Fig. 1. A restoration by Professor J. H. McGregor


The Dawn Man of Piltdown, England

William King Gregory

American Museum Journal 1914



Fig. 2. Model of the Piltdown skull as reconstructed by Dr. Smith Woodward. Seen from the left side, one-half natural size. Williams Collection, American Museum.

The dark areas represent the portions preserved in the original fossil; the light areas are restored. The lower jaw (except the front part) is restored from the opposite side.

[Note. The new celebrated fossil human remains found at Piltdown, in Sussex, continue to excite widespread discussion and interest not only in scientific circles but also in the public press both here and abroad. The following summary has been made after a patient and impartial study of the still controversial subject. The Dawn Man is illustrated by means of casts and models which are on exhibit in this Museum in the loan collection of Dr. J. Leon Williams.]

Several years ago an English geologist, Charles Dawson, F.S.A., F.G.S., was walking along a farm road close to Piltdown Common, Fletching, Sussex, when he noticed that the road had been mended with some peculiar brown flints not usual in the district. On inquiry, he relates, 1 he was astonished to learn that the flints were dug from a gravel-bed on a certain farm, and shortly afterward he visited the place, where two laborers were at work digging the gravel for small repairs to the roads. As this excavation was situated about four miles north of the limit where the occurrence of flints overlying the Wealden strata is recorded, Mr. Dawson was much interested, and made a close examination of the bed. "I asked the workmen," he says, "if they had found bones or other fossils there. As they did not appear to have noticed anything of the sort, I urged them to preserve anything that they might find. Upon one of my subsequent [190] visits to the [gravel] pit, one of the men handed to me a small portion of an unusually thick human parietal bone. I immediately made a search, but could find nothing more, nor had the men noticed anything else. The bed is full of tabular pieces of iron-stone closely resembling this piece of skull in color and thickness; and, although I made many subsequent searches, I could not hear of any further find nor discover anything–in fact, the bed seemed to be quite unfossiliferous." But incited by the skull fragment already obtained, Mr. Dawson renewed the search in the autumn of 1911, when he was rewarded for his persistence in picking up among the rain-washed spoil-heaps of the gravel-pit, another and larger piece belonging to the frontal region of the same skull. "As I had examined a cast of the Heidelberg jaw," he continues, "it occurred to me that the proportions of the skull were similar to those of that specimen. I accordingly took it to Dr. A. Smith Woodward at the British Museum [Natural History] for comparison and determination. He was immediately impressed with the importance of the discovery, and we decided to employ labor and to make a systematic search among the spoil-heaps and gravel, as soon as the floods had abated; for the gravel-pit is more or less under water during five or six months of the year. We accordingly gave as much time as we could spare since last spring (1912), and completely turned over and sifted what spoil-material remained; we also dug up and sifted such portions of the gravel as had been left undisturbed by the workmen. . . . Apparently the whole or greater portion of the human skull had been shattered by the workmen, who had thrown away the pieces unnoticed. Of these we recovered from the spoil-heaps as many fragments as possible. In a somewhat deeper depression of the undisturbed gravel I found the right half of a human mandible. So far as I could judge, guiding myself by the position of a tree three or four yards away, the spot was identical with that upon which the men were at work when the first portion of the cranium was found several years ago. Dr. Woodward also dug up a small portion of the occipital bone of the skull from within a yard of the point where the jaw was discovered, and at precisely the same level. The jaw appeared to have been broken at the symphysis, and abraded, perhaps when it lay fixed in the gravel, and before its complete deposition. The fragments of the cranium show little or no sign of rolling or other abrasion, save an incision at the back of the parietal, probably caused by a workman's pick."2

Further exploration during 1913 resulted in the finding, by Father P. Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., of an apelike canine tooth in the dark bed of the gravel, the same stratrum which had yielded the skull and the mandible. The nasal bones were also found in the same bed.

