Richard Harter's World
Annex A

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

Piltdown Man

Richard Harter

This is the home page for Piltdown man, a paleontological "man who never was". In April of 1996 there was an extended discussion in the news group about the Piltdown man hoax. During the discussion I checked the web and discovered that Piltdown man did not have a home page. I resolved to eliminate this deficiency in the scholarly resources of the world wide web; here, for your delectation, is Piltdown man's home page. Corrections and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

This page has been laid out so that it can be read sequentially or so that you can skip around in it using links. It is broken up into sections and subsections. Each section is headed by a list of links to the other sections. Each subsection has links back to the list of sub sections. There are brief biographies and a bibliography with internal links to them through out the text. This page is a self contained, text only, document. However there are links to supporting documents and pictures.


I am far from being the best qualified person to put together a substantive page on Piltdown man -- they are many others who have a better knowledge of the subject and who command more scholarly resources. However people have been very kind, indeed enthusiastic, in helping to fill in the gaps. Even though I am the original author of the page and its editor-in-chief this page is, in a real sense, a collaborative effort.

Special thanks are due to Robert Parson and Jim Foley who have made many invaluable suggestions and corrections. I also wish to thank Wesley Elsberry who found Betrayers of the Truth, David Bagnall who pointed out the Matthews articles in the New Scientist, Robert B. Anderson who has written articles on the hoax, and Andrew Lamb who provided information about the 500 doctoral dissertations myth.

I particularly wish to thank Tom Turritin. For many years this site was home to his comprehensive and well researched bibliography of references. It is no longer here; it has been moved to a new web home at Instead, Tom has graciously replaced it with A Piltdown Man reading list. I commend this page to any anyone who is interested in following up this page with an in depth look at the Piltdown hoax. I wish to thank John Hathaway Winslow who has provided a copy of his Science 83 article for inclusion at this site. Finally, I wish to thank Gerrell Drawhorn who has provided a copy of his 1994 paper for inclusion at this site.

Tom Turritin's excellent bibliography pages have been removed at his request; they are now in a new web home at

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]


Piltdown man is one of the most famous frauds in the history of science. In 1912 Charles Dawson discovered the first of two skulls found in the Piltdown quarry in Sussex, England, skulls of an apparently primitive hominid, an ancestor of man. Piltdown man, or Eoanthropus dawsoni to use his scientific name, was a sensation. He was the expected "missing link" a mixture of human and ape with the noble brow of Homo sapiens and a primitive jaw. Best of all, he was British!

As the years went by and new finds of ancient hominids were made, Piltdown man became an anomaly that didn't fit in, a creature without a place in the human family tree. Finally, in 1953, the truth came out. Piltdown man was a hoax, the most ancient of people who never were. This is his story.

My principal source for the original version of this page is Ronald Millar's The Piltdown Men. This book is an account of the entire Piltdown affair from beginning to end, including not merely the circumstances but the general background of the paleontology and evolutionary theory with respect to human ancestry during the period 1850-1950. A number of important books have also been written on the hoax, e.g. works by Spencer, Weiner, Blinderman, and Walsh, and have been valuable resources.

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

The Story Of The Hoax

In following the history of the hoax it is useful to have a time line showing the principal events. The time line runs as follows:

1856 -- Neanderthal man discovered
1856 -- Dryopithecus discovered
1859 -- Origin of Species published
1863 -- Moulin Quignon forgeries exposed
1869 -- Cro Magnon man discovered
1871 -- The Descent of Man published
1890 -- Java Man discovered
1898 -- Galley hill "man" discovered [modern, misinterpreted]
1903 -- First molar of Peking man found
1907 -- Heidelberg man discovered
1908 -- Dawson (1908-1911) discovers first Piltdown fragments
1909 -- Dawson and Teilhard de Chardin meet
1912 -- February: Dawson contacts Woodward about first skull fragments
1912 -- June: Dawson, Woodward, and Teilhard form digging team
1912 -- June: Team finds elephant molar, skull fragment
1912 -- June: Right parietal skull bones and the jaw bone discovered
1912 -- Summer: Barlow, Pycraft, G.E. Smith, and Lankester join team.
1912 -- November: News breaks in the popular press
1912 -- December: Official presentation of Piltdown man
1913 -- August: the canine tooth is found by Teilhard
1914 -- Tool made from fossil elephant thigh bone found
1914 -- Talgai (Australia) man found, considered confirming of Piltdown
1915 -- Piltdown II found by Dawson (according to Woodward)
1916 -- Dawson dies.
1917 -- Woodward announces discovery of Piltdown II.
1921 -- Osborn and Gregory "converted" by Piltdown II.
1921 -- Rhodesian man discovered
1923 -- Teilhard arrives in China.
1924 -- Dart makes first Australopithecus discovery.
1925 -- Edmonds reports Piltdown geology error. Report ignored.
1929 -- First skull of Peking man found.
1934 -- Ramapithecus discovered
1935 -- Many (38 individuals) Peking man fossils have been found.
1935 -- Swanscombe man [genuine] discovered.
1937 -- Marston attacks Piltdown age estimate, cites Edmonds.
1941 -- Peking man fossils lost in military action.
1943 -- Fluorine content test is first proposed.
1948 -- Woodward publishes The Earliest Englishman
1949 -- Fluorine content test establishes Piltdown man as relatively recent.
1951 -- Edmonds report no geological source for Piltdown animal fossils.
1953 -- Weiner, Le Gros Clark, and Oakley expose the hoax.

In 1856 the first Neanderthal fossil discovery was made and the hunt was on to find fossil remains of human ancestors. In the next half century finds were made in continental Europe and in Asia but not in Britain. Finally, in 1912, the sun rose on British paleontology -- fossil remains of an ancient pleistocene hominid were found in the Piltdown quarries in Sussex. In the period 1912 to 1915 the Piltdown quarries yielded two skulls, a canine tooth, and a mandible of Eoanthropus, a tool carved from an elephant tusk, and fossil teeth from a number of pleistocene animals.

There is a certain vagueness about some of the critical events. Dawson contacted Woodward about the first two skull fragments which were supposedly found by workman "some years prior". Exactly when is unknown. Similarly, the discovery of Piltdown II is shrouded in mystery. Supposedly Dawson and an anonymous friend make the discovery 1915; however the friend and the location of the find are unknown.

The reaction to the finds was mixed. On the whole the British paleontologists were enthusiastic; the French and American paleontologists tended to be skeptical, some objected quite vociferously. The objectors held that the jawbone and the skull were obviously from two different animals and that their discovery together was simply an accident of placement. In the period 1912-1917 there was a great deal of skepticism. The report in 1917 of the discovery of Piltdown II converted many of the skeptics; one accident of placement was plausible -- two were not.

