Richard Harter's World
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March 2006
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A Piltdown Man reading list
by Tom Turrittin

This is a list of reading materials on the Piltdown Man forgery, selected for people with a general interest in the subject, and for doing introductory research (journalists, teachers, high school and undergraduate assignments, etc.).

If you're doing deeper and broader research (graduate-level, book authors, historical and documentary researchers, etc.), I recommend my more complete work, An annotated bibliography of the Piltdown Man forgery, 1953-2005, which was published online in the peer-reviewed journal PalArch.nl, in issue 1.1 (2006) of their Archaeology of northwest Europe section. It includes a list of film and video resources.


Table of contents


General tips for research

Some of the references listed here are old or hard to find. If you're having trouble, look for other books in your library's catalog. Or print this section out and ask a librarian for help; that's what they're there for! Try doing a subject search for the phrases below, or check out the shelves under certain numbers, both in the regular shelf areas as well as in the Reference section (encyclopedias, etc.). Failing that (if you're not in a hurry), ask your library if they have an Inter-Library Loan service; they might be able to borrow a book from another branch.

Subject Dewey number LC number
Piltdown forgery 569.9 GN 282.5
Fossil hominids
Fossil man
Human evolution
Human beings--Origin
Paleoanthropology
569.9 GN 281-282
(and optionally up to GN 286.7 *)
Fraud in science
Errors, Scientific (--History)
500 * Q 172.5 .E77
Q 172.5 .F7
Q 175.37
Forgery of antiquities 930.1 * CC 140
Forgery (--History)
Deception (--History)
Imposters and imposture (--History)
001.95 *
364.163 *
HV 6675 *
HV 6751 *
CT 9980 *
Physical anthropology (--History) 599.9 * GN 50.4 *
GN 60-62 *
Archaeology--History 930.1 * CC 100 *

* There will probably be a lot of books here on other topics that aren't what you're looking for. Check the index or the table of contents.


Web pages

     Richard Harter's Piltdown Man page has lots of information!

     Another extensive resource is The Piltdown plot, created by Charles Blinderman at Clark University. It's a collection of articles about Piltdown Man, from 1912 onwards. The problem: the layout is terrible. It's like a bunch of grad students were hired to scan in articles, use OCR and spellchecking software on them, and then save them in HTML format, with as much automation as possible. There isn't much editing or quality control, and the visual structure of the site is extremely lazy and off-putting.
     If you're patient and thorough, you can find some good material on this site. But if you need to cite something, due to the OCR and numbering errors you're better off tracking down the original articles instead. (If I use the words, "Available online", it's usually a link to Blinderman's pages, so treat the data with caution.)

     Shireen Gonzaga wrote a good online article for Earth & Sky. Type "Piltdown" into their search box to find it.

     Robert Carroll's The Skeptic's Dictionary.

     The Smithsonian Institute's page on Piltdown Man in their Hall of human ancestors.

     The Wikipedia page on Piltdown Man may or may not be accurate at any given time.


Book Reviews

When people write about Piltdown Man, they usually take one of two approaches: they write about the "whodunit" mystery (sensational history), or they write about the history of how human fossils were discovered and interpreted (the history of science). A few authors have managed to combine both approaches. Books that discuss Piltdown Man's role in the history of science tend to be more objective, but on the negative side, these books are not typically aimed at younger readers.


     J.S. Weiner
     The Piltdown forgery
     1955 (Reprinted in 2003). Oxford University Press.
     ISBN 0198607806

This book is required reading on the subject of Piltdown Man, written by the person who discovered it was a forgery. It starts with a history of the Piltdown Man fossils, and then explains how Weiner and his colleagues discovered and proved that a forgery had taken place. The second half of the book attempts to identify the forger's identity; Weiner's choice is Charles Dawson.

Although Weiner aimed the book at a general adult audience, his scientific writing style is extremely dry and clinical. Some sections may bore younger readers. Overall, however, the book is a valuable first-hand account of the forgery's exposure. It's difficult to follow a 40-year-old criminal trail.