Geological Age of the Piltdown Man

The question of the geological age of these now celebrated specimens is naturally of first importance. It has been suspected by some that geologically they are not old at all; that they may even represent a deliberate hoax, a negro or Australian skull and a broken ape-jaw, artificially fossilized and "planted" in the gravel-bed, to fool the scientists. Against this suggestion tell the whole circumstances of the discovery as above [191] related. None of the experts who have scrutinized the specimens and the gravel-pit and its surroundings has doubted the genuineness of the discovery. All agree that Dawn Man dates at the very latest from the Old Stone Age, and for the following reasons:

1–The dark stratum which yielded the human remains also contained a number of mammalian fossils, representing a primitive elephant (Stegodon ), a mastodon (Mastodon arvernensis ), a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, a horse and a beaver. The mastodon and the stegodon belonged to species which were characteristic of the Pliocene epoch and on that account Professor Keith at first regarded the human remains as equally old; but Dr. Smith Woodward and Mr. Dawson maintained that the mastodon and rhinoceros teeth had been washed into the gravel bed from an older formation, because they had been rolled and were water-worn. The hippopotamus and the beaver may be of either Upper Pliocene or Pleistocene age. A fragmentary fossil antler of a red deer was found near by, but its association with the other remains is doubted.

2–"Eoliths," or irregularly fractured flints, were also found in and around the gravel-pit.

3–One flint implement of Old Stone Age type was discovered in situ in the bed which lies immediately above the Dawn man stratum. (See also Fig. 11.)

In brief, the discoveries of the Dawn Man finally refer his remains to the Palæolithic (Old Stone Age), 3 but the more precise date is not settled.

Dr. Smith Woodward's Reconstruction of the Skull and Jaw

The broken pieces of the Piltdown skull were compared by Dr. Smith Woodward with various human types both prehistoric and modern, and under his direction the pieces were assembled as far as possible in their natural positions and the missing parts were hypothetically restored in clay. As shown in this reconstruction (Page 189) these missing parts (indicated by the white areas) include the front part of the lower jaw, the lower incisors, canines and premolars, all the upper teeth and the face. Since that time the nasal bones and one canine tooth have been found.

The most extraordinary, unexpected feature of the Piltdown man, as thus reconstructed, is that an essentially human brain case, with a well-rounded forehead and with thoroughly human temporal and occipital regions, is combined with an essentially apelike lower jaw, with apelike teeth and with an apelike face (the latter hypothetical).

Did the Apelike Jaw Belong with the Human Brain-case?

Doubts and criticisms were raised at once. Doubt as to the association of the lower jaw with the skull was expressed by several authorities (Sir Ray Lankester, Professor Waterston and Professor Schwalbe) and is still entertained by many conservative anatomists. Did this ape jaw really belong with the human brain-case? Could an ape jaw articulate with a human jaw-socket?

Briefly summarized the principal items of evidence bearing on this question are as follows:

1–The jaw was found in the same stratum which had yielded the skull, and within a yard of the exact spot where a piece of the occipital bone was found. Subsequently the nasal bones and a canine tooth were found in the same place.


Fig. 3. The Piltdown lower jaw (B ) from a cast in the Williams Collection, compared with the jaws of a female orang-utan (A ) and of a modern man (negro) (C ). External views three-fourths of the natural size. Abbreviations: alv. ms., socket for third lower molar; a. r., ascending ramus; c. canine; c. i. central incisor; con., condyle; l. i., lateral incisor; m1, m2, m3, first, second, third lower molars; p1, p2, first and second premolars (equivalent to the third and fourth premolars of lower mammals).


Fig. 4. Lower jaw bones of the Piltdown man, of a female orang-utan and of a modern negro, viewed from the inner side. Abbreviations as in Fig. 3: also, alv. c. i., alveolus for central incisor; ch, bony chin; g. t. genial tubercal; m. l., mental ledge; t. r. ridge in anea of temporal muscle; s, section through symphysis.

