THE RISE OF PILTDOWN MAN
THE EARLIEST MAN?
REMARKABLE DISCOVERY IN SUSSEX
A SKULL MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD
On November 21, 1912, the Manchester Guardian thus scooped its competitors in an exclusive story that had been sneaked out through the veil of secrecy lowered by the Piltdown scientists. On December 19, the Times of London gave its imprimatur:
From across the ocean, the New York Times trumpeted in one daily headline after another:
Initially, the find had been of interest only to a neighborhood. It rippled to touch a wide populace throughout Europe and the United States and to overwhelm some people in the professional communities of museums, universities, and scientific societies. Eoanthropus appeared in professional journals and commanded headlines in great newspapers [ 22] because people have always been interested in their descent from dust or ape and because he satisfied nicely some cultural biases and idiosyncratic theoretical expectations.
Articles came out in the Daily Telegraph, the Literary Digest, the American Review of Reviews, and in many other periodicals. W. P. Pycraft wrote an article for the Illustrated London News (December 28, 1912), its frontispiece an assertively prognathous Man of Sussex. Impressed by the "incontrovertible" evidence, Pycraft fantasized on what the creature must have looked like. 'We was a man of low stature, very muscular, and had not yet attained that graceful poise of the body which is so characteristic of the human race to-day." Piltdown Man knew how to make a fire and a handax. He gamboled about the Sussex countryside as naked as a monkey, flashing an admirable pair of canines. His cranium could hold two pints of Carlsberg beer.
Provincial as well as national and foreign newspapers told the tale of Piltdown Man. On February 1, 1913, the Hastings and St. Leonards Observer ran a short article, "Pre-Historic Man. The Newly-Discovered Link in His Evolution." The author, Lewis Abbott, takes credit for targeting Sussex as the territory for exploration, for inspiring Dawson to look into wealden flint-gravels and spreads, and for helping Dawson understand what had been found. Abbott relates the "cokernut" story, alludes to a row of human jaws before him, and defines the teeth as essentially chimpanzoid. The discovery at Piltdown, he boasts, proved the accuracy of his prediction that the Pliocene ancestor would be found in the weald.
Two weeks later, the same periodical transcribed the Piltdown case into doggerel like that of an Old English bestiary, the description followed by the moral:
Now for the moral of my tale:
We little humans in this vale
Of joys and fears our short lives pass,
And then we're blotted out alas!
Perchance in a thousand years,
Our skulls may be unearthed-
Our fears, our hopes, our aspirations may
Be analyzed, some future day,
By some keen-brained geologist,
Who'll hold our jawbone in his fist ...
Dawson, we owe you a debt
And hope that you will dig up yet,
In research geological,
Our tree genealogical. ("H. R. H.")
 In the winter months of 1913, Dawson displayed a cast of the Piltdown skull in his Uckfield law office and gave interviews to reporters. He tried to fashion his own model of the skull, using water-colors for different shades. As winter greened into spring, plaster casts of fragments and of the reconstructed skull with its detachable jaw were distributed to anatomists, geologists, and, other naturalists, many of whom got involved in arguments about the most credible reconstruction. Teilhard advised that the various reconstructions added nothing definite to the case. He urged the fossil-hunters to look for more pieces, and they did. They found a lulu.
One of the big questions of the find was the age of Eoanthropus. Most opted for Pleistocene, some for Pliocene, a few joy-killers for merely modern. The second big question was whether Eoanthropus was human only in its skull, the jaw having accidentally been inhumed next to cranial fragments, in which case Eoanthropus was an oddity hardly worthy of notice even by the provincial papers; or whether it was a single individual composed of a human skull and ape or apelike jaw, in which case it was the most important hominid discovery ever made. Arthur Smith Woodward dismissed the criticism that the skull came from a human head and the jaw from an ape's mouth. The combination of human and ape features, he said in his address to the Geological Society, had been "long previously anticipated as an almost necessary stage in the course of human evolution." Tradition had it that as ancestral brains approached the modern, ancestral jaws retained, in Darwin's phrase, "fighting teeth." The canines withered as the brain blossomed and took over the functions (eating, threatening, courting) previously assigned to the teeth. The brain led to fire and tools, weapons, and in the male sex, masculine wiles. A canine tooth had been fabricated for the reconstructed skull. it would have been satisfying to find the canine tooth of the pit's jaw.