     Ronald Millar
     The Piltdown men
     1972. Gollancz (U.K.); St. Martin's Press (U.S.); and others.
     ISBN 057500536X (and others; it was reprinted several times over the 1970s)

This book begins with a historical overview of the scientific debates on geology, evolution and human fossils up to 1912. This takes so long that you may want to skip the whole first half of the book, starting to read around page 112 or so, just before chapter 11 begins.

Millar manages to cover a very broad and diverse range of material, and quotes directly from published articles. However, as an amateur historian he made many, many small errors. Nothing horrendous, but I would definitely not quote anything from this book unless it was independently confirmed by another source.

This book is aimed at a general adult audience, and the writing style is personable, if slightly formal. The text, however, has a tendency to wander from subject to subject without a strict structure, occasionally getting mired in the details of who-said-what in various scientific journals. In the last chapter, Millar accuses Grafton Elliot Smith of being the forger.


     Ronald Millar
     The Piltdown mystery: the story behind the world's greatest archaeological hoax
     1998. S.B. Publications (Seaford, East Sussex.)
     ISBN 1857701593

This second book by Millar is much better than his first one. It's short (only 80 pages), reads well, and presents all the basic details in a straightforward manner for a general audience. Unfortunately, this is a hard book to find. I don't think it was circulated much outside of Sussex, which is a real shame. It's a good paperback I'd recommend for public libraries.


     Charles S. Blinderman
     The Piltdown inquest
     1986. Prometheus Books (Buffalo, N.Y.)
     ISBN 0879753595
     Available to read online.

This is the most entertaining book about the forgery to have been published so far. Blinderman's writing style is friendly, humorous and approachable. This is the book I'd recommend the most for young adult readers.

Only the first third of the book is especially useful; the rest descends into the "whodunit" mystery until Blinderman accuses W.J. Lewis Abbott of being the forger. The final chapter is a short essay on scientific objectivity.


     John Evangelist Walsh
     Unraveling Piltdown: the science fraud of the century and its solution
     1996. Random House.
     ISBN 0679444440

Walsh is a seasoned historical writer who knows how to write for the general public. The goal of his book on Piltdown is primarily to re-state the case against Charles Dawson being the forger. Walsh accomplishes this quite well, and his greatest achievement was finding a 1950s manuscript that was full of research into Dawson's background of making suspicious historical discoveries.

The information on Dawson, by itself, makes a very strong case for his involvement in the forgery. It's a pity Walsh felt it was necessary to resort to other techniques to convince his readers. The whole book is told in a serious, narrative story-telling style, which is particularly strong at the beginning of most chapters. While this makes the book easy to read, it tends to blur the historical facts. At the end of the book, chapter 12 is an entirely fictional dramatization of events, but reads as if it were real.

I find it a little ironic that on page 97, Walsh chastizes other Piltdown authors for allowing their feelings to run rampant. Emotional manipulation is at the core of Unraveling Piltdown, getting the reader to hate Dawson and to feel sympathy for his colleague, Arthur Smith Woodward. Even so, this is an entertaining read if you're interested in Dawson or the Piltdown "whodunit". It's a good public library "historical mystery" type of book - sort of in the same vein as books about Jack the Ripper's identity - but it isn't particularly useful for science historians.


     Miles Russell
     Piltdown Man: the secret life of Charles Dawson & the world's greatest archaeological hoax
     2003. Tempus Publishing (Gloucestershire)
     ISBN 0752425722

Russell's book is devoted to evaluating all of Charles Dawson's discoveries, and is very objective and thorough. General readers looking for a quick read about Piltdown Man will probably be disappointed, but if you're doing any in-depth research on Dawson, this book is invaluable. It goes much, much further than Walsh's study, and is written by an archaeologist.