It should be remembered that, at the time of Piltdown finds, there were very few early hominid fossils; Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens were clearly fairly late. It was expected that there was a "missing link" between ape and man. It was an open question as to what that missing link would look like. Piltdown man had the expected mix of features, which lent it plausibility as a human precursor.

This plausibility did not hold up. During the next two decades there were a number of finds of ancient hominids and near hominids, e.g. Dart's discovery of Australopithecus, the Peking man discoveries, and other Homo erectus and australopithecine finds. Piltdown man did not fit in with the new discoveries. None the less, Sir Arthur Keith (a major defender of Piltdown man) wrote in 1931:

It is therefore possible that Piltdown man does represent the early pleistocene ancestor of the modern type of man, He may well be the ancestor we have been in search of during all these past years. I am therefore inclined to make the Piltdown type spring from the main ancestral stem of modern humanity...

In the period 1930-1950 Piltdown man was increasingly marginalized and by 1950 was, by and large, simply ignored. It was carried in the books as a fossil hominid. From time to time it was puzzled over and then dismissed again. The American Museum of Natural History quietly classified it as a mixture of ape and man fossils. Over the years it had become an anomaly; some prominent authors did not even bother to list it. In Bones of Contention Roger Lewin quotes Sherwood Washburn as saying

"I remember writing a paper on human evolution in 1944, and I simply left Piltdown out. You could make sense of human evolution if you didn't try to put Piltdown into it."

Finally, in 1953, the roof fell in. Piltdown man was not an ancestor; it was not a case of erroneous interpretation; it was a case of outright deliberate fraud.

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

Forging Fossils

From the chronology and the later reconstruction of events it is fairly clear that there never were any significant fossils at the Piltdown quarry. It was salted from time to time with fossils to be found. Once the hoax was exposed, Sir Kenneth Oakley went on to apply more advanced tests to find where the bones had come from and how old they were. His main findings were:

Piltdown I skull: Medieval, human, ~620 years old.
Piltdown II skull: Same source as Piltdown I skull.
Piltdown I jawbone: Orangutan jaw, ~500 years old, probably from Sarawak.
Elephant molar: Genuine fossil, probably from Tunisia.
Hippopotamus tooth: Genuine fossil, probably from Malta or Sicily.
Canine tooth: Pleistocene chimpanzee fossil.

Originally it had been believed that one skull had been used; later, more precise dating established in 1989 that two different skulls had been used, one for each of the two skull "finds". The skulls were unusually thick; a condition that is quite rare in the general population but is common among the Ona indian tribe in Patagonia. The jawbone was not definitely established as being that of an orangutan until 1982. Drawhorn's paper summarizes all that is currently known about the provenance of the bones that were used.

Not only were the bones gathered from a variety of sources, they were given a thorough going treatment to make them appear to be genuinely ancient. A solution containing iron was used to stain the bones; fossil bones deposited in gravel pick up iron and manganese. [It is unclear whether the solution also contained manganese: Millar mentions that manganese was present; Hall, who did the tests for manganese, says that it was not.] Before staining the bones (except for the jawbone) were treated with Chromic acid to convert the bone apatite (mineral component) to gypsum to facilitate the intake of the iron and manganese (?) solution used to stain the bones. The skull may have also been boiled in an iron sulphate solution. The canine tooth was painted after staining, probably with Van Dyke brown. The jaw bone molars were filed to fit. The connection where the jawbone would meet the rest of the skull was carefully broken so that there would be no evidence of lack of fit. The canine tooth was filed to show wear (and was patched with chewing gum). It was filled with sand as it might have been if it had been in the Ouse river bed.

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

How the hoax was exposed

With few exceptions nobody suggested that the finds were a hoax until the very end. The beginning of the end came when a new dating technique, the fluorine absorption test, became available. The Piltdown fossils were dated with this test in 1949; the tests established that the fossils were relatively modern. Even so, they were still accepted as genuine. For example, in Nature, 1950, p 165, New Evidence on the Antiquity of Piltdown Man Oakley wrote:

The results of the fluorine test have considerably increased the probability that the [Piltdown] mandible and cranium represent the same creature. The relatively late date indicated by the summary of evidence suggests moreover that Piltdown man, far from being an early primitive type, may have been a late specialized hominid which evolved in comparative isolation. In this case the peculiarities of the mandible and the excessive thickness of the cranium might well be interpreted as secondary or gerontic developments.

In 1925 Edmonds had pointed out that Dawson was in error in his geological dating of the Piltdown gravels: they were younger than Dawson had assumed. In 1951 he published an article pointing out that there was no plausible source for the Piltdown animal fossils. Millar (p203) writes:

The older group of Piltdown animals, he said, were alleged to have been washed from a Pliocene land deposit in the Weald. Edmonds thought there must be some misunderstanding. There was no Pliocene land deposit in the entire Weald which could have produced them. the only local Pliocene beds were marine in origin and lay above the five-hundred foot contour line.

In July 1953 an international congress of paleontologists, under the auspices of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, was held in London. The world's fossil men were put up, admired and set down again. But, according to Dr. J.S. Weiner, Piltdown man got barely a mention. He did not fit in. He was a piece of the jig-saw puzzle; the right colour but the wrong shape. It was at the congress that the possibility of fraud dawned on Weiner. Once the possibility had raised it was easy to establish that the finds were a fraud. Millar writes:

The original Piltdown teeth were produced and examined by the three scientists. The evidence of fake could seen immediately. The first and second molars were worn to the same degree; the inner margins of the lower teeth were more worn than the outer -- the 'wear' was the wrong way round; the edges of the teeth were sharp and unbevelled; the exposed areas of dentine were free of shallow cavities and flush with the surrounding enamel; the biting surface of the two molars did not form a uniform surface, the planes were out of alignment. That the teeth might have been misplaced after the death of Piltdown man was considered but an X-ray showed the lower contact surfaces of the roots were correctly positioned. This X-ray also revealed that contrary to the 1916 radiograph the roots were unnaturally similar in length and disposition.
The molar surface were examined under a microscope. They were scarred by criss-cross scratches suggesting the use of an abrasive. 'The evidences of artificial abrasion immediately sprang to the eye' wrote Le Gros Clark. 'Indeed so obvious did they [the scratches] seem it may well be asked -- how was it that they had escaped notice before?' He answered his question with a beautiful simplicity. 'They had never been looked for...nobody previously had examined the Piltdown jaw with the idea of a possible forgery in mind, a deliberate fabrication.'

Why then was the fraud so successful? Briefly, (a) the team finding the specimans (Dawson, Woodward, Teilhard) had excellent credentials, (b) incompetence on the part of the British Paleontological community, (c) the relatively primitive analytical tools available circa 1920, (d) skill of the forgery, (e) it matched what was expected from theory, and (f) as Millar remarks, the hoax led a charmed life.


As a matter of practice, a fraud or hoax is much more likely to succeed if it appears to be validated by an authority. In general, one does not expect a professional in a field to concoct a hoax. Experience teaches that this expectation is not always met.