Scientists and the laity came to visit the pit. Arthur Conan Doyle, interested in the mysteries of science as well as the science of mysticism, saw in the Piltdown story the fibers of strangeness he was weaving into his novel The Lost World. He entertained Dawson at his home in Crowborough, and offered to drive Dawson anywhere in his motorcar.
No explorations were conducted during the winter months of 1912-1913 while the reconstructed cast with its reconstructed canine made the rounds. In February, Abbott's article on the finds appeared in the Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, the article in which, among other things,  he predicts that "in all probability the missing teeth were essentially chimpanzoid." In March, Abbott surprised Dawson by telling him that the Geological Association was planning an excursion to the pit. It took place on July 12, 1913. Abbott, preening himself on having instigated Dawson to look for a likely site, or on having pushed him into that very pit, approved of the progress of civilized opinion. He looked forward to the newspapers, national as well as local, giving the Geological Association excursion the publicity due such an event. He encouraged the extensive dissemination of photos.
The fecund pit had more treasures to deliver during the digs of the 1913 season: another fragment of the elephant tooth that fit with previous fragments; and Dawson found nasal bones and another small bone thought to be a turbinal (a support of nasal mucus membranes). The bones were delicate, the turbinal so fragile that it crumbled upon being handled. Later, Mrs. Smith Woodward glued the pieces together. These were the only parts of Eoanthropus's face ever recovered.
The summer of 1913 produced two finds of interest to reinforce the authenticity of Piltdown Man. Dawson, alert to the possibility of discovering Eoanthropine remains elsewhere, went exploring. With his usual wizardry, he could spot bits and bones invisible to most mortals, such as the arrowhead that escaped the notice even of Conan Doyle at his home-one evening at some unnamed "new place, a long way from Piltdown," he picked up a frontal bone fragment, described as being not thick and with a brow ridge curving from slight at the edge to prominent over the nose. The base of the nose being rotten, he asked Woodward (June 3, 1913) how to go about gelatinizing it to firm it up. He also says that he intended to look out for Woodward and bring the piece of skull to him, "but don't expect anything very sensational." Nothing more is heard of this new find from a new place, but Dawson would continue looking elsewhere for descendants of Eoanthropus until he found or manufactured one.
The next find was sensational. Teilhard had come from Canterbury to visit Dawson at Castle Lodge, in Lewes. They toured the countryside during the weekend of August 8-10, 1913, at which time Dawson may have escorted Teilhard to Site 11, and they may have found fossils there. On that supposition rest some of the accusations against one or the other or both of them. Toward the end of the month, Teilhard stopped off again to visit Dawson and the pit. After breakfast, Teilhard went off with his host and Smith Woodward to dig. Recounting what happened, he wrote to his parents that they had been joined by "a pet goose, who would not leave us while we dug, alternately cute or bad-tempered towards us, and  always ferocious to passers-by" (September 10, 1913).
In The Earliest Englishman, Woodward said that Teilhard seemed to be weary as he sifted in his clerical garb. Woodward told him to calm down for a while. Picking at a spoil heap of rain-washed gravel, Teilhard found an inch-long fossil, colored a blackish brown on its sides and, like the molars, a reddish-brown on its occlusal surface. "It was a moment of grand excitement," he wrote home. He had picked up a canine that was just like the one the British Museum technicians had designed in their reconstruction of the skull. This would have the dubious honor of becoming the most talked-about tooth in history.