     Frank Spencer
     Piltdown: a scientific forgery
     and The Piltdown papers: 1908-1955
     1990. Oxford University Press/Natural History Museum Publications.
     ISBN 0198585225, 0198585233

Spencer's two books are not for casual readers. Piltdown: a scientific forgery begins with a guide to the scientific debates that surrounded the Piltdown fossils from 1912 to 1953, which reflects Spencer's greater interest in the history of physical anthropology. This is the book's real strong point. The last chapters switch abruptly into the "whodunit"; Spencer accuses the anatomist Arthur Keith of being the forger. At the end of the book, there are dense pages of footnotes that hide a lot of extra detail. A huge amount of scholarly research was put into all of it.

For The Piltdown papers, Spencer basically went to several archives and looked for old letters that anthropologists had written about Piltdown Man, transcribed them, annotated them, and then published them together into this book. After all, most of us can't afford to fly to England and rummage for a week through the old documents of the Natural History Museum! This isn't the sort of book you read from cover to cover; it's more of a reference tool. Spencer's collection is probably not complete, but it's very extensive.

If you're looking for a bibliography about Piltdown Man with articles from 1912-1953, Spencer's two books have large reference sections, although the books themselves aren't laid out with bibliographical research in mind.


     Herbert Thomas
     Le mystère de l'homme de Piltdown: une extraordinaire imposture scientifique
     (Translated into English, "The Piltdown Man mystery: an extraordinary scientific deception")
     2002. Belin/Pour la science (Paris)
     ISBN 2701134080

Herbert Thomas is a paleoanthropologist who also writes about science for the general public. This is one of the more objective books I've seen about Piltdown Man. The structure is similar to other Piltdown books, and the language is simple and friendly. There's a good balance between the history of science and the mystery of the forger's identity, and a lot of details are presented without being boring. The problem is - it's in French! I really hope someone will publish an English translation of this.

The book makes a point of saying that none of the "whodunit" theories have been proved. Although Thomas thinks that Dawson probably knew something of the truth before he died, in the end he prefers to let the readers decide for themselves who the forger was.


     Pat Perrin & Wim Coleman
     The mystery of the Piltdown skull
     2004. Perfection Learning (Logan, Iowa)
     ISBN 0789159910, 0756912555

This is a short 64-page educational book aimed at children, I'd guess in the range of age 7 to age 9. It's well-written, but is more useful for teachers and librarians than adult researchers!


Original sources

Joseph Weiner and his colleagues exposed the Piltdown forgery in two stages. Their first paper in November 1953 was a preliminary assessment in which they showed that a forgery had taken place. However, they had not yet realized the full extent of the forgery, which was published in their second paper in 1955.

     Weiner's first paper was "The solution of the Piltdown problem", in the Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Geology 2.3 (1953): pp. 139-146 (Available online). The Times newspaper made an announcement at the same time on page 6 of their November 21st edition. (Available online.)

     Weiner's second paper was "Further contributions to the solution of the Piltdown problem", in the Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Geology 2.6 (1955): pp. 225-287. (Partially available online.)

     One of the experts who had analyzed the forgery, Sir Wilfrid E. Le Gros Clark, delivered a lecture about Piltdown Man shortly afterwards. "The exposure of the Piltdown forgery" was printed in the Proceedings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain 36 (1955): pp. 138-151, and Clark reprinted it in chapter 9 of his 1968 book, Chant of pleasant exploration, pp. 210-226.

     Other books that discussed the Piltdown forgery around this time were Joseph Weiner's The Piltdown forgery (1953, reprinted 2003), and Sonia Cole's Counterfeit (1955, pp. 136-170, see below).


Fakes and forgeries

There are a lot of books about fakes and forgeries that mention Piltdown Man, and there's no way I could list them all. Most of them simply condense the facts into something short and simple. Here are a couple of references, a few obscure, but it's not difficult to find others. (See the Research section.)

     William Broad and Nicholas Wade wrote a book in 1982 entitled Betrayers of the truth, a commentary about problems in the modern administration of science that allow some scientists to commit acts of research fraud. (Twenty years after this book was published, most of the problems seem to be happening in the area of biomedicine.)