Although the team had excellent credentials none was truly competent in dealing with hominid fossils; their expertise lay elsewhere. The British museum people, Woodward and Pycraft, made numerous errors of reconstruction and interpretation. The only expert in the expanded team, Grafton Eliot Smith, was strangely silent about some of the errors.

Primitive analytical tools

It is hard for us today to fully grasp how primitive the analytical tools available to the paleontologists of that time were. Chemical tests and dating techniques taken for granted today were not available. The analysis of the details of tooth wear was less worked out. The simple knowledge of geology was much less detailed. The importance of careful establishment of the provenance of fossils was not appreciated. In short, the paleontologists of 1915 were an easier lot to fool.

Skill of the forgery

At the time there were virtually no hominid fossils finds except for some of the early Neanderthal finds. The reconstruction of human evolution was very much an open question. The Piltdown specimens fit one of the leading speculations. The forger knew what anatomical and paleontological tests the specimens would be given.

Meeting Theoretical Expectations

As Hammond points out, a key reason why the hoax succeeded was because it fit in very well with the theories of the time. Boule had recently (erroneously) discredited Neanderthal man as being close to the main hominid line (1908-1912). Elliot Smith felt that the large brain case would have developed first. Sollas did not, but did strongly support mosaic evolution, i.e., features appearing in patches rather in a smooth transition. It was his opinion that human dentition developed before the human jaw. Woodward and others believed that eoliths (supposed very early stone tools) indicated the presence of an early, intelligent hominid in England. Piltdown man, with his large braincase, his simian jaw, and his near human dentition fit the theoretical picture.

Charmed Life

The hoax had a charmed life. Features that might have exposed the hoax didn't get caught because of small errors in procedure. For example, the hoax would have been exposed immediately had a test of the jaw for organic matter been made. Tests were made on the cranial fragments, but these were sufficiently well mineralized to pass.

The X-rays taken were of poor quality, even for the time. The dentist Lyne pointed out the incongruity between the heavy wear on the canine and its large pulp cavity, a sign of youth. This was interpreted as secondary dentine formation, an explanation that "worked" because of the poor quality of the X-rays.

The erroneous wear pattern on the molars, which was obvious when Weiner looked at the casts, was never noticed. Nor were they carefully examined under a microscope -- the abrasion marks would have been seen.

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

Who perpetrated the hoax?

Click here to go directly to the perpetrator list

Who did it? Who perpetrated the hoax? When the hoax was exposed nobody knew who the perpetrator was. No one confessed to the deed. For forty odd years people have speculated about the identity of the culprit; over time an impressive list of suspects has accumulated. The case against each suspect has been circumstantial, a constellation of suspicious behaviour, of possible motives, and of opportunity. In this section we present summaries of the arguments against the principal candidates.

A comprehensive listing of the accusations, when they were made, who made them, and who the accused were can be found in Tom Turrittin's Piltdown man overview; it includes details not given here including the particulars of 30 separate books or papers making accusations.

When the hoax was first exposed Dawson, Teilhard, and Woodward were the obvious suspects; they had made the major finds. In 1953 Weiner fingered Dawson as the culprit. Stephen Jay Gould argued that Teilhard and Dawson were the culprits. Woodward generally escaped suspicion; however Drawhorn made a strong case against him in 1994. Grafton Elliot Smith and Sir Arthur Keith were prominent scientists that played key roles in the discovery. Millar argued that Smith was the culprit; Spencer argued that it was a conspiracy between Dawson and Keith. Other candidates that have been mentioned over the years include Arthur Conan Doyle, the geologist W. J. Sollas, and the paleontologist Martin Hinton. This is by no means the end of the list; other people accused include Hargreaves, Abbot, Barlow, and Butterfield.

This fraud is quite unique. Most scientific frauds and hoaxes fall into a few categories. There are student japes, students concocting evidence to fit a superior's theories. There are confirming evidence frauds, in which a researcher fabricates findings that they believe should be true. There are outright frauds for money, fossils that are fabricated for gullible collectors. There are rare cases of fabrication for reputation, done in the knowledge that the results will not be checked. And, upon occasion, there are frauds concocted simply as an expression of a perverse sense of humor.

The Piltdown hoax does not seem to fit any of these categories well. This was not an ordinary hoax; it was a systematic campaign over the years to establish the existence of Piltdown man. The early skull fragments were created in advance and salted with the foreknowledge that more extensive finds would be planted later. The hoaxer had to have good reason to believe that the salted fossils would be found.

One of the critical factors in any theory is to account for the fact that the perpetrator had to be confident that the salted fossils would be found. That suggests that either Dawson, Teilhard, or Woodward was involved since they alone made the initial finds. At first sight it would seem that Dawson must have been guilty since he made the initial find of the first two skull fragments. However he didn't! They were made by anonymous workmen. The "find" could have been arranged for a handful of coins. As Vere pointed out, the labourer Hargreaves, employed to do most of the digging, was also present at the site.

Another critical factor to be accounted for is access to the specimens that were used in the hoax. Likewise the question of skill and knowledge required for the hoax must be taken into account.

Below are summaries of the cases to be made against the various possible perpetrators. At the moment this section is very much under construction!

The candidates for perpetrator

Was it Abbot?
Was it Barlow?
Was it Butterfield?
Was it Dawson?
Was it Dawson and Keith?
Was it Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?
Was it Hargreaves?
Was it Martin Hinton?
Was it Martin Hinton and others?
Was it Grafton Elliot Smith?
Was it W. J. Sollas?
Was it Teilhard de Chardin?
Was Woodward the perpetrator?
Back to perpetrator list

Was Abbot the forger?

Lewis Abbot, owner of a Hastings jewelry shop, friend of Dawson, and widely respected for his knowledge of the geology of southern England. He was considered as a possibility by Weiner. Blinderman make a major accusation against Abbot, based on an assessment of personality, requisite knowledge, and probable access to the needed bones. The case, however, lacked any definite substance. Abbot has also been mentioned as a possible co-conspirator in a number of accusations.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Barlow the forger?

Barlow was accused of being a co-conspirator with Dawson by Caroline Grigson, the curator of the Ontodontological Museum. The accusation has not been taken seriously.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Butterfield the forger?

Butterfield, the curator at the Hastings museum, was accused by van Esbroeck of being the forger with Hargreaves planting the forged fossils. The proposed motive is revenge over Dawson's appropriation of some dinosaur fossils. There is no substantive evidence for this charge.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Dawson the sole forger?