2– The jaw and skull are fossalised in the same manner and degree.

3– They were found in an ancient gravel-bed containing the debris of older deposits. "As the skull and lower jaw are very little water-worn, they would not have occurred in close association if theyhad been transported far from the spot at which they were originally entombed." (Smith Woodward).

Fig. 5. The same three specimens of Figs. 3 and 4, viewed from above. Abbreviations as in previous figures; also 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, cusps of the lower molars; m. p., median plane; * broken edge.

4–The suggestion that while the brain-case was human, the lower jaw belonged to another creature, an ape, is not in harmony with what is already known of the fauna and climate of Europe during Pleistocene times. Thousands of mammalian remains of Pleistocene Age have been discovered in the glacial and interglacial deposits of England and the Continent, but in this highly varied fauna the anthropoid apes have always been conspicuously absent, and there is no reliable evidence that any of the race ever lived in England during the Pleistocene Epoch.

5–Fossil remains of anthropoids of any age have hitherto been exceedingly rare, and the chance that a jaw of a hitherto unknown type of anthropoid ape should be washed into the same gravel-bed with a human skull of conformable size, and that both should become mineralized int he same manner and degree, may be regarded as extremely small.

[195] 6– More direct evidence that the lower jaw in spite of its apelike features is really that of a human being is furnished by the measurements given by Dr. Smith Woodward (op cit., p. 130). These measurements are on the whole nearer to those obtained from early human jaws than to those of full-grown apes.

7–The lower molars approach those of apes in their relative narrowness and in the large size of the third molar (as indicated by its alveolus), but in their flattened worn surfaces with very thick enamel they recall human rather than simian teeth.

8–The condyles, or articular surfaces, of the Piltdown jaw as compared with those of the great apes were more slender, less expanded transversely, and supported by more slender pillars of bone. In this feature the Piltdown jaw is more like the average human type, and this fact tend to remove the supposed difficulty in fitting this, in many ways apelike jaw on to a human glenoid,

or upper jaw socket.

Fig. 6. Canine tooth (cast) of the Piltdown man (A ) in comparison with the left upper (B ) and right lower (C ) canines of a female orang. Natural size. The lower canine is turned upside down to facilitate comparison with the others. In A the tip of the root is restored.

A 1, B 1, C 1. Seen from the outer or labial side.

A 2, B 2, C 2. Seen from the inner or lingual side. w, worn surface

A 3, B 3, C 3. Seen from the front, or antero-internally.

9–Doubts have also been expressed as to the association of the remarkably apelike canine with the other Piltdown [196] remains. The canine, which was discovered by Father Teilhard in the place where the other remains came from, was identified by Dr. Smith Woodward as belonging to the right side of the lower jaw; but as shown in figure 6, by comparison with the upper and lower canines of a female orang, its resemblances are on the whole closer to the left upper canine, as observed by Mr. T. A. Anderson.

Fig. 7–Temporal bones of the Piltdown man (A ), of a negro (B ), and of a female orang-utan

(C ). Two-thirds natural size.

ar. e, articular eminence (for lower jaw); c. c. carotid canal; e.a.m., opening leading to midle ear; g. s., glenoid socket (for lower jaw); pet. bone surrounding internal ear; st. pit for styloid process; t. p. typanic plate; z, root of zygomatic arch.

If it be an upper canine its wearing surface is ssuch that the first lower bicuspid which occluded with it must have been elongate and priminent and much more anthropoid than human in shape. Taken in connection with the total lack of a chin, and with the straightness of the molar tooth rows, this indicates that the lower part of the face and the dentition were even more apelike than in Dr.

Smith Woodward’s reconstruction. If the canine be an upper one, this would tend to confirm the association of the jaw with the skull, in the opinion of American Mueum collectors.

Fig.8. Internal cast of the Piltdown skull. The fully shaded parts are represented in the original, the rest is restored. After Elliot Smith. The branching system represents the grooves for the meningeal artergies which are on the inner surface of the brain case.


