"K. Oakley and T. de Chardin"

L'Oeuvre Scientique 1971

[4561] Correspondence between Dr. K.P. Oakley and P. Teilhard de Chardin on the Piltdown Hoax

19th November, 1953

Dear Father Teilhard,

By the time this reaches you, probably you will have heard about the dramatic revelation that you and Woodward were "hoodwinked" at Piltdown! The enclosed notes will give you the main facts. A copy of the full report will be sent to you almost immediately. We should greatly appreciate it if you would send us some comments on these findings. We would particularly like to be able to file in our archives any recollections of yours which might throw light on this inexplicable hoax. We have found that some of the flints which were reported as being from the site have been artificially stained.

With kindest regards,

Yours sincerely,

K.P. Oakley

November 28, 1953

Dear Dr. Oakley,

Many thanks for your letter.

I congratulate you most sincerely on your solution of the Piltdown problem. Anatomically speaking, "Eoanthropus" was a kind of monster. And, from a palaeontological point of view, it was equally shocking that a "dawn-man" could occur in England. Therefore I am fundamentally pleased by your conclusions, in spite of the fact that, sentimentally speaking, it spoils one of my brightest and earliest palaeontological memories. . . .

But now the psychological riddle remains. Of course nobody will even think of suspecting Sir Arthur Smith Woodward. But to a lesser degree this holds for Dawson too. I knew pretty well Dawson, since I worked with him and Sir Arthur three or four times at Piltdown (after a chance meeting in a stone-quarry near Hastings in 1911) He was a methodical and enthusiastic characters entirely different from, for instance, the shrewd Fradin of Glozel. And, in addition, his deep friendship for Sir Arthur makes it almost unthinkable that he should have systematically deceived his associate several years. When we were in the field 1 never noticed anything [4562] suspicious in his behaviour. The only thing which

puzzled me, one day, was when I saw him picking two large fragments of skull out of a sort of rubble in a corner of the pit (these fragments had probably been

rejected by the workmen the year before). I was not in Piltdown when the jaw was found. But, a year later, when I found the canine, it was so inconspicuous amidst the gravels which had been spread on the ground for sifting that it seems to me quite unlikely that the tooth could have been planted. I can even remember Sir Arthur congratulating me on the sharpness of my eyesight.

I am quite unable to suggest you any satisfactory explanation of the puzzle. But I feel that there is something wrong in the hypothesis of a hoax. Don't forget three things:

a) The pit, at Piltdown, was a perfect dumping-place for the neighbouring farm and cottage.

b) During the winter, the pit was flooded.

c) The water, in the wealdian clays, can stain (with iron) at a remarkable speed.

In 1912, in a stream near Hastings, I was unpleasantly surprised to see a fresh-sawed bone (from the butcher's) stained almost as deep a brown as the human remains from Piltdown Under such conditions would it have been impossible for some collector who had in his possession some ape bones, to have thrown his discarded specimens into the pit? The idea sounds fantastic. But, in

my opinion, no more fantastic than to make Dawson the perpetrator of a hoax.

As far as the fragments of Piltdown Locality 2 are concerned, it must be observed that Dawson never tried to emphasize them particularly, although (if I

am correct) these specimens were announced after the finds in locality 1 were complete. He just brought me to the site of Locality 2 and explained me that he had found the isolated molar and the small pieces of skull in the heaps of rubble and pebbles raked at the surface of the field. Now, if there had been a hoax, one would normally expect to see a rise in the tempo of the discoveries: something still better than the jaw and the canine. But this was not the case.

I am just back from South Africa where your presence last winter proves to have been extremely stimulating. Near Lusaka D. Clark showed me Freeman's Hole(where we found several more broken pebbles in situ and the breccia of Twin River (where we - that is [4563] Clark – extracted the other half of the quartz artifact you and he had spotted and broken a few months before). The Wenner-Gren Foundation has decided to support a full excavation at Twin River. In the meantimes the Makapan work will continue next year (at the Cave of the Hearths) in the hope of clarifying the stratigraphical relations between the "acheulean" horizons (above) and the Australopithecus beds (under the big stalagmites, below). Typical, heavily rolled, Acheulean hand-axes have been found by Mason in the basal gravels of the lateritized "acheulean" terrace at the entrance of the valley. If this "Chellean" could be found somewhere in the cave-deposits of the valley itself, a complete section of the south-african Palaeolithic would have been established in the area!

I am seriously considering a trip to Europe next summer. If I go, I shall certainly try to see you and Hopwood. Do you expect to be in London in June,

or in September?