Dawson is the obvious suspect. He made the initial find of the two skull fragments and the Piltdown II find. In both of these critical discoveries there is no confirmation by another party. He was the one who made the Piltdown quarry a special object of search. Indeed he is such an obvious suspect (Weiner seems to have taken it for granted that Dawson was the forger) that the question is -- why consider any one besides Dawson? Millar (p 226-7) argues against Dawson as the culprit as follows:

One of my main objections to the assumption that Dawson is inevitably the culprit is that as the discoverer he was wide open to suspicion. He is too obvious a culprit... If the bogus fossil excaped detection by his friends at the museum he surely could not have expected that it would withstand scientific enquiry forever. I find it impossible to believe that Dawson would pit his meagre knowledge of anatomy (if it is accepted that he had any at all) against that of any skilled human anatomist... The threat of exposure would be perpetual.
As it was Piltdown man had a charmed life. Because of the poor quality of the original X-ray photographs the bogus jaw remained undetected at the outset. Le Gros Clark has emphasized that the forger's crude workmanship on the teeth was there for all to see if only someone had looked for it.

Millar's argument sounds plausible but it doesn't stand up well. Dawson was a man of many interests, both antiquarian and paleontological, and had numerous knowledgeable friends and acquaintances. The requisite knowledge could readily have been acquired. The argument that he wouldn't have dared is suspect; there is considerable evidence that Dawson had been involved in a number of forgeries and plagarisms; some of which only came to light after Millar wrote. Walsh discusses a number of incidents:

A critical point, which Walsh emphasizes, was the discovery of the jawbone by Dawson. Most of the other bones were found in spill, dug up gravel which was searched later after having been dug up. The jawbone, however, was found in situ by Dawson. He struck a blow into the hardpacked gravel and the jawbone popped out (this was reported by Woodward). It would have been very difficult to bury the jawbone in the hardpacked gravel convincingly; however no one except Dawson actually observed the purported undisturbed location of the jawbone before it was found.

The best and most recent (2003) work on Dawson and the ambiguous forgeries that circulated around him is Miles Russell's Piltdown Man, The secret life of Charles Dawson & the world's greatest archaeological hoax.

In retrospect it is hard to see how Dawson could not have been involved. Walsh argues strongly that Dawson and Dawson alone was the culprit, that he had both the necessary knowledge and the requisite character, and that his participation was physically necessary. Indeed, one might ask why someone proposing to undertake such a fraud would risk having a co-conspirator. However it happens often enough that people of similar inclinations recognize each other.

Back to perpetrator list

Were Dawson and Keith conspirators?

The following is an excerpt taken from a summary published by Robert Parson in the newsgroup.

In the late 1970's, Ian Langham, an Australian historian of science, began a comprehensive reevaluation of the events surrounding the forgery. Langham was initially attracted to Ronald Millar's hypothesis that the forger was Grafton Elliot Smith; however he later dropped this hypothesis and settled instead upon Sir Arthur Keith. Langham died suddenly in 1984, before revealing his conclusions, and Frank Spencer, of the Department of Anthropology at Queens College of the City University of New York, was appointed to complete Langham's research. Spencer published his and Langham's conclusions in Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery.

The centerpiece of the Langham-Spencer argument is an anonymous article that appeared in the British Medical Journal on 21 December 1912, three days after the formal announcement of the discovery of Piltdown Man at a Geological Society meeting. This article appears superficially to be a mere summary of the meeting, but in fact it contains information (relating to the exact location of the site and to the history of the discovery) that at that time was known only by the people actually involved in the digging. Arthur Smith Woodward found this puzzling and wondered who the author had been and how he had learned about these details, but never found out. 70 years later Ian Langham discovered that the author was Arthur Keith. Moreover, Keith's diary showed that he had written the article three days before the meeting actually took place. Keith was not a part of Woodward's inner circle at this time, and he had not been consulted by Woodward on the discovery; indeed, he had only been allowed to view the specimens two weeks before the official announcement, even though the existence of the find (though not the details) had been an open secret for many weeks beforehand.

This discovery (and similar, more ambiguous documents) suggested to Langham a connection between Dawson and Keith. Keith claimed to have met Dawson for the first time in January 1913, but Langham found evidence that they had met at least three times during 1911-1912. He also noticed that Keith had destroyed all of his correspondence with Dawson. Langham proposed that Dawson began to prepare the hoax sometime between 1905 and 1910. In mid-1911 Keith was brought into it, and during the period 1911-12 Keith prepared the various specimens, Dawson planted them, and Dawson's team subsequently dug them up.

The case against Keith is discussed in detail by Walsh. According to his analysis the circumstantial evidence all has a natural and innocent explanation.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Arthur Conan Doyle the perpetrator?

The argument for Doyle was made in an article in Science 83 in 1983 by the anthropologist John Winslow; the text of his article is available here. The Spring 1996 issue of Pacific Discovery has an excellent article by Robert Anderson on the Doyle theory. Doyle was a neighbour of Dawson, was an amateur bone hunter, and participated briefly in the digs. The principal arguments for Doyle as the culprit are circumstantial and literary; it has been argued that The Lost World describes the execution of the hoax in veiled terms. Anderson argues that the exact location of the planted fossils is spelled out in The Lost World as a puzzle. The essential weakness of the case against Doyle is that it would not have been possible for him to have planted the bones with any expectation that they would have been found. Walsh analyzes the case against Doyle in detail and finds it wanting.

The principal proponent of the Doyle theory, Richard Milner, a historian of science from the American Museum of Natural History, still holds that Doyle was responsible. In a debate staged by the Linnaean Society in March 1997 as part of National Science Week he argued the case for Arthur Conan Doyle and against the case for Hinton.

Sir Arthur was a zealous spiritualist, embittered by the exposure and prosecution of Henry Slade, one of his favourite psychics. It is suggested that Doyle sought to discredit the scientific establishment by faking evidence of something they wanted to believe in thereby showing scientists knew less than they thought they did.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Hargreaves involved?

Hargreaves, the laborer who did most of the digging at the Piltdown site, was accused by Vere. There is no direct evidence against him. However, unlike many others, he had real opportunity to plant the fossils. If Dawson and Woodward were not involved he almost must have been involved.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Martin Hinton the perpetrator?

The May 23, 1996 edition of Nature presents the new case and a smoking gun (?) against Martin A. C. Hinton, a curator of zoology at the museum at the time of the fraud. There are two finds of bones stained and carved in the manner of the Piltdown fossils, a canvas travelling trunk marked with Hinton's initials and glass tubes from Hinton's estate (Hinton died in 1961) which contained human teeth stained in various ways.

The trunk was found in the mid-1970s, when contractors were clearing loft space in the British Museum. The trunk contained hundreds of vials of rodent dissections (Hinton was a rodent specialist) and a collection of carved and stained pieces of fossil hippopotamus and elephant teeth, as well as assorted bones, that looked as if they belonged in the Piltdown collection.

The Nature article claimed that the teeth from the the estate, the contents of the trunk, and the Piltdown remains were stained with the same chemical recipe, a mixture of iron, managanese and chromium. The recipe appears to have been invented by Hinton and is based on a knowledge of post-depositional processes affecting fossils in gravel. Hinton had published a paper in 1899 showing that fossils in river gravels would be impregnated with oxides of iron and manganese, staining them a characteristic chocolate- brown colour.

