The very cold case of the Piltdown Man forgery has, we are led to believe, been solved at last, scientific embarrassment notwithstanding. The perpetrator of one of the greatest frauds in scientific history has now been fingered. In August 2016, the journal Royal Society Open Science, revealed the results of a recent special forensic investigation. At long last, they have found their man (a precursor paper, released in 2012, was reported at the time in AR #98).
The Piltdown forgery was, indisputably, the work of Charles Dawson (not to be confused with Charles Darwin), who, interestingly, was the man who first unearthed the purported ancient remains.
When first announced a century ago at Britain’s prestigious Geological Society, the discovery of the so-called Piltdown Man skull, and related fragments, was hailed as conclusive proof of the long-sought “missing link” in Charles Darwin’s scheme of human evolution. Certainly the British scientific establishment was more than pleased by the opportunity, not only to validate its hero but also to claim a key step in the theoretical advance from apes to humans had occurred on British soil in Sussex. The news was glorious, but it did not end well.
Nearly forty years later, an investigation by Oxford University scientists unveiled the terrible and humiliating truth—Piltdown Man was fake. A 50,000-year-old human skull had been combined with the jawbone of an Orangutan, and the haughty scientific establishment had been thoroughly taken in. The question remained, however: who did the deed? There have been many theories, but a definitive answer has remained elusive.
A 2012 study by Bournemouth University archaeologist Dr. Miles Russell, using the latest forensic techniques, also placed the blame squarely on Dawson, an amateur archaeologist and solicitor. Dawson, it turns out, was involved in several other questionable discoveries.
One among those vindicated by the new research was A. Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and a committed spiritualist. Some had argued that Doyle was out to make the scientific establishment look bad. For that purpose, though, it appears that no help was needed. In the meantime, Darwin’s “missing link” remains missing.
Could such a hoax be unique—a one-time event—or have clever and unscrupulous forgers fooled science elsewhere and, perhaps, gotten away with it? Author Scott Creighton says that, in at least one instance, they have. Could mainstream theory concerning the origins of the Great Pyramid be as bogus as Piltdown Man? To learn more, read Scott’s eye-opening account on page 42 of this issue.
CAPTION: “The Piltdown Gang,”from a 1915 painting by John Cooke. Back row (L. to R.): F. O. Barlow, G. Elliot Smith, “discoverer” Charles Dawson, and Arthur Smith Woodward. Front: A. S. Underwood, Arthur Keith, W. P. Pycraft, and Sir Ray Lankester. Note the ‘approving’ Charles Darwin portrait on the wall.