"The Full Extent"
The Piltdown Forgery
J. S. Weiner 1955
Men were on earth while climates slowly swung,
Fanning wide zones to heat and cold, and long
Subsidence turned great continents to sea,
And seas dried up, dried up interminably,
Age after age; enormous seas were dried
Amid wastes of land. And the last monsters died.
-J. C. Squire: The Birds.
On 18 December 1912 Arthur Smith Woodward and Charles Dawson announced to a great and expectant scientific audience the epoch-making discovery of a remote ancestral form of man-The Dawn Man of Piltdown. The news had been made public by the Manchester Guardian about three weeks before, and the lecture room of the Geological Society at Burlington House was crowded as it has never been before or since. There was great excitement and enthusiasm which is still remembered by those who were there; for, in Piltdown man, here in England, was at last tangible, well-nigh incontrovertible proof of Man's ape-like ancestry; here was evidence, in a form long predicted, of a creature which could be regarded as a veritable confirmation of evolutionary theory.
Twenty years had elapsed since Dubois had found the fragmentary remains of the Java ape-man, but by now in 1912 its exact evolutionary significance had come to be  invested with some uncertainty and the recent attempt to find more material by the expensive and elaborate expedition under Mme. Selenka had proved entirely unsuccessful. Piltdown man provided a far more complete and certain story. The man from Java, whose geological age was unclear, was represented by a skull cap, two teeth, and a disputed femur. Anatomically there was a good deal of the Piltdown skull and, though the face was missing, there was most of one side of the lower jaw. The stratigraphical evidence was quite sufficient to attest the antiquity of the remains; and to support this antiquity there were the animals which had lived in the remote time of Piltdown man; there was even evidence of the tool-making abilities of Piltdown man. In every way Piltdown man provided a fuller picture of the stage of ancestry which man had reached perhaps some 500,000 years ago.
Dawson I began by explaining how it came about that he had lighted on the existence of the extremely ancient gravels of the Sussex Ouse:
I was walking along a farm-road close to Piltdown Common, Fletching (Sussex), when I noticed that the road had been mended with some peculiar brown flints not usual in the district. On inquiry I was astonished to learn that they were dug from a gravel-bed on the farm, and shortly afterwards I visited the place, where two labourers were at work digging the gravel for small repairs to the roads. As this excavation was situated about four miles north of the limit where the occurrence of flints overlying the Wealden strata is recorded, I was much interested, and made a close examination of the bed. I asked the workmen if they had found bones or other fossils there. As they did not appear to have noticed anything of the sort, I urged them to preserve anything that they might find. Upon one of my subsequent visits to the pit, one of the men handed to me a small portion of an unusually thick human parietal bone. I immediately made a search, but could find nothing more, nor had the men noticed anything else. The bed is full of tabular pieces of iron-stone closely resembling this piece of skull in colour and thickness; and, although I made many subsequent searches, I could not hear of any further find nor discover anything - in fact, the bed seemed to be quite unfossiliferous. It was not until some years later, in the autumn of 1911, on a visit to the spot, that I picked up, among the rain-washed spoil-heaps of the gravel-pit, another and larger piece. . . .
As geologist, Dawson described the formation of these gravels, none of which had been mapped or previously recorded, giving a detailed account of the different strata from which the fossil remains of man and fauna and the tools must have come. He dealt with the question of the chronological age of the gravels and whether all the bones were of the same age, concluding that Piltdown man and some of the mammals were of the Early Ice Age, while others were probably older. They represented the remains from an earlier time (the Late Pliocene) 2 which had been washed into the gravels. The gravel itself was composed of layers corresponding to these different ages.
As archaeologist, Dawson gave an account of the salient  features of the flint implements. Of these there were two sorts, the 'palaeoliths' which were patently of human manufacture, of an early technique reminiscent of the 'Pre-Chellean' style and technically in accordance with the geological date of the human remains. The other flints, much more abundant, were of doubtful manufacture: they belonged to the class of 'eoliths', flints so crude that archaeologists were acutely divided on the question of their human authorship.
Then Arthur Smith Woodward presented the anatomical description of the animal and human material. Nearly all the animals were represented by fragments of teeth, and these Woodward identified, giving his reasons in detail. Contemporaneous with Piltdown man he concluded were hippopotamus, deer, beaver, and horse. More ancient than the Piltdown man were the remains of elephant, mastodon, and rhinoceros. The Piltdown skull came in for a very detailed examination. Woodward dealt with each cranial piece in turn, and explained how they had been fitted together to give the reconstruction of the complete cranium which was there on view (Plate I). It had been built up from the nine pieces of cranium and the piece of mandible already unearthed. The, striking feature of the cranium was its unusual thickness.
The fragment of lower jaw with the first and second molar teeth still in place obtained, as it deserved, the most careful and systematic description. The shape and size, the markings and ridges for the muscle attachments, the curvature and construction of the specimen, all these,  feature by feature, came under scrutiny and led Woodward to his main conclusion: 'While the skull is essentially human . . . the mandible appears to be that of an ape, with nothing human except the molar teeth.' Woodward emphasized in particular those features which served to link the jaw and cranium together in a skull of a single individual. The cranium, for all its human resemblances, exhibited a few simian features-and in this he found support from other distinguished anatomists, while the jaw, ape-like though it was, displayed in the wear of the molars 'a marked regular flattening such as has never been observed among apes, though it is occasionally met with in low types of men'. This unique fossil represented by apish jaw and human brain-case, he was satisfied, merited its own place in the zoological scheme. He therefore proposed its allocation to a new genus and species of man, named 'in honour of its discoverer, Eoanthropus dawsoni'.