The motive may have revenge in a quarrel about money or it may simply have been that Woodward was irritatingly stuffy. Hinton was fond of and was famed for his elaborate practical jokes. Hinton was a member of a circle of Sussex-based geologist colleagues and was an expert on the Weald geology. In 1954, shortly after the exposure Hinton wrote a revealing letter to Gavin de Beer director of the British Museum (Natural History):

The temptation to invent such a 'discovery' of an ape-like man associated with late Pliocene Mammals in a Wealden gravel might well have proved irresistable to some unbalanced member of old Ben Harrison's circe at Ightham. He and his friends (of whom I was one) were always talking of the possibility of finding a late Pliocene deposit in the weald.

Andrew Currant, a researcher at the museum and Brian Gardiner, professor of palaeontology at King's College, London, made the investigations into the Hinton evidence. Gardiner presented the case against Hinton in his presidential address to the Linnean Society in London on May 24, 1996.

The case against Hinton is not what it seems. The motive suggested by Gardiner (a quarrel about money) does not work because of timing; the incident in question happened in 1911; the first finds were in 1908. More importantly the chemical analyses do not match. The Hinton samples include Manganese; the Piltdown specimens do not. The Hinton samples do not contain gypsum (produced from the organic material); the Piltdown specimens do. [Drawhorn, correspondence]. Walsh notes that there were legitimate reasons for Hinton to have this material, including doing tests for Oakley. In any event it would have been physically impossible for Hinton to have been the sole hoaxer because he did not have the requisite access to the site in the 1912-1914 period.

Back to perpetrator list

Was it Hinton and others?

Although the physical evidence is ambiguous, Hinton's name pops up under a variety of odd circumstances and it seems likely that he knew more that he should have, either by virtue of being a co-conspirator or by virtue of special knowledge not publicly admitted.

In 1981 L. Harrison Matthews wrote a series of articles in the New Scientist on the Piltdown hoax. In these article he suggested that Hinton believed the finds to be a hoax and that Hinton and Teilhard manufactured and planted ridiculous forgeries to expose the hoax. In particular the Elephant bone tool was a crude cricket bat, appropriate for "the earliest Englishman". This theory was repeated in 1982 in Betrayers of the Truth by Broad and Wade, and in 1996 in The Common but Less Frequent Loon and Other Essays by Keith S. Thomson.

L. Harrison Matthews described informal dinner conversations in the period 1945-51 during which Hinton implied that "Piltdown was not a subject to be taken seriously" from which Matthews surmised that Hinton "knew more about the hoax and the museum's part in it than he ever admitted". Other evidence referred to by Matthews included Hinton's correspondence after the hoax was exposed and subsequent conversations in which Hinton obliquely included himself in a small list of suspects. Matthews was sufficiently confident about Hinton's involvement that he was the first to suggest the oft-repeated claim that the first finds were due to Dawson and that in response, Hinton manufactured and planted ridiculous forgeries to expose the hoax. This is a relatively honorable role for Hinton in comparison with sole hoaxer. It is clear that Matthews respected Hinton, with whom he shared many wide-ranging and interesting conversations during Hinton's retirement. It is likely that Matthews was unable to conceive of his friend being the initiator and solely responsible for the fraud.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Grafton Elliot Smith the perpetrator?

Millar argues that Smith was the culprit. Smith was an expert anatomist, and a paleontologist with ready access to a wide variety of fossils. He was suspiciously quiet when Woodward messed up the construction of the Piltdown I skull. He "failed to recognize" that the cranial bones of Piltdown II belonged to Piltdown I whereas Hrdlicka recognized that the Piltdown II molar came from Piltdown I after a brief examination. Millar notes:

I have examined all of Smith's writings on the subject with care and in not one instance does he fail to state carefully that his findings were based on the examination of a plaster cast of the skull.

It is quite unlikely that Smith had not examined the actual skull fragments. Smith was in Nubia during most of the discoveries; however he came to England at convenient points. Smith had the right kind of personality. When Millar discussed the possibility of Smith with Oakley, Oakley was not surprised. There is, however, no direct evidence against Smith. As with other "outsider" theories it was physically impossible for Smith to have been the sole hoaxer.

Back to perpetrator list

Was W. J. Sollas the perpetrator?

W. J. Sollas was a Professor of Geology at Oxford and a bitter enemy of Woodward. He was accused in 1978 by his successor in the Oxford chair, J. A. Douglas, in a posthumously released tape recording. The essential difficulty with this theory is to explain how Sollas (or another outsider) could have salted the Piltdown site and be sure the fake fossils would be found. One also wonders why, if Sollas were the perpetrator, he did not expose the hoax and thereby damaging Woodward's reputation. This could have been done behind the scenes easily enough by asking the right questions.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Teilhard de Chardin the perpetrator?

In an essay reprinted in The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould argues the case for a conspiracy by Teilhard de Chardin and Dawson. The case is circumstantial. The suggested motive is a student jape (Teilhard was quite young at the time.) It was supposed that Teilhard did not have the opportunity; however Gould shows that this was not necessarily so. Much of Gould's case rests on ambiguous wording in Teilhard's correspondence. Certainly Teilhard is a plausible candidate for the mysterious friend who helped discover Piltdown II. Gould argues that they had intended to blow the gaffe shortly after the initial finds but that they were prevented from doing so by WW I. By 1918 things had gotten out of hand to the point where the hoax could no longer be owned up to.

I do not think that Gould's assessment of motive stands up well. It is plausible that Teilhard might have concocted a hoax; that is common for frisky students. However this fraud was planned and prepared years in advance and was executed over an extended period of time; the nature of the execution of the fraud goes well beyond the student jape.

The case against Teilhard is considered in detail by Walsh. He argues fairly convincingly that many of the circumstances stressed by Gould have natural and plausible explanations.

Teilhard was also accused of being involved by L. Harrison Matthews who claimed that Teilhard planted the fossil canine tooth in collaboration with Martin A.C. Hinton, with Teilhard subsequently "discovering" the tooth. The evidence for this collaboration is that Hinton told his friend Richard Savage that Hinton and Teilhard had visited the site together early in 1913. Matthews commented that Teilhard never mentioned this visit, and subsequent developments have damaged Hinton's credibility regarding these clues.

Back to perpetrator list

Was Woodward the perpetrator?

Woodward seems to have escaped serious consideration, primarily because he was very much a "straight arrow". However there is a strong case to be made against Woodward as a co-conspirator with Dawson. The provenance of many of bones used in the construction of the Piltdown specimens has been established; some were not at all readily available. Woodward, and apparently only Woodward, had professional access to all of them. The main focus of Drawhorn's paper is a consideration of this question of the origin of the specimens and who could have provided them.

