Piltdown Man Forgery
Jaw and Tooth of Modern Ape
From our Museum Correspondent
London Times November 21, 1953
The startling discovery that one of the most famous of anthropological specimens, the Piltdown skull, is in important parts-and therefore in general effect-a forgery has been made as a result of investigations just completed in the Department of Geology at the British Museum (Natural History) and in the Department of Anatomy of the University of Oxford.
The full details of these investigations are being published by Dr. J. S. Weiner, Dr. K. P. Oakley, and Professor W. E. Le Gros Clark in the new number of the geological series of the museum's Bulletin, to be issued to-day.
Not Genuine Fossils
Briefly, the conclusion of these scientists is that, though the fragments of the cranium are genuine remains of primitive man, the large piece of mandible and the separate canine tooth "are actually those of a modern ape (chimpanzee or orang) deliberately faked to simulate fossil specimens.
That the jaw and tooth were those of an ape has been maintained before now by several distinguished anthropologists, but they have always assumed them to be genuine fossils, and have merely thought that, though found in association with the cranium fragments, they had wrongly been presumed to belong to the same creature. Never until now has it been suspected that they represent a deliberate attempt to mislead.
The various pieces of the Piltdown skull were submitted in 1949 to the test for fluorine content to ascertain their age. It was then clear that neither the cranium nor the mandible was of the Lower Pleistocene period, as they had been widely held to be. The test was not, however, at that time developed to the point of accuracy necessary to distinguish, with the limited material available in this case, Upper Pleistocene from later bones, and there was therefore nothing to show that all the remains were not of that period.
Now the fluorine test is more advanced, and the Piltdown remains have been retested, with the result that it is clear that whereas the cranium is Upper Pleistocene (say, about 50,000 years old) the mandible and canine tooth are modern. Another test, that of nitrogen content (which recent American experiments have shown to decrease with time at a more or less uniform rate), has produced the same result.
It therefore became evident that the jaw-bone and canine tooth, since they were not those of any recent type of man, must be those of an immature ape (whether chimpanzee or orang is not determinable in immaturity) and could not therefore represent any animal native in contemporary England. The jaw and tooth must, in other words, have been brought to Piltdown through some recent agency.
That is not all: it has also been established that the jawbone had been stained with bichromate of potash and iron. This, the writers of the article say, "seems to be explicable only as a necessary part of the deliberate matching of the jaw of a modern ape with the mineralized cranial fragments."
They also find that the molar teeth of the mandible, and also the isolated canine tooth, have been artificially pared down.
The writers add: "From the evidence which we have obtained, it is clear that the distinguished palaeontologists and archaologists who took part in the excavations at Piltdown were victims of a most elaborate and carefully prepared hoax. Let it be said, however, in exoneration of those who have assumed the Piltdown fragments to belong to a single individual, or who, having examined the original specimens, either regarded the mandible and canine as those of a fossil ape or else assumed (tacitly or explicitly) that the problem was not capable of solution on the available evidence, that the faking of the mandible and canine is so extraordinarily skilful, and the perpetuation of the hoax appears to have been so entirely unscrupulous and inexplicable, as to find no parallel in the history of palaeontological discovery."
The further point is made that the exposure of the fraud "clarifies very considerably the problem of human evolution." For Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus ), as he has hitherto appeared to be, was a curiously aberrant form, entirely out of conformity both in character and time with the evidence of human evolution from other parts of the world.