Yours sincerely,

P. Teilhard de Chardin

22nd December, 1953

Dear Father Teilhard,

Many thanks for your interesting letter of November. I am sorry not to have replied before, but I have not only been overwhelmed by correspondence on Piltdown, but in bed for 10 days with flu. I think you will agree now that you have read our report that it is no accident that the ape's jaw was found at Piltdown. The grinding of the teeth and the chemical staining are sufficient evidence of fraudulence. We now find that the pointed flint which was found in the layer just overlying the dark gravel has been stained with dichromate! Naturally it now occurs to us that the Villafranchian mammalian throws light on the curious happenings at Piltdown forty years ago. I am glad you managed to get to Twin Rivers Kopie and the other fissure sites near Lusaka. It is excellent news that Desmond has been granted money to continue work there.

With kindest regards,

Yours sincerely,

K.P. Oakley

[4564] 25th January, 1954

Dear Father Teilhard,

For the fuller report on our Piltdown findings, we are listing the order in which the various specimens were found, with dates as far as we can discover


We are very uncertain about the date or dates when the two skull fragments and molar tooth were found at the second site.

When you were taken to the second site, do you think they had already been discovered? If so, does this give us a limiting date (e.g. before August 1914)? 1

have the impression that Dawson kept them back from Woodward.

Do you remember a man named Lewis Abbott? He was a believer in eoliths!.

With kindest regards,

Yours sincerely,

K.P. Oakley

New York, January 25, 1954

Dear Dr. Oakley,

Well received your letter of January 26. Concerning the point of "history" you ask me, my "souvenirs" are a little vague. Yet, by elimination (and since Dawson died during the first war, if I am correct) my visit with Dawson to the second site (where the two small fragments of skull and the isolated molar were supposedly found in the rubbish) must have been in late July 1913, certainly not in 1914. 1 cannot remember, whether Smith Woodward was with Dawson and me, this particular day. But the possibility is not excluded. In those times I heard of Lewis Abbott; but I don't think I ever met him.

I am decidedly planning to spend three months in Europe this summer (10 June - 17 September). If you should not be in London in June, or in July, send me a few lines, please. I would like very much to see you, in connection with the "African Project" of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, - and Hopwood too.

With best regards,

Teilhard de Chardin

PS. When 1 visited the site no 2 (in 1913?) the two small fragments of skull and the tooth had already been found, I believe. But your very question makes

me doubtful!

[4565] . . . Yes, I think definitely they had been already found: and that is the reason why Dawson pointed to me the little heaps of raked pebbles as the place of the "discovery". . . .

9th February, 1954

Dear Father Teilhard,

Thank you very much for your letter. What you tell me rather confirms the impression I have that Dawson withheld information from Woodward. Thus according to the records we have here he said nothing to Woodward about having found the specimens at the second site until 1915!

We are delighted to hear that you are intending to visit Europe from 10 June to 17 September. So far as I know, 1 shall be in London throughout June and July. I may be away on holiday with my family during August. I think you would enjoy the first week of September in Oxford – meeting of British Association!

Best wishes


K.P. Oakley

16th February, 1954

Dear Father Teilhard,

An interesting piece of information has now come in. A Mr. Woodhead has told us that his father was present when Dawson found the (or a?) Piltdown jawbone and that it was in 1908 or there-abouts! Apparently Woodhead was an official analytical chemist in Sussex at the time. Do you remember anything about him? It seems extraordinary that Dawson only mentions him once, as having analysed a piece of the skull.

Do you remember Dawson telling you that he had dipped the bones in

potassium dichromate?

Yours sincerely,

K.P. Oakley

March 1, 1954

Dear Dr. Oakley.

Well received your letters of February 9 and 16. I know unfortunately nothing about Mr. Woodhead, – and in 1908 1 did not know Dawson. Nor did Dawson tell me anything about a possible use made by him of potassium dichromate.– You knows at that time, I was a young student in theology, – not allowed to leave much his cell of Ore Place (Hastings), – and I did [4566] not know anything about anthropology (or even pre-history): my chief passion was the Wealdian bone beds and their fossil teeth content . . . .

Anyhow, I hope that next summer we shall have ample time to discuss, not only Piltdown, but much more interesting Africa. A few days ago Desmond Clark sent me a nice set of photos showing his new site at Kalambo. A pity that the bones should have been dissolved by the soil!. . .It's bones, human bones,

what we need. – Concerning the facts observed by Clark, I begin to feel still

more suspicious than before concerning the famous sequence of african

"pluvials". Recently G.B. Barbour showed me a letter that Wayland is also more or less at loss concerning the famous dry pre-Gamblian period of Leakey. To save the situation by saying (as Clark does) that Kalambo was a "retreat area" for the Handaxe Man sounds somewhat an "escape". –Anyhow, Clark is doing a first-class work. I hope his work at Twin-River will be a big success for him,

– and for you.