While perhaps not conclusive the foregoing considerations tend strongly to show that all the Piltdown remains so far discovered at Piltdown belonged to one individual, which is represented by the greater portion of the brain-case, by the nasal bones, by the left upper [197] canine tooth and by the imperfect right half of the lower jaw, the remaining pieces presumably having been destroyed by the workmen in taking out the gravel.

Fig. 9. Projections of the brain-case as seen from the rear, as reconstructed by Professors Smith Woodward (A), Elliot Smith (B), and Keith (C).



Did the Piltdown Man have a very large brain case?

We come now to the most controversial part of the whole subject. Did the Piltdown man have a small brain-case as in Dr. Smith Woodward’s reconstruction (Fig. 9A), or a very large one as

in Professor Keith’s reconstruction(Fig. 9C), or one of intermediate type as in the drawing published by Professor Elliot Smith (Fig. 9B)? Unfortunately several pieces of critical importance are missing from the middle of the skull-top and this had made possible the markedly different results of Smith Woodward and Keith. For if the remaining pieces of the skull-top are placed close together as by Dr. Woodward, the brain will be a very small one, estimated at 1070 cubic centimeters capacity, while if these same pieces be tilted upward and moved further apart as by Professor Keith, the brain capacity will be as large as in many modern men, namely 1500 cubic centimeters. The subject is an exceedingly difficult one, as the writer has learned to his cost, after long efforts to assemble the casts of the separate pieces in their natural positions. It may be briefly stated that the writer inclines to the reconstruction offered by Dr. Elliot Smith (Fig. 9, B) which avoids the extreme asymmetry of the opposite halves of the brain-case noticeable in Dr. Woodward’s reconstruction, and gives more space at the top for the ends of the meningeal vessels.

Dr. Elliot Smith has also discovered certain marks on the inner surface of the facial bone which appear to settle the vexed question of the location of the median plane.

[198] The Piltdown Man as one of the "Missing Links"

As stated above, the temporal bone and its mastoid process, the back of the head and the whole brain-case, as well as the brain cast, are human in character, although of low type, while the lower jaw and dentition are prevailingly simian. And while this regional distribution of human and simian characters was unexpected and in a way unprecedented, it means, as Professor Ellliot Smith has noted, that the erect pose of the body, the freeing of the hands from locomotive functions, and the human development of the brain were associated in the Piltdown man with a more conserative or simian structure of the dentition and jaw.

Fig. 10. A. Young chimpanzee skull.

B. Piltdown skull.

C. Adult male chimpanzee.

D. The La-Chapelle-aux-Saints skull (Neanderthal race). After Smith Woodward

Whether or not the Piltdown man could talk is an open question. Dr. James Robinson has pointed out that in modern man the genioglossus muscles, the principal muscle of the tongue, is differentiated into many more or less separate strands, each with its own nerve supply and that this arrangement permits the extremely rapid and delicately coordinated movements of the tongue in speaking, whereas int he apes this muscle is much smaller and less differentiated. In modern man the muscle is attached to two little tubercles on the inner side of the chin, known as the genial tubercles (Fig. 6, g.t. ). In the Piltdown [199] man, as in the apes, these tubercles are absent and the tongue rests below upon a shelf of bone. Neverthelesss it may not therefore be assumed that the Piltdown man was entirely speechless. The brain cast shows in the temporal region (Fig. 8) an elliptical swelling (T ) which foreshadows a certain greatly expanded center in the modern brain, a center "which recent clinical research leads us to associate with the power of spontaneous elaboration of speech and the ability to recall names" (Elliot Smith).