Woodward had strong motives. He benefitted directly as co-discoverer of a monumental find. During the period in question he was engaged in an ardent campaign for the position of Director of the BMNH, a campaign in which his tactics were distinctly not "straight-arrowish". The finds directly confirmed the orthogenetic theories that he was advocating.

Woodward's participation would explain many of the seemingly fortunate circumstances that allowed the hoax to survive. For example, the hoax would have failed immediately if the jawbone had been tested for organic material; it never was. Dawson, as a single hoaxer, could have arranged that only skull fragments be tested initially. However it was Woodward who kept Keith from testing the Piltdown specimens even though he had used Keith's services before and after. It was Woodward who carefully restricted access to the specimens. At no time did Woodward give the specimens the careful physical examination that would have exposed the hoax. The vagueness about the location of the second find is peculiar. At one point he designated the site as being at a particular farm on the Netherfield side of the Ouse; later he "forgot" this and designated it as being on the Sheffield Park side, location unknown. Millar remarked on the "charmed life" of the hoax. Perhaps the charmed life was stage managed.

It has been argued that Woodward's correspondence with Dawson establishes his innocence. This is not so. If Woodward were a conspirator their correspondence would have been artifacts, part of the hoax. It should be remembered that copies of Museum correspondence were kept as part of the official record. For many years afterward Woodward returned to the Piltdown site for further digs; nothing was found. This may be the best argument for his innocence.

The epilog in Walsh's Unravelling Piltdown draws attention to some of the oddities of Woodward's role. He considers the possibility that Woodward had unacknowledged suspicions that all was not as it should be.

Although a strong case against Woodward can be made it is not definite. It is impossible to prove that Dawson did not have access to all of the specimens used to construct the hoax. Woodward's "errors" could have been unfortunate incompetence.

Back to perpetrator list

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

Myths and misconceptions

Piltdown man has been the focus of many myths and misconceptions, many of which are assiduously repeated by creationists for whom Piltdown man is a popular club with which to assail evolution. They include:

[It's all the British Museum's fault]
[The hoax was swallowed uncritically]
[500 doctoral theses were written on Piltdown man]
[This is a good example of Science correcting itself]
[The hoax was unimportant]
[The hoax was devised to create belief in human evolution]

It's all the British Museum's fault

Gould and others have criticized the British Museum for keeping the fossils "under wraps", suggesting that the hoax might have been exposed much earlier. It is true that access to the fossils were restricted. This is normal practice for rare and valuable fossils. However it is doubtful that this "security" protected the hoax. The fossils were available for examination. The tests that exposed the hoax could have been performed at any time. The single most important thing that protected the hoax from exposure was that nobody thought of the possibility. However in reading the history of the find it is clear that the leading paleontologists had access to the Piltdown man specimans. For example, Hrdlicka examined them; his rejection of the mandible and cranium being from the same animal was based on direct examination. Following the revelation of the fraud Martin Hinton, Deputy Keeper in the Dept. of Zoology at the British Museum. wrote to the Times:

Had the investigators been permitted to handle the actual specimens, I think the spurious nature of the jaw would have been detected long ago.

Wilfred Le Gros Clark, a member of the team that exposed the forger, wrote to Hinton reminding him that Woodward had in fact allowed other specialists to examine the originals. The charge seems to have stuck, however. (Frank Spencer, The Piltdown Forgery, p. 149).

It does seem to be the case that access to the fossils was quite restricted in later years. In his autobiographical book By the Evidence Leakey said when he saw Piltdown in 1933:

I was not allowed to handle the originals in any way, but merely to look at them and satisfy myself that the casts were really good replicas. Then, abruptly, the originals were removed and locked up again, and I was left for the rest of the morning with only the casts to study.

In "The curious story of the Piltdown fragments", South African Archaeological Bulletin 8.32 (December 1953): 103-5, A.J.H. Goodwin relates a curious tale as to why access was restricted:

"These fragments were exhibited in the 'South Ken' until in 1914 a suffragette, objecting to the attribution of a sex to Piltdown Man, attacked the showcase. They were then removed to a safe in the Director's Room. In 1922, while I was doing post-graduate work at the University of London, Sir Arthur Smith-Woodward was good enough to take an interest in me. On one of my visits ... he drew me away from the Piltdown showcase and said, 'I will show you what few anthropologists have seen'. We went into his room and he reverently produced the true Piltdown fragments, resting on a cotton-wool bed. I was not permitted to touch them, though he turned them over carefully to permit me to see all views."
Back to myths and misconceptions

The hoax was swallowed uncritically

This is a half truth; almost no one publicly raised the possibility of a deliberate hoax. There were rumors circulating, however. William Gregory, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History wrote in Natural History in May of 1914:

"It has been suspected by some that geologically [the bones] are not that 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 grave bed, to fool scientists."

He went on, however, to vigorously deny the charge, concluding

"None of the experts who have scrutinized the specimens and the gravel pit and its surroundings has doubted the genuineness of the discovery."

In general, however, the finds were accepted as being genuine fossils but were not accepted uncritically as being from an ancient human ancestor. There was an early and recurring doubt that the jaw and the skull were from two different animals, that the jaw was from an archaic chimpanzee and that the skull was from a relatively modern human being. Notable critics include Dr. David Waterston of King's College, the French paleontologists Marcellin Boule and Ernest Robert Lenoir, Gerrit Miller, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian, and Professor Ales Hrdlicka.

Initially there were many more critics, e.g. Osborn. However the finding of the second skull converted many of the critics. Finding a jaw from one animal near the skull of another might be an accident of juxtaposition -- two such finds is quite unlikely to be an accident. Some critics, e.g. Lenoir and Hrdlicka remained unconvinced none-the-less.

The following quote comes from a "The Evolution of Man", a 1927 book by Grafton Elliot Smith:

"Yet it [the skullcap] was found in association with the fragment of a jaw presenting so close a resemblance to the type hitherto known only in Apes that for more than twelve years many competent biologists have been claiming it to be the remains of a Chimpanzee."

Franz Weidenreich in 1946, in his book "Apes, Giants, and Men" (Note that Weidenreich was an extremely respected scientist, having done most of the work on the Peking Man skulls):

In this connection, another fact should be considered. We know of a lower jaw from the Lower Pleistocene of southern England which is anatomically, without any doubt, the jaw of an anthropoid. The trouble is that this jaw, although generally acknowledged as a simian jaw, has been attributed to man because it was found mixed with fragments of an undoubtedly human brain case. I am referring to the famous Piltdown finds and to Eoanthropus, as the reconstructed human type has been called by the English authors...

Therefore, both skeletal elements cannot belong to the same skull.

It should also be mentioned that in 1950 Ashley Montagu and Alvan T. Marston mounted major attacks on the interpretation of the Piltdown fossils as being from a single animal.