At this long-remembered meeting of the Geological Society there was acclaim for Dawson for his part in noticing the gravel pit, for recognizing its great antiquity, and for keeping a constant watch for fossils for many years. There were some who thought that the date which he, as the geologist and archaeologist of the team, had assigned erred on the side of modernity. They urged that a still older date as far back as the Pliocene was indicated, but Dawson gave good reasons for his conservative estimate. Of the extreme antiquity of Piltdown man there was no doubt in anyone's mind. The early Ice Age seemed an entirely reasonable date of emergence for this  very early ancestral form, a 'paradox of man and ape' as the creature from Piltdown undoubtedly appeared to be. That his brain had advanced more rapidly than his face and jaw was precisely in accord with current ideas. 3 It was all just as many in the audience had expected. Many there had heard and been convinced by the fervent lectures of Thomas Henry Huxley on the ape-like affinities of man, and Darwin himself in The Descent of Man had painted a picture of the earliest human ancestor, the males with 'great canine teeth, which served them as formidable weapons'. 'That we should discover such a race, as Piltdown, sooner or later, has been an article of faith in the anthropologist's creed ever since Darwin's time', wrote Keith . 4 'On the anatomical side', declared another authority, 5 'the Piltdown skull realized largely the anticipation of students of human evolution.' The palaeontologist Sollas certainly expressed the prevailing view when he wrote: 6 'in Eoanthropus dawsoni we seem to have realized a creature which had already attained to human intelligence but had not yet wholly lost its ancestral jaw and fighting teeth'. It was 'a combination which had indeed long been previously anticipated as an almost necessary stage in the course of human development'.
 And finally, Elliot Smith 7 declared the brain of Eoanthropus, as judged by the endocranial cast, to be the most primitive and most ape-like human brain yet discovered.
Yet there were a few, at that first meeting, who could not agree with Woodward and Dawson. David Waterston, Professor of Anatomy at King's College, one of the six privileged speakers in the general discussion, found it hard to conceive of a functional association between a jaw so similar to that of a chimpanzee and a cranium in all essentials human. 8 He found it difficult to believe that the two specimens came from the same individual. He and a few others took the view that two distinct fossil creatures had been found together in the gravel. Indeed, those who could not believe that the jaw bone belonged to the skull agreed that the jaw, like the 'Pliocene' group of mammalian fossils-mastodon, elephant and rhinoceros-had been washed into the Piltdown gravel from an earlier geological deposit, whereas the braincase belonged to the later group of Pleistocene fossils like beaver and red deer.
But Woodward's case was coherent and convincing. The creature did fulfil evolutionary expectations in his form, in his age, his tools, and in the character of the animals of the time. Woodward pointed out that the remains had been found very close together, how similar they were in colour and apparently in mineralization, how complementary they were to one another, and how
 they were functionally connected, as testified above all by the inescapable fact that in this jaw the teeth were essentially human. Their flat wear had never been seen in the molars of apes. It was the sort of wear to be expected from a jaw which was articulated on to a human cranium. That two different individuals were present, a fossil man, represented by a cranium without a jaw, and a fossil ape, represented by a jaw without a cranium, within a few feet of each other and so similar in colour and preservation, would be a coincidence, amazing beyond belief.
Arthur Keith, Conservator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, admitted the strength and logic of Smith Woodward's interpretation. In subsequent years he submitted the Piltdown remains to the most searching examination, adjudicating between the two camps which had formed at the very first meeting. His own criticisms at the time concerned mainly the reconstruction of the cranium and to a lesser extent of the jaw, and these reconstructions were to occupy him in protracted controversy for many years.
Keith drew attention to a crucial point: there was no eye-tooth in the jaw, for most of the chin region had been broken away. What sort of canine would such a creature possess? On this point he did not agree with Smith Woodward's opinion. But Smith Woodward was quite definite. If his interpretation was correct, the tooth when found would certainly be somewhat like that of the chimpanzee, but not projecting sensibly above the level of the other teeth, and its mode of wear would also be  utterly different from that of an ape. Like the wear on the molars, the canine tooth would be worn down in a way expected from a freely moving jaw such as the Piltdown man must clearly have possessed in view of its association with so human a cranium. The sort of canine he expected could be discerned in the plaster cast which was before the meeting.
It was very clear to those present how much the missing canine would help to decide the issue of the incipient humanity of the jaw.
Throughout that next long season of digging and sieving of 1913, the oft-discussed canine remained the principal objective. Little indeed came to light that season, but on Saturday 30 August, at the end of a day which again had so far proved fruitless, the young priest, Teilhard de Chardin, found the canine, close to the spot whence the lower jaw itself had been disinterred' 9 There was jubilation. The Kenwards, tenants of Barkham Manor (Dawson was the Steward) who had followed the fortunes of the search with unfailing enthusiasm, were appraised of the triumph. It was indeed a triumph. The eye-tooth was just what they had hoped for and closely fulfilled Smith Woodward's prediction of its shape, size, and above all of the nature of its wear. As Dawson wrote in 1915, 10 'the tooth is almost identical in form with that shown in the restored cast'. Dr. Underwood in 1913 also  pointed out this remarkable resemblance, in an article in which, for the first time, X-rays of all the teeth were provided. 'The tooth', wrote Dr. Underwood, 11 'is absolutely as modelled at the British Museum.'
The new facts further strengthened Woodward's position. Piltdown man could now be said with confidence to possess a dentition in a number of different respects human rather than ape-like, and in the X-ray appearance Keith 12 discovered that the