-examination

Nature October 1, 1938

[621] The reconstruction of Piltdown man has been considered by Sir Arthur Keith in the light of later discoveries, and his results were communicated to Section H (Anthropology) at the Cambridge meeting of the British Association. He dwelt in particular on the anatomical resemblances between the Piltdown skull and the later Swanscombe skull. Ape-like features in the Piltdown bones and brain had escaped notice hitherto. Piltdown Man's forehead is strongly made, but upright, compared with his contemporaries in Java, China and Africa. His head was high-vaulted and his brain relatively large. Yet in some parts of his face, particularly in the region of the chin and jaw, Piltdown man was the most ape-like of all. He blended in the strangest and unexpected manner characters of ancient ape and evolved man. Apparently his progeny became extinct before the dawn of modern conditions. Swanscombe man and the 'Lady of Lloyds' seem to be some of his remote descendants. The greatest difficulty that the anthropologist has to overcome before he can interpret the Piltdown fossil fragments aright is due to an unexpected feature–the brain of Piltdown man, though moderate in volume and simple in convolutionary pattern, is asymmetrical to a degree rarely met with even in modern heads, although it has been believed that asymmetry is a mark of a highly evolved brain, and confined to modern races of man. In the previous reconstruction of the Piltdown skull symmetry had been sought–in error. In Swanscombe man there is also a high degree of asymmetry. We have therefore to alter our conception of the antiquity and meaning of asymmetry. Another unexpected feature is that ape-like characters have been replaced by infantile. This tendency to pedomorphism appears also in the Bushman, one of the most primitive of modern types.


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