     Sonia Cole published a book in 1955 called Counterfeit, shortly after the Piltdown forgery was exposed. It's mainly concerned with fakes in art and archaeology. (See pp. 136-170. Partially available online.)

     Adolf Rieth's book, Archaeological fakes (1970) covers more archaeological material than Cole, but with less detail. (See pp. 38-48. Partially available online.)

     Ian Haywood's 1987 book, Faking it: art and the politics of forgery, discusses many kinds of fakes, and includes a chapter about archaeology and human fossils. (See pp. 90-103, available online.)


Fossils and human evolution

Most books about human evolution discuss the Piltdown Man forgery at some point. Here are a few; if you need more, see the Research section.

     John Reader's book, Missing links: the hunt for earliest man (1981), is a basic work about the search for human fossils. It looks at well-known paleontologists as well as the fossils themselves, and has a bit of a documentary feel to it. Piltdown Man has a chapter from pp. 55-81. (Available online.)

     William Howells' 1959 book, Mankind in the making, is a bit on the old side, but it devoted a lot more pages to the subject of Piltdown Man than most other books did at the time. See the chapter, "Piltdown Man: his rise and fall", pp. 249-263. (That's for the 1967 edition. An earlier edition is available online with different page numbers.)

     Brian Regal's book, Human evolution: a guide to the debates (2004), looks at the history of how the theory of evolution has been applied to mankind, and is written for a general audience. To counter the fundamentalist/creationist view that science and religion are irreconcilable, Regal points out how religion has influenced science in the past.
     A book that's similar to Regal's but with a narrower focus, no religious discussion, and is written for more advanced readers, is Roger Lewin's Bones of contention: controversies in the search for human origins. (Partially available online.)


Anti-evolution

Authors who disagree with biological evolution typically use Piltdown Man as an example of scientific failure. Frequently these authors support a belief in creationism.

     Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson's book Forbidden archaeology, sometimes published under the title The hidden history of the human race. This has been reprinted several times in different lengths and formats. The 1993 edition (San Diego, Govardhan Hill), had its 8th chapter devoted to "The Piltdown showdown" (pp. 501-525).

     Marvin L. Lubenow. (1992). Bones of contention: a creationist assessment of [the] human fossils. Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House: pp. 39-44. Possibly meant to be confused with Bones of contention by Roger Lewin.

     Two articles by Gerald Bergman. The first, "A history of the Piltdown hoax", in Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum 96 (2003): pp. 457-484. The second, "The Piltdown hoax's influence on evolution's acceptance", under the name "Jerry Bergman" in the Creation Research Society Quarterly, issue 36.3 (December 1999): pp. 145-154.

     Two books by Malcolm Bowden (both of which have had second editions) are Ape-men, fact or fallacy? (1977, Sovereign Pub.) and Science vs. evolution (1991, Sovereign Pub.). Both books have sections on the Piltdown forgery, but those parts are largely attacks against Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist and religious philosopher.

     Francis Vere (1959). Lessons of Piltdown. Hampshire, U.K., Evolution Protest Movement. Like Bowden, the focus on Piltdown Man in this short book is largely used against Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. (Partially available online.)


Pro-science

Piltdown Man is a good example to use when talking about the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific method. It shows that although the scientific discipline corrects its errors, the process is not always timely. Sometimes error correction is fast (six months in the case of the Archaeoraptor fossil), sometimes slow (41 years in Piltdown's case), and sometimes even longer (figuring out that the Earth rotates around the Sun, and not the other way around, etc.).

     If I had to recommend only one article about Piltdown Man, it would be John H. Langdon's "Lessons from Piltdown", in Creation / Evolution no. 31 (vol. 12.2, winter 1992): pp. 11-27. Its whole focus is on the successes and failures of the scientific method with the Piltdown forgery. Definitely worth reading if you're a science teacher! If you have trouble finding this, it was published by the National Center for Science Education. The publication changed its name in 1997 to Reports of the National Center for Science Education.
     I also recommend a second article by Langdon, which is a bit harder to find - you'll probably have to use inter-library loan to get it. "Self-correction in science: the case of the Piltdown hoax" was published in Langdon's 1993 book, The natural history of paradigms (University of Indianapolis Press, pp. 69-82). This one is geared more towards academic readers.