Evolutionary Significance of the Piltdown Race

Assuming that the jaw really belonged with the brain-case, Dr. Woodward very properly erected a new genus and species Eoanthropu dawsoni for the reception of this strange creature. He pointed out also that the rounded forehead with little or no brow ridges is characteristic of young apes (Fig. 10, A ) while the flattened forehead with projecting brow ridges is characteristic of adult apes (Fig. 10, C ) and also of the prehistoric Neanderthal race of man (Fig. 10, D ); he therefore suggests that the still undiscovered mid-Tertiary apes which gave rise on the one hand to the various species of mankind and on the other to the existing anthropoids probably had rounded foreheads and a relatively short face.

Professor Keith’s widely published but very questionable reconstruction showing the Piltdown man with a highly modernized brain-case has given opportunity to that part of the public which dislikes the idea of man’s evolution from lower animals to express the opinion that "the Darwinian theory is exploded." By palaeontologists and comparative anatomists however, the evidence for man’s counship with the anthropoid apes is regarded as no longer a hypothesis but an established fact.

The proof of the ascent of man from certain still undiscovered mid-Tertiary primitive apes does not rest largely upon the scant fossil remains of extinct races of men and of apes. It does rest upon the convergence of many lines of evidence offered by the embryology, anatomy and fossil history of numerous races of animals. To mention only a single line of evidence, the adult anatomy of man and of the anthropoid apes is extraordinarily similar not only in general plan throughout, but in thousands of minute details in every part of the body. By a detailed comparison of the skulls of man, anthropoid apes, an Old World monkeys andother mammals one sees directly that the human skull is merely a special modfication of the primitive anthropoid type, with the brain-case larger, the face shorter, the dentition weaker; but everywhere the fundamental architectue is the same. For example consider the region of the under side of the temporal bone in man and in the anthropoids (Fig. 7); here are precisely homologous parts throughout, the same processes and ridges, the same canal for the internal carotid artery, the same styloid pit for the attachment of the hyoid bone and so forth. And so it is everywhere, throughout the skull and the entire skeleton, throughout the marvellously intricate architecture of the brain, spinal cord, and musculature, in all the vascular, respiratory, digestsive and reproductive organs; so that no matter how long one continues the comparison, new similaritie are constantly being revealed.

Palaeontologists and comparative anatomists likewise recognize and value the differences between men and apes. They realize that even the lowest existing races of mankind are extremely superior [200] to apes in mentality, in power of speech and in ability to use the hand as ana gent of the will and intelligence. But they also believe that all these higher faculties, marvellous as they are, find their beginnings in the psychic and physical life of the apes, that the key to the mental and structural adaptations of mankind is to be found in the Primates alone among mammals.

Such being the general viewpoint of palaeontologists and comparative anatoists, it need hardly be said that, to them, the Piltdown man, far from disproing the "Darwinian theory," is indeed a sort of "man in the making." He is one of the innumerable experiments made in Nature’s vast laboratory, an early branch of the prehuman stock which had achieved a low human stage of brain and brain-case, but which in face and dentition still bore unmistakable traces of derivation from large-brained primtive anthropoid apes.

Fig. 11. Diagram of section of gravel-bed at Piltdown. After Dawson

1. Surface soil, with flints. Thickness = 1 foot.

2. Pale-yellow sandy loam with gravels and flints. One Palaeolithic worked flint was found in the middle of this bed. Thickness = 2 feet, 6 inches.

3. Dark-brown gravel, with flints, Pliocene rolled fossils, and Eoanthropus remain, beaver

tooth, "eoliths," and one worked flint. 18 inches.

4. Pale yellow clay and sand. 8 inches.

5. Undisturbed strata of Wealden age.


1 Quar. Jour. Geol. Soc., vol. 69, pp. 117-144. Paper read Dec. 18, 1912.

2 "This wretched pickaxe added yet another obstacle. It cut off the fore-part of the jaw, bearing the front cheek-teeth, the 'eye' teeth, or canines, and the cutting-teeth." W. P. Pycraft.

3 Supplementary note on the Discovery of a Palæolithic Human Skull and Mandible at Piltdown (Sussex). Proc. Geol. Soc., London, vol. lxx, 1914, pp. 82-93.