Back to myths and misconceptions

500 doctoral dissertations were written on Piltdown man

This claim appears in creationist sources. Gary Parker's pamphlet "Origin of Mankind", Impact series #101, Creation-Life Publishers (1981) makes the claim without qualification or source. Lubenow's Bones of Contention (1992) remarks that it is said that there were 500 doctoral dissertations but does not give a source.

This claim is clearly in error. When one considers the small number of PhD's in paleontology being granted currently and the even smaller number 80 years ago and the diversity of topics chosen for PhD theses a figure of half a dozen seems generous; in all probability there were none whatsoever. John Rice Cole notes that in the 20s there were about 2 dissertations per year in physical anthropology in the entire US on ANY topic.

Robert Parson made a systematic search of the bibliographies of The Piltdown Forgery by Weiner, The Piltdown Inquest by Blinderman, Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery and The Piltdown Papers by Spencer, The Antiquity of Man (1925) and New Discoveries Relating to the Antiquity of Man (1931) by Sir Arthur Keith. Spencer and Keith's works have extensive references and bibliographies of the primary research literature. There are no references to any doctoral dissertations. Likewise Millar's bibliography contains no references to any doctoral dissertation.

It is not clear whether this claim is a simple fabrication or whether it is an erroneous transcription from another source. In the introduction to The Piltdown Men (1972), Millar says " hundred essays were written about [Piltdown man]". This estimate is credible, the 1920 edition of H.G. Wells' The Outline of History remarks "more than a hundred books, pamphlets, and papers have been written [about Piltdown Man]". W. & A. Quenstedt listed over 300 references in 1936 in Hominidae fossiles. Fossilium Catalogus I: Animalia, 74: 191-197.

Millar gives no source, evidently not considering the matter to be important enough to document. However it probably was the editorial in the 10 July 1954 issue of Nature (vol. 274, # 4419, pp. 61-62) which describes a meeting of the Geological Society (30 June 1954) devoted to the exposure of the hoax. The editorial (unsigned) says:

"It is agreed that the skull fragments are human and not of great antiquity; that the jawbone is ape; that they have no important evolutionary significance. More than five hundred articles and memoirs are said to have been written about Piltdown man. His rise and fall are a salutary example of human motives, mischief and mistake."

By coincidence, Spencer's The Piltdown Papers (1990) contains 500 letters, i.e. 500 items of correspondence between Piltdown principals. However this cannot be the source of the number 500 since The Piltdown Papers appeared well after Parker's pamphlet and Millar's book.

A plausible explanation for this myth is that Millar and Parker both used the same source, the Nature editorial, and that Parker assumed that papers and memoirs were dissertations. However Andrew Lamb points out that Malcolm Muggeridge may have been the source:

Catholic scholar and former atheist Malcolm Muggeridge may have been the source of the 500 Piltdown doctorates claim, which he makes on page 59 of his book The End of Christendom, published in 1980. Muggeridge was a satirist and journalist, and these are occupations notorious for hyperbole.

A modern variant of this myth appeared in the February 6, 1998 issue of the New York Review of Books in an article entitled Crooked Bones by Steve Jones:

There have been a hundred books on the Piltdown case. Fifty name the Guilty Man (or Men, more than a dozen altogether)."

According to Andrew Lamb a Proquest search turned up exactly two PhD theses discussing Piltdown Man and the hoax. Both were written well after the exposure. They are:

Piltdown II: Leslie White’s Theory of Cultural Evolution, by Diana Amsden, Ph.D., The University Of New Mexico, 1976.

Desimone, A., Ancestors or Aberrants: Studies in the History of American Paleoanthropology, 1915–1940 (Human Evolution), Ph.D., University Of Massachusetts Amherst, 1986.

Back to myths and misconceptions

This is a good example of Science correcting itself

It has been argued that this is a good example of science correcting its errors. This argument is a bit roseate. As the Daily Sketch wrote:

Anthropologists refer to the hoax as 'another instance of desire for fame leading a scholar into dishonesty' and boast that the unmasking of the deception is 'a tribute to the persistence and skill of modern research'. Persistence and skill indeed! When they have taken over forty years to discover the difference between an ancient fossil and a modern chimpanzee! A chimpanzee could have done it quicker.

Far from being a triumph of Science the hoax points to common and dangerous faults. The hoax succeeded in large part because of the slipshod nature of the testing applied to it; careful examination using the methods available at the time would have immediately revealed the hoax. This failure to adquately examine the fossils went unmarked and unnoticed at the time - in large part because the hoax admirably satisfied the theoretical expectations of the time.

The hoax illuminates two pitfalls to be wary of in the scientific process. The first is the danger of inadequately examining and challenging results that confirm the currently accepted scientific interpretation. The second is that a result, once established, tends to be uncritically accepted and relied upon without further reconsideration.

Back to myths and misconceptions

The hoax was unimportant

Robert Parson pointed out in a posting that the Piltdown hoax was a scientific disaster of the first magnitude. He said:

Piltdown "confirmed" hypotheses about our early ancestors that were in fact wrong - specifically, that the brain case developed before the jaw. The early Australopithecine fossils found by Dart in South Africa in the 1920's failed to receive the attention due to them for this reason. The entire reconstruction of the history of the evolution of humanity was thrown off track until the 1930's.
Prominent anthropologists, such as Arthur Smith Woodward, Arthur Keith, and Grafton Elliot Smith, wasted years of their lives exploring the properties of what turned out to be a fake. The lingering suspicion that one of them might have been involved in the forgery will cloud their reputations forever.

More than five hundred articles and memoirs were written about the Piltdown finds before the hoax was exposed; these were all wasted effort. Likewise articles in encyclopedias and sections in text books and popular books of science were simply wrong. It should be recognized that an immense amount of derivative work is based upon a relatively small amount of original finds. For many years the Piltdown finds were a significant percentage of the fossils which were used to reconstruct human ancestry. In his book The Piltdown Forgery J.S. Weiner remarks (p.204):

This ill-begotten form of primitive man in the several hundred papers devoted to him received nearly as much attention as all the legitimate specimens in the fossil record put together.

It is a black mark on science that it took 40 years to expose a hoax that bore directly on human ancestry. Creationists have not been slow in pointing to the hoax, the erroneous reconstructions based on the hoax, and the long time it took to expose the hoax.

Back to myths and misconceptions

The hoax was devised to create belief in human evolution

This claim is often made by creationists. It is highly unlikely. We do not know for certain who the hoaxer(s) was and hence cannot speak with certainty about the motive for the hoax. However the motive almost certainly was not to convince people that men evolved from apes.

To be accepted the hoax had to convince the scientific community that the find was genuine. The hoax was not needed, however, to convince the scientific community that men had evolved from apes. It already was the consensus in the scientific community at the time that man had evolved from a pre-human ape ancestor, the line of argument being two-fold, (a) the anatomical evidence and (b) the existence of pre-human fossils (Neanderthal Man, Heidelberg Man, et al).