     A great book for everyone on science, pseudo-science and the scientific method is Kenneth L. Feder's Frauds, myths and mysteries: science and pseudoscience in archaeology. It includes a section on Piltdown Man, but personally I prefer this book as a whole, especially the introductory chapters.

     A brief article about Piltdown Man and the scientific method by James Williams, "Fakes, fraud, and fluorine", can be found in School Science Review 74 (no. 268, March 1993): pp. 41-46.


The history of paleoanthropology

The references in this section are definitely not for people doing casual research. These are for advanced university-level readers, describing the role that Piltdown Man played in the history of paleoanthropology.

     Roger Lewin's book, Bones of contention: controversies in the search for human origins, is the most reader-friendly of the books in this section. It's an examination of the debates, biases, conflicts and controversies that have sprung up in the history of paleoanthropology. It's difficult to write about the politics, egos and the subjective opinions of scientists, but Lewin does so in a very even-handed manner. This book has appeared in several editions. (Partially available online.)

     Michael Hammond's 1979 article, "A framework of plausibility for an anthropological forgery" (Anthropology 3: pp. 47-58) is an excellent summary of some of the factors that made Piltdown Man believable to scientists in the years leading up to 1912. A second article of Hammond's is "The shadow man paradigm in paleoanthropology, 1911-1945" (in Bones, bodies, behavior, 1988, ed. by George W. Stocking Jr., U. of Wisconsin Press, pp. 117-137). This looks at a period when human fossils were frequently put on dead side-branches of mankind's family tree, in favour of a theoretical presapiens ancestor.

     Someone who doesn't agree with all of Hammond's points in the latter article is Peter J. Bowler, a historian of science who's interested in the history of evolutionary theory. His 1986 book, Theories of human evolution: a century of debate, 1844-1944, is a detailed and invaluable study. Highly recommended, although the writing style is a bit dense.

     Frank Spencer wrote and edited a number of works on the history of physical anthropology. In 1984 he published an article about Neandertals which included a section on Piltdown Man and the presapiens paradigm. ("The Neanderthals and their evolutionary significance: a brief historical survey", in The origins of modern humans, which he co-edited with Fred H. Smith, pp. 1-49.) Also, like Hammond, Spencer was interested in the factors that led up to Piltdown Man in 1912. While Hammond took a very broad approach to this topic, Spencer's approach was narrower, focussing on the British interest in eoliths ("Prologue to a scientific forgery", 1988, see the above-mentioned Bones, bodies, behavior, pp. 84-116). This latter article was used as the basis for the first chapter of Spencer's 1990 book, Piltdown: a scientific forgery, which includes a well-researched history of the debates that surrounded the Piltdown fossils from 1912 to 1953 (pp. 29-131). A companion book to this one is The Piltdown papers: 1908-1955, a collection of professional correspondence.

     Phillip V. Tobias built off of Spencer's work to popularize a Piltdown-vs.-Australopithecine, Keith-vs.-Dart view of history. For more information on this, see the section below on the theory that Arthur Keith was behind the forgery. In contrast to this, one article that should definitely be read is Robin W. Dennell's "From Sangiran to Olduvai, 1937-1960: the quest for 'centres' of hominid origins in Asia and Africa". This looks at many of the external factors that affected how fossils were interpreted by paleoanthropologists. (2001, in Studying human origins: disciplinary history and epistemology, ed. by Raymond Corbey, U. of Amsterdam Press, pp. 45-66.)

     If you're interested in more information about Arthur Keith and Piltdown Man, see Jonathan Sawday's article, "'New men, strange faces, other minds': Arthur Keith, race and the Piltdown affair". (1999, in Race, science and medicine, 1700-1960, ed. by Waltraud Ernst, pp. 259-288.)