A few days later, Teilhard stayed with Woodward in London, and at a party met "un certain Gregory" (William King Gregory, of the American Museum of Natural History) and W. P. Pycraft. The gentlemen may have passed around the canine with the brandy. The pattern of its wear, its relatively short root, the tip of which had been broken away, and its size were all humanlike; but it was simian in its upper surface, inclination, and projection. Woodward assigned it without hesitation to the jaw, which he had assigned earlier, with similar bravado, to the cranium. Everyone congratulated Teilhard on his sharp eyes.
In a letter to Woodward (September 2, 1913), Dawson confided his annoyance that someone had leaked the news of the canine find to the Express. He preferred favorable reviews by Pycraft and Lankester and a good report in the Times. At the September 1913 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and at the April 1914 meeting of the Geological Society, Woodward exulted on the fighting tooth so wonderfully appropriate to the jaw and cranium of Eoanthropus dawsoni.
In its notice, Nature (September 25, 1913) welcomed the canine tooth as "definite proof' justifying Woodward's having given Piltdown Man its own genus. The April 1914 issue of the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society carried Dawson and Woodward's collaborative "Supplementary Note on the Discovery of a Palaeolithic Human Skull and Mandible." Dawson was responsible, as he had been in the previous year's address, for the geological report. He described the layers of the pit, discussed the flints found in the fourth layer, the incisor of a beaver, and the latest hominid remains, nasal and turbinated bones. He also mentioned a pelecypod embedded in a chalk flint, Inoceramus inconstans. Woodward's anatomical analysis followed. The new bones were like those of Melanesian and African noses. The canine belonged to the mandible, in the socket of that right lower jawbone (had there been a socket). "It probably, therefore, came into place before the second and third molars
 Eoanthropus, Homo, Simia. (1) View of the nasal bone. (2) View of canine tooth. (3) Radiogram of canine tooth showing grains in pulp cavity. (4) Jaw bone with molars and canine tooth installed. (5) Impression of cavity for molar roots. (6) Homo sapiens milk-canine. (7) Homo sapiens milk-canine and milk-incisors. (From QJGS 70 (April 1914), Plate 15.)
 as in Man-not after one or both of these teeth, as in the Apes."
The canine did present a few disconcerting problems, which could be explained away for a while. X-ray analysis showed that the pulp cavity contained 19 sand grains. Nothing troubling about that, not in 1913, for the canine had presumably undergone fossilization, sand grains seeping in over the millennia as the earth rolled on from Elephas to Edward VII. X-ray analysis also showed that the upper canine had tormented this lower tooth into being simply worn down, as though it were an old tooth. But the pulp cavity was large, a sign of its having been a young tooth.
The X-ray analysis also showed something else, a very rare circumstance: as the Piltdown coterie's dental consultant Dr. Underwood put it, the wear had gone so deep as to break through the tooth into the pulp cavity itself. No one had ever seen anything like that. The tooth therefore could have been temporary or permanent, from the mouth of a child or a senior citizen or a middle-aged person, erupting before or after the first molar, and dated as Pliocene or Pleistocene.
Dawson, in a letter written years after its discovery rationalized the disharmony between a young pulp cavity and an old tooth:
The pulp cavity of the "Eo" canine is certainly large. It does not seem to have occurred to anyone that as one end is open, the walls of the cavity may have been the subject of post- mortem decay, and that bacteria may have cleared away the comparatively soft walls during a prolonged soakage in water and sand.
I think I have noticed this in fossil teeth and broken bones. You have plenty of material to describe this. (February 6, 1916)
The gravel pit, which had become bountiful after its initial stinginess, had few more fossils to yield, a piece of rhinoceros tooth found by Davidson Black, an assistant to Grafton Elliot Smith, who would in the 1920s achieve fame for his excavation of Peking Man. Then Dawson found a fossil as important as the canine and even more delightful. In the summer of 1914, digging in rich soil under a hedge bordering the pit, he seized upon a piece of a fossilized elephant's thigh bone. Arthur Keith identified the exact spot as being near the refuse heap where cranial fragments had been found and also near the pocket that had contained the jawbone. Covered with the yellow clay representative of the deepest layer of the pit, this fossil slab, taken out in two parts, looked like a tool of some kind, but a more sophisticated tool than any made by low-brow Neanderthalers. was the only Lower Paleolithic bone implement ever found anywhere, a remarkable artifact from the hairy hands and two-pint head of Eoanthropus.
