Note on the Molar Teeth of the Piltdown Mandible

William K. Gregory

American Anthropologist 1916

[384] Mr. Gerrit S. Miller 1 in his paper on the Piltdown lower jaw maintains that this mandible does not belong with the human skull near which it was found, but represents an extinct species of chimpanzee, which he names Pan vetus . Thus he carries to its logical conclusion the line of argument which had been opened by Professors Waterston, Boule, and others who had doubted the anatomical association of the mandible with the skull fragments. But, while these earlier sceptics had made only brief criticisms of Dr. Smith Woodward's reconstructed Eoanthropus, Mr. Miller has gone into the problem in a most thorough manner and was the first to make and publish extended comparisons between the Piltdown jaw and teeth, and those of a large series of chimpanzees. From this series he selects certain jaws, of very old animals, which, as everyone must admit, exhibit an extraordinary resemblance in all views to the Piltdown mandible.

Of course the real question is, does this resemblance imply generic identity or is this after all a human jaw that is practically indistinguishable from an ape jaw? Speaking only for myself as a student of recent and fossil animals I recognize that the resemblances in question constitute generic identity, that Mr. Miller's illustrations furnish a demonstration of the generic identity of the Piltdown jaw and the chimpanzee jaws there figured. And Dr. W. D. Matthew 2 and Dr. MacCurdy 3 have already testified to the same effect. But while the resemblances and differences are in a sense objective phenomena, the cognition, or perception, of generic [385] identity is an individual experience, like the perception of truths and abstract propositions. Hence it must be expected that for some time to come men will differ in their reactions to Mr. Miller's evidence, in accordance with their individual history and preconceptions. Dr. Smith Woodward, for example, the describer of Eoanthropus, is still firm in his belief that the Piltdown jaw belongs with the Piltdown skull, which was found, along with remains of other mammals, in the same place. The question of association is discussed elsewhere by Dr. Matthew 4 and will be passed over here, with the remark that according to this authority, the association of jaw and skull in space, in view of the circumstances, is of little value against the anatomical evidence that the remains belong to two different animals.

In the course of a general review of the extinct anthropoid apes and men 5 I have had the accompanying illustration (fig. 47) prepared, for the purpose of showing the molars of the Piltdown jaw in comparison with those of several extinct and recent races of Hominidæ and Simiidæ. The figure of the last Piltdown molars (d) is based upon a very clear photograph published by Dr. Smith Woodward, 6 which appears to be more accurate than the hand-colored casts of the specimen. The two molars, although extremely worn, reveal the remains of what I have elsewhere called the "Dryopithecus pattern," because this pattern is most clearly developed in the Upper Miocene genus Dryopithecus of Europe and Asia; it is retained with more or less modifications in the chimpanzee, gorilla, and orang, and clear traces of it are found in many human teeth. The Piltdown molars agree with the chimpanzee molars figured by Mr. Miller (our fig. 47 c) and differ from the human types (e f g) in the following characteristics: (a ) they are decidedly more elongate anteriorly, so that the crown as a whole is more quadrilateral than circular; (b ) the hypoconids are smaller and do not project laterally,



Fig. 47. See page 387 for legend.

[387] Fig. 47.–Right lower premolar-molar series of primitive men and anthropoids. Crown views. X circa 3/2.

A. Gorilla sp. Recent.

B. Sivopithecus indicus. Upper Miocene, India. After Pilgrim.

C. Pan sp. Much worn molars of the Piltdown mandible; from a photograph published by

Smith Woodward (X 3/2 +).

D. Pan vetus. Much worn molars of the Piltdown mandible; from a photograph published by

Smith Woodward (X 3/2 +).

E. Homo heidelbergensis. From a photograph published by Schoetensack.

F. Homo sapiens. Molars of an old female Australian black. Premolars of a male negro.

G. Homo sapiens. Lower premolar-molar series of a Strandlooper Bushman. (Gift of Dr.

R. Broom.)

From this series it appears that Mr. Miller is well warranted in stating that the Piltdown molars are generically referable to Pan rather than to Homo.

so that the transverse diameter of the posterior moiety of the tooth, from the outer side of the hypoconid (hyd ) to the inner edge of the entoconid (end ), is less than the transverse diameter of the anterior moiety, from the outer side of the protoconid (prd ) to the inner side of the metaconid (med ); (c ) both the metaconid and the entoconid are somewhat smaller and more widely separated from each other than in the human teeth; (d ) the deep furrow between the metaconid and the entoconid appears to have been continued in an oblique straight line into the furrow between the hypoconid and the hypoconulid (mesoconid), whereas in human teeth the furrow between the metaconid and the entoconid is often directly transverse in position and is separated from the furrow between the hypoconid and the hypoconulid by the short furrow that divides the hypoconid from the entoconid.

Now there is rather a wide variation of form in the molar crown patterns both of human races and of apes, and it may be that some human teeth will exhibit one or more of the ape characters enumerated above. But so far as my observations extend (and I have examined a good many ape jaws and human jaws) no provedly human lower molar exhibit all of these characters and no ape molars lack all or even a majority of them. Hence I believe that Mr. Miller is fully justified in holding that the lower molars of the Piltdown jaw are those of a chimpanzee and not those of an extinct genus of Hominidæ.

American Museum of Natural History,

New York City


1 "The Jaw of the Piltdown Man," Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Vol. 63, No. 12,

1915, pp. 1-31, pls. 1-5.

2 Science, N.S., vol. XLIII, Jan. 21, 1916, p. 107.

3 Ibid., Vol. XLIII, No. 1103, Feb. 18, 1916, p. 228.

4 Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., Vol. XXXV, 1916, pp. 348-350.

5 "Studies on the Evolution of the Primates." Part II, "Phylogeny of Recent and Extinct

Anthropoids, with Special Reference to the Origin of Man." Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist., Vol.

XXXV, 1916, pp. 239-353.

6 "A Guide to the Fossil Remains of Man in the Department of Geology and Palæontology

in the British Museum (Natural History)," London, 1915, pp. 1-33, 4 pls.