     Finally, Richard Delisle published an article in French in 2000 entitled, "Construire l'arbre phylétique de l'homme: fossiles, théories et cadres interprétifs" (L'Anthropologie 104: pp. 489-521). Looking at the evolutionary trees for mankind that were envisioned between 1900 and 1950, Deslisle examines how they were influenced by fossils, by theories of evolution, and by three different "interpretative frameworks". He argues that from 1900 to 1930, evolutionary tree ideas were mostly guided by interpretative frameworks; but after 1930 the fossils and evolutionary theories began to have a more significant effect.


Who was responsible for the forgery?

Frankly, no one knows. There simply isn't enough historical data left to figure it out. There are many arguments about who might have done it, but there's no proof, just hot air. Without proof, some authors have selectively chosen or biased the historical facts to favor their pet theory, or blurred facts with assumptions and interpretations. Because of this, any research into Piltdown Man should involve double- or triple-checking what people say, ideally by looking at original sources and by comparing authors who have competing ideas.

Here are some important questions for evaluating what you read about Piltdown Man:

No really, who did it?

It is highly probable that (at least) Charles Dawson was involved, for the following reasons:

It is very difficult to construct a case for the forgery that does not involve Dawson. (His motive was probably to gain scientific prestige.) The bigger question is: if one assumes that Dawson was involved, did he act alone? If not, who did he work with, and was Dawson the instigator or merely a pawn? Again, no one knows. But a lot of people have tried to guess, and the endless accusations led author Ronald Millar to remark,

"Even the Piltdown milkman, or postman, falls into this 'guilty until proved innocent' category as do their wives, children, dogs, friends, relatives and acquaintances - in short anything animate in England in 1909, particularly those belonging to the south-eastern part of it." (The Piltdown mystery, 1998, p. 65)

In short, all the references in this section should be treated with an extreme amount of critical thinking. My personal bias: I believe that Dawson acted alone. What follows is a list of the more commonly-cited theories.


Grafton Elliot Smith did it.

See Ronald Millar's book, The Piltdown men (Partially available online, pp. 231-237 only, ignore its page numbering.)


William James Lewis Abbott did it.

See Charles Blinderman's book, The Piltdown inquest (Available online, specifically see chapter 13.)


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin did it.

Stephen Jay Gould's theory about Teilhard was inspired by an idea of Louis Leakey's. This gets a bit complicated, so bear with me. (And this is the simplified version!)

     Gould published an article entitled "The Piltdown conspiracy" in the magazine Natural History, issue 89.8 (August 1980): pp. 8-28.

     Several people wrote back to the magazine in protest, see "Piltdown in letters" in issue 90.6 (June 1981): pp. 12-30.

     Gould then repeated his theory, responded to the protests, wrote another article about Teilhard, and bundled them all together in his 1983 book, Hen's teeth and horse's toes (pp. 201-250). This book has the most complete version of his theory, and is probably the easiest copy to get ahold of. (Partially available online, pp. 201-226 only.)


Arthur Conan Doyle did it.

This theory was originally conceived of by John Hathaway Winslow, and was later resuscitated and extended by Richard Milner, whose colleague Robert B. Anderson published it.

     Winslow's article, "The perpetrator at Piltdown", appeared in Science 83, issue 4.7 (September 1983): pp. 32-43. (Available online.) This is not the same magazine as Science - this is a different magazine that changed its name each year, Science 81, Science 82, and so on. It was published in Washington D.C. and only existed from 1979 to 1986. Some library catalogs list it as "Science ..." with the 1979 date.

     Anderson's version (and Milner's), "The case of the missing link", appeared in Pacific Discovery 49.2 (Spring 1996): pp. 15-20, 32-33. It was later reprinted in Elvio Angeloni's book, Physical anthropology 97/98 (6th ed., 1997), pp. 138-146.


Arthur Keith did it.

