"On Millar, et al."

Antiquity

December 1972

[262] A few months before the Elliot Smith symposium there appeared a book called The Piltdown Men by Ronald Millar (London: Gollancz, 1972, 264 pp., 8 pls., I fig. 3.20) It is written for the general public, begins with a survey of the history of archaeology and human palaeontology, recounts the story of the discovery of Piltdown Man and its unmasking as a forgery in 1952, and then proceeds to determine who was the forger, deciding, surprisingly, that it was Elliot Smith. The book is hastily put together and there are many errors. Boucher de Perthes' collections were not housed in a 'hotel', and to describe him as 'either an innocent victim of enthusiasm or a downright charlatan' is to display gross ignorance of the life and thought of this remarkable man. W.J. Sollas was not a leading anatomist from Cambridge: he was Professor of Geology at Oxford. The marks in Bacon's Hole in the Gower Peninsula, claimed as Upper Palaeolithic art by Breuil and Sollas in 1912, have long ago been disproved. Keith's reference, in his lecture to the British Association meeting in Dublin in 1912, to English fossils that supported his view of the antiquity of modern man is not 'inexplicable unless he had heard a whisper of the development' at Piltdown'. There was a Galley Hill man, at that time argued by Keith to be an ancient example of modern man.

[263] The names of many people have been canvassed as the Piltdown forger: Charles Dawson,

Snith Woodward, Teilhard de Chardin, Lewis Abbott, de Vere Cole and his circle of expert hoaxers, an unnamed person on the staff of the British Museum (Natural History); and it is always possible that more than one person was involved in this strange and fascinating affair. Now Millar adds a new suspect: 'Although the realization that Sir Grafton Elliot Smith might be the hoaxer dawned on me about half-way through the preliminary research for this book', writes Millar, 'try as I may I have not been able to come up with concrete evidence of the Australian's participation. In fact it is hard to visualize anything that would come into this category other than a straightforward confession. I do hope, however, that I have shown that Dawson does not fit the bill, arid that Smith does. Millar, by his own admission, unable to find the facts to support his theory, fails equally in finding any reason why Elliot Smith should have committed this forgery. First he says, 'if a sufficiently primitive man were to be discovered in England, this would lend support to Smith's almost obsessive views on migration'. Secondly, 'at the time of the planting of the fossils, Smith was in what might be considered a backwater appointment in Cairo. It is therefore possible that he coveted the job at South Kensington.' But Millar rejects these two arguments, and rightly so, for Elliot Smith's obsession with migration relates to Egypt in early Dynastic times, and at the time of the planting of fossils Smith had just moved to the Chair of Anatomy at Manchester. Millar has to fall back on his conviction that 'Smith would have loved a chuckle at the expense of what he thought, possibly correctly, was stick-in-the-mud palaeontology and anatomy. Somehow the whole affair reeks of Smith."

Stuff and nonsense! Millar, hoping to end his book with a sensational denouement in which he revealed which of the Piltdown men was the forger, is forced to an admittedly new, but quite untenable solution. This is not the way to solve the Piltdown problem–a rapid journalistic jump. Does anyone know the answer? We will return to this matter in the next issue of Antiquity, having by then digested what Dr Oakley said to the Geological Society on 18 October, and with the benefit of very considerable discussion of the whole matter with Dr Oakley, and also with Dr Louis Leakey, who has already said in lectures and interviews in America that he firmly believes that Dawson and the world were hoaxed by Father Teilhard de Chardin. As this suggestion, which has also been advanced by others in private, will need the careful consideration of our readers in March, may we urge them to read, or re-read, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Lettres d'Hastings et de Paris 1908-1914 in the Editions Montaigne of Aubier, Impasse de Quai de Conti, Paris VI. These fascinating letters, which cover the whole Piltdown period, are annotated by Auguste Demoment and Henri de Lubac, and there is a preface by the latter. Letter 128, to his father and mother, dated 6 August 1913 from Canterbury says: 'Je vais m'arrèter 48 heures à Lewes (près Newhaven) chez mon ami Dawson, pour chercher dans les graviers où l'on trouva l'an dernier l'homme du Sussex." The editors add this footnote: 'Jusqu'à present, Teilhard n'a eu aucune part aux découvertes de Dawson, et il lui fait confiance.' In our view Elliot Smith also had no part in the discoveries of Dawson. On 21 November 1912 he wrote from Manchester to Professor Anthony: 'I do not know whether you have heard that a very early (pre-Heidelberg, said to be Pliocene) skull had been found in England and I want to be able to compare the brain-cast with your La Quina cast next week.' This quotation comes from (ed. Warren R. Dawson), Sir Grafton Elliot Smith: A biographical record by his colleagues (London, 1938), and in the chapter written by Warren Dawson himself, he says, 'Elliot Smith paid several visits to Piltdown and stayed there for some days in July 1916 and July 1917.' By then Dawson was dead. . . .

 


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