|This page is a transcript of a boxed insert in Winslow and Meyer’s September 1983 article in Science 83 accusing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of being the perpetrator of the Piltdown hoax.
Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University has recently accused Teilhard du Chardin of complicity in the Piltdown hoax. He bases what he terms “the essence” of his case on Teilhard’s reminiscence, made in 1953, of a visit he and Dawson made in 1913 to an area near the original site of Piltdown II, a second trove fossils also planted as part of the hoax. While nothing was discovered that day, Dawson told Teilhard of previous finds he had made, and Teilhard apparently presumed Dawson meant he had found the fossils at the spot they were visiting. But “fossils” at Piltdown II were not discovered until 1915, long after Teilhard had left for France. On the basis of this “discrepancy” Gould concluded Teilhard must have assisted Dawson in fabricating the Piltdown II remains – and those of Piltdown I as well.
In fact there was another site, Barcombe Mills, which Dawson discovered one month before Teilhard’s 1913 visit. Barcombe Mills closely resembled Piltdown II. Both sites were near Piltdown I, both were on flint-covered plowed fields, and each yielded a human frontal bone, a single molar, and at least one other skull fragment. It is the Barcombe Mills finds that Dawson would have spoken to Teilhard about in 1913. Teilhard must have simply misunderstood what Dawson said, or perhaps he had a lapse of memory. In the absence of other persuasive evidence, Gould’s major premise against Teilhard is no longer tenable.
Gould used one other major argument in his case against Teilhard. The Jesuit, he claimed, avoided the subject of Piltdown Man for the last 35 years of his life even though he had participated in its discovery and even though it represented an especially appropriate example to support his evolutionary philosophy. “Piltdown,” wrote Gould, “was the most sublime argument that Teilhard possessed, and he never breathed it again after … 1920.” But there was at least one instance in which Teilhard gave “the Fossil” a place of some prominence. In 1952, the year before the hoax was revealed, he observed in a paper delivered at the International Symposium on Anthropology in New York City that Piltdown Man had played a vital role in diverting anthropologists from the view that Neandertal Man was the single and unique root from which modern man had evolved; this oversimplified conception was already difficult to reconcile with such a paleontological reality as the Piltdown Man, he wrote. Teilhard then proceeded to do exactly what Gould claimed he had not done, to tie Piltdown Man directly into his evolutionary philosophy.
This page was last updated October 18, 1998.