This accusation originated with a researcher named Ian Langham, who died in 1984. His work was passed on to another researcher named Frank Spencer, who had written a lot about the history of physical anthropology.

     Spencer's theory appeared at the end of his 1990 book, Piltdown: a scientific forgery. (Partially available online, pp. 188-208.) He published a companion book at the same time, The Piltdown papers: 1908-1955, a collection of historical letters.

     Phillip V. Tobias built upon Spencer's theory to say that if Keith was the forger, then it explained why Keith had refused to accept Raymond Dart's Austropithecus fossil as a human ancestor. Part of Tobias' motive seems to have been to show how Keith and others in British academe had treated Dart to "30 years of [academic] loneliness, the lean years of rejection" (1985, p. 38). In later articles, Tobias claimed his ideas about Homo habilis had been similarly rejected, but was less harsh towards Keith. Memorializing Dart's role in the history of science has been a frequent theme in Tobias' writing.

     Tobias' views can be read in Current Anthropology 33 (1992): pp. 243-293. (Available online.) A condensed version appeared in the magazine The Sciences, issue 34.1 (Jan.-Feb. 1994): pp. 38-42. (Available online.) An early version appeared in Tobias' 1985 book, Hominid origins: past, present and future, pp. 25-40.


Martin Hinton did it.

Hinton has popped up in a number of theories, one of the more recent ones being that of Brian G. Gardiner and Andy Currant in 1996. They announced that an old trunk of Hinton's had been found (in 1976), containing bones that had been stained "in the same way" as the ones from the Piltdown site. Few details were given, and no actual data. Gardiner eventually published an article seven years later in 2003. Both announcements coincided with publicity events.

     Henry Gee published Gardiner's theory in Nature 381 (May 23, 1996): pp. 261-262. (Available online.) Gardiner's later paper appeared in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, vol. 139 (2003): pp. 315-335.

     (It's a pet peeve of mine that this theory was picked up so readily by the press, and has been circulated so widely and uncritically, even showing up as a main focus in BBC and NOVA television documentaries that should have had higher standards. In my personal opinion, Gardiner's data is not convincing. He used no control groups, and there was no methodology set out beforehand for proof or disproof. In other words, it was extremely one-sided and unscientific. Gardiner and Currant's historical arguments are equally weak. If you know enough about the history of the Piltdown forgery, you can just as easily argue against this theory.)


Charles Dawson did it, likely alone.

See the following:

     J.S. Weiner (1955). The Piltdown forgery. Republished in 2003. (This is the best book to start with.)

     John Evangelist Walsh (1996). Unraveling Piltdown.

     Miles Russell (2003). Piltdown Man: the secret life of Charles Dawson.

     Joe Nickell (1992). Mysterious realms: probing paranormal, historical, and forensic enigmas, pp. 131-143, 211, and figures 13-14.

     John H. Langdon (1991). "Misinterpreting Piltdown", in Current Anthropology 32: pp. 627-631.

     Herbert Thomas (2002). Le mystère de l'homme de Piltdown. (In French. This author believes Dawson likely knew something was going on, but was not necessarily the central guilty party.)


Challenges to the above theories.

A lot of authors have challenged the theories listed here, often to support a theory of their own. For a full list of challenges and reactions, see the published version of my bibliography. Otherwise, you can go to this web page and look under "Defense" for each suspect, however the selection is very poor. There are much better articles that exist.

Some of the Piltdown books have defenses. Blinderman's The Piltdown inquest contains quite a few (chapters 6 through 14), but this was written before the 1990s when more theories appeared. Walsh's Unraveling Piltdown and Thomas' Le mystère de l'homme de Piltdown both have entire chapters defending Teilhard de Chardin, Keith, and Conan Doyle. Finally, Spencer's Piltdown: a scientific forgery discusses many of the theories (pp. 158-187), but only spends a little time on each.


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(Last edited: February 2006)

Richard Harter's World
Annex A
Piltdown Man home page
March 2006
email