The effect of the hoax was to supply support for a particular theory about the course of human evolution, i.e., that large brains appeared early. Support for this theory may possibly have been part of the motive.

Back to myths and misconceptions
[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

[Abbot] [Barlow] [Butterfield] [Dart] [Dawson] [Doyle] [Edmonds] [Gould] [Hinton] [Hargreaves] [Keith] [Smith] [Matthews] [Teilhard] [Weiner] [Woodward]

Who the players were

Lewis Abbot was a jeweler in Hastings. He knew Dawson since 1900 through the Hastings museum. He was an authority on Wealdan flora and fauna and its ancient gravels and, more generally, the geology of southern England. Weiner described him as "fiery, bombastic, inspiring and weird."

Frank O. Barlow was a staff member of the British Museum of Natural History. He prepared plaster casts of the Piltdown skull.

William Butterfield was the curator at the Hastings museum. Ordinarily of calm and placid temperament, he quarreled with Dawson over Dawson's appropriation of some dinosaur fossils for the British Museum.

Raymond Dart held the chair of Anatomy in the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. He discovered Australopithecus (Taung baby) and was the principal early exponent of an African origin for humanity.

Charles Dawson was an amateur archaeologist, geologist, antiquarian, and was a collector of fossils for the British museum. He was the original person to seriously search for fossils in the Piltdown quarry. In 1912 he and Woodward discovered the the first Piltdown skull. In 1915 he discovered the second skull. He died in 1916 shortly after the finds.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a neighbor of Dawson's and had an interest in paleontology. At one point he participated in the Piltdown digs. He was the victim of the "fairies in the garden" hoax. Doyle wrote The Lost World and a number of popular mysteries.

F. H. Edmonds was a British geologist in the Geological Survey. His papers in 1925 and 1951 cast doubt respectively on the assigned age of Piltdown man and on there being a plausible source for Piltdown animal fossils.

Stephen Jay Gould is a paleontologist at Harvard University. Gould and Niles Eldredge introduced the "punctuated equilibrium" theory. Gould is the author of a number of popular collections of essays. He has suggested that Teilhard de Chardin was the author of the hoax.

Venus Hargreaves was the workman who assisted Dawson, Woodward, and Teilhard deChardin in the Piltdown digs.

Martin A. C. Hinton was a member of the Sussex circle of paleontologists before the hoax and a curator of zoology at the British Museum at the time of the fraud. He was an expert on the effect of deposition of fossils in gravel. Hinton was noted for his practical jokes.

Sir Arthur Keith was an anatomist and paleontologist, keeper of the Hunterian collection of the Royal College of Surgeons, and president of the Anthropological Institute.

L Harrison Matthews was an eminent English biologist who wrote an influential series of articles in New Scientist in 1981 in which it was postulated that Dawson planted the original finds and Hinton, with the aid of Teilhard, planted the later objects. Matthews was a friend of Hinton.

Grafton Elliot Smith was a fellow of the Royal Society and in 1909 became the holder of the chair of anatomy at the University of Manchester. Smith had made a special study of fossil men. He was one of the select crew that participated in the Piltdown dig.

W. J. Sollas was a Professor of Geology at Oxford. He was acerbic, ecentric, and a bitter enemy of Woodward and of Keith.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a friend of Dawson, a Jesuit, a paleontologist, and a theologian. He participated in the discovery of Peking man and Piltdown man. He is popular for his theological theories which are considered erroneous by the Catholic church.

J. S. Weiner was an eminent paleontologist. In 1953 he realized that Piltdown man might have been a hoax. J.S. Weiner, Sir Kenneth Oakley and Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark jointly exposed the hoax.

Sir Arthur Smith Woodward was the keeper of the British Museums's Natural History Department and was a friend of Dawson. His specialty was paleoichthyology. His subordinate, W.P. Pycraft, who was in charge of the anthropology section which dealt with fossil humanity, was an ornithologist. Neither was knowledgable about human anatomy, a fact which facilitated the hoax.

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]


This section lists major sources. Tom Turrittin's bibliography page is a comprehensive post 1953 bibliography of Piltdown man material. For a collection of source material, see the outline of the Clark University Piltdown Plot Project.

The Piltdown Inquest, C. Blinderman, Prometheus 1986,

Betrayers of the Truth, Broad and Wade, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-671-44769-6, 1982, focuses on scientfic frauds and other hanky panky, including a section on Piltdown man.

The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould, W.W.Norton and Company, New York, contains the essay "Piltdown Revisited" which gives Gould's views on the hoax.

A Framework of Plausibility for an Anthropological Forgery: The Piltdown Case, Michael Hammond, Anthropology, Vol 3, No. 1&2, May-December, 1979.

The Antiquity of Man, Sir Arthur Keith,2nd edition, 2 vols., Williams and Northgate, London 1925. Volume 2 devotes about 250 pages to Piltdown man, with many references to primary research literature.

New Discoveries Relating to the Antiquity of Man, Sir Arthur Keith, Williams and Northgate, London 1931. Page 466 contains the cited material.

Bones of contention: a creationist assessment of human fossils, M.L. Lubenow, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Books, 1992. (the best creationist book on human fossils)

Piltdown Man-The Missing Links, L. Harrison Matthews, a series of articles in New Scientist from 30 April 1981 through 2 July 1981.

The Piltdown Men, Ronald Millar, St. Martin's Press, New York, Library of Congress No. 72-94380, 1972, 237 pages + 2 appendices + an extensive bibliography.

Piltdown Man, The secret life of Charles Dawson & the world's greatest archaeological hoax, Miles Russell, Tempus Publishing Ltd., The Mil, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloustershire GL5 2QG, ISBN 0 7524 2572 2, 2003, 288 pages including appendices, bibliography, and index.

Piltdown: a scientific forgery, Frank Spencer, Oxford University Press, London 1990, ISBN 0198585225, xxvi, 272 p. : ill., ports. ; 25 cm.

The Piltdown Papers, Frank Spencer, Oxford University Press, London 1990, ISBN 0198585233, xii, 282 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. The second book is a collection of archival materials that Spencer investigated in his research. His book is based in part on research of Ian Langham; Langham died in 1984 and Spencer was asked to finish the investigation.

Unravelling Piltdown, John Evangelist Walsh, Random House, New York 1996, ISBN 0-679-44444-0, 219p, 38p of notes, selected bibliography, index.

The Piltdown Forgery, J. S. Weiner, Oxford University Press, London, 1980, is a republication of the 1955 edition.

The Earliest Englishman, A. S. Woodward, Watts and Co. London, 1948, is Piltdown man's last hurrah in respectability.

Web pages

The listing of web pages and links have been moved to a separate page.

[Top] [Intro] [History] [How?] [Exposure] [Who?] [Myths] [People] [References] [Web Sites]

This page was last updated December 4, 2011.

Richard Harter's World
Annex A