Fig. 1.- Section of gravel-bed at Piltdown (Sussex).
Approximate scale = 1/24th of the natural size.
1 Surface-soil, with occasional iron-stained subangular flints, flint-implements of all ages, and pottery. Thickness - 1 foot.
2 Pale-yellow sandy loam, with small lenticular patches of dark, ironstone-gravel and iron-stained subangular flints. One Palaeolithic worked flint was found in the middle of this bed. Thickness = 2 feet 6 inches.
3 Dark-brown ferruginous gravel, with subangular flints and tabular ironstone. Pliocene rolled fossils, and Eoanthropus remains, Castor, etc., 'Eoliths' and one worked flint (Pl. XIV, figs. 1 & 2. Floor covered with depressions. 18 inches.
4 Pale-yellow, finely-divided clay and sand, forming a mud reconstructed from the underlying strata. Certain subangular flints occur, bigger than those in the overlying bed. Thickness = 8 inches.
5 Undisturbed strata of the Tunbridge Wells Sand (Hastings Beds, Wealden).
Section of Piltdown gravel bed, approximate scale = 1/14th of natural size. (From QJGS 70
(April 1914), Figure l.)
Accepting an invitation from Woodward to dine at the Geological Club on December 2, 1914, the day of another presentation to the Geological Society, Dawson wondered whether Woodward had included in his paper reference to the microscopic structure of the bone implement and whether Woodward could undertake a comparison of this fossil with the femur of Pliocene or Pleistocene Elephas. He recommended an illustration "to point out the most probable region of the femur from which the fragment was derived, making a diagram of a femur with the outline of the implement dotted upon the surface for demonstration"  (November 21, 1914). This was done.
Elephant bone with slab. Hinder view of femur; 1/8 natural size. (From QJGS 71 March 1915.)
A description of the latest bonanza from the pit edified the Geological Society meeting of December 2, 1914: rolled fragments of highly mineralized rhinoceros and mastodon teeth and the femur implement covered with firmly adherent yellow clay. This bone was "much mineralized with iron oxide, at least on the surface, and it agrees in appearance with some small fragments of bone which we found actually in place in the clay below the gravel." It was probably, or so Woodward said, dug up by workmen from the bottom layer of the pit and thrown under a hedge eventually to be found by the diggers (Dawson/ Woodward, 1914).
One panelist said that the instrument had been used as a club. Another said that thongs had been attached to it. Mr. Reginald Smith noted that it "would rank as by far the oldest undoubted work of man in bone" and considered the possibility that it had been found and whittled in recent times. It was, he said, an "interesting problem" and would provoke "an ingenious solution." The French archaeologist Abbé Henri Breuil would later comment that a giant beaver had gnawed it into its present shape. To some observers, it resembled a cricket bat.
Discoverers and defenders of Piltdown Man posed for a Royal Academy portrait in 1915. The third member of the trio of diggers, Teilhard de Chardin, couldn't be there because he had been inducted into the French Army and was occupied with tasks more urgent than sifting gravel heaps. However, those who were able to make the session were joined by Woodward's reconstructed skull and by a basketful of relatives of that skull. The pit would give birth to no more fossils.
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Three reasons are available to explain the success of the Piltdown hoax-the
state of physical anthropology before World War I (under which one 
might place the fact that many authorities, in England as well as elsewhere,
had to rely upon analysis of casts rather than of the actual fossils); the
anatomical, chemical, and paleontological knowledge and skill of the hoaxer;
and the circumstance that Piltdown Man conformed to general cultural expectations
and satisfied specific theories. The first two reasons are less critical
than the third-the forgeries (for several clustered under the rubric "hoax")
fit in well with cultural biases and theoretical assumptions.