Sincerely yours,

Teilhard de Chardin

September 1954

Dear Dr. Oakley,

Just a few lines to tell you that I am back at the Wenner-Gren Foundation, – and that I should appreciate it very much if you could, in a way or the other, let me know briefly what have been (and what you think of) the results of the Desmond Clark work at Twin River. I am anxious to know it as soon as possible; in case a new grant should be asked from the Foundation in 1955. And I do not know the address of D. Clark in order to write him directly. Two days ago, I received a letter from van Riet Lowe. Apparently, the Makapan's excavations become more and more interesting and rewarding. But: 1) no bony remains of Man, so far . . . and 2) no attempt apparently (?) still made this year in order to establish the nature of the stalagmitized zone (Hyaena horizons) below the "hearths". This part of the program, for some reason, seems to have been postponed to 1955. – Clark Howell (from Chicago) was there; and van Riet seems to have appreciated him extremely. So much the better!

My best regards (and those of Rhoda) to your wife, and to the boys. I have been extremely glad to meet [4567] you both in your office and at home, last month.

Yours, as ever,

P. Teilhard de Chardin

Mes meilleures amitiés to Desmond Clark, when you see him!





Oxford 13th December 1980

Dear Mr. Blinderman,

Many thanks for your letter of 3 December, which I was glad to receive. I find myself unfortunate in that more than one writer on Piltdown has put into my mouth their own conclusions! Millar has correctly reported the admiration that I have for Teilhard's character, yet he completely misrepresents me as supporting his absurd view that Elliot Smith might have perpetuated the Piltdown hoax.

I do not remember using the words quoted by Mr Gould, but he did appear to take a lot of care in writing notes as I talked. Teilhard worked with Dawson at the Piltdown site, and actually unearthed with his own hands three specimens: a flint artefact, a piece of fossil elephant tooth and of course the famous hominoid canine tooth. To that extent Teilhard was more "in" the Piltdown scenario than Keith, Smith and Sollas, who were bystanders and commentators.

Probably Gould was impressed by my telling him that when I received Teilhard's letter in January 1954, I privately held the view that the letter might be taken as circumstantial evidence that Teilhard, perhaps as a joke, had been working in collusion with Dawson. Teilhard said in answer to a question of mine about Piltdown Site 2 that Dawson had taken him to see this site in 1913 after the three hominoid pieces that constituted 'the 2nd Piltdown Man" had already been found. It is recorded in the letter-files at the British Museum (Nat. Hist.) that Dawson had told Smith Woodward about discovering hominoid pieces at this second site during the year 1915. Teilhard returned to France late in 1913 or in 1914, when he served as stretcher-bearer in World War I. Teilhard seemed hesitant about the date when Dawson had shown him site 2, but he added a footnote to his letter: "When I visited the site no.2 (1913?) the two small fragments of skull and the tooth had already been found, I believe. But your very question makes me doubtful!. Yes, I think definitely that they had already been found and that is the reason why Dawson pointed to me the little heaps of raked pebbles as the place of 'discovery.'

Teilhard's description of the heaps of raked pebbles at the side of the field is so vivid that it is difficult to believe he had never been taken to the site; yet the recorded dates seem to discount this. However one cannot rule out the possibility that Teilhard was visualising the site as a result of reading Dawson's published description. The interpretation that this was evidence of Dawson and Teilhard working in collusion seems contrary to all that we know about the latter's transparent honesty. In a letter to the Editor of The Times, published on 23 July 1980, I wrote as follows:

"Teilhard's letter about his recollections of 1913 suggested that he and Dawson were working in collusion. The evidence for this is circumstantial and consequently I strongly maintain that until positive support for Teilhard's involvement with the forgery has been brought forward, he should be given the benefit of the doubt."

I am glad to hear that you have a good argument about somebody else. If you would care to send me your ms. of a paper on "The Piltdown Coconut," I should be delighted to read it critically. I would, however, prefer you not to send it before late in January on account of another literary commitment which is on my back.

Yours sincerely,


K. P. Oakley

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

14th May 1981

Dear Dr. Blinderman,

I read your letter about Piltdown with interest. I am grateful to you for drawing my attention to the errors in Millar's book. You will not be surprised if I tell you that there is a small army of people busy trying to "solve" the Piltdown problem. Although I left this matter a little open, there can be no doubt that Dawson was the sole perpetrator. The little army includes people who are keen on Abbott as the perpetrator or accomplice and this is entirely because I rather titillated people's interest in Abbott's direction. But I have material about Abbott which I think makes it difficult to incriminate him. There is no question of Dawson being duped. There is no doubt about his motives. In fact, his motives alone are sufficient to exclude an accomplice.

I had some exchanges with the "creationists" in the United States last year when I was lecturing on Piltdown in California.

If you care to contact me on your journey through London please give me a ring . . . .

Yours sincerely,


J. S. Weiner, D.Sc., F.R.C.P.,

Professor Environmental Physiology

P. S. I have done my best in a recent lecture in the States to counter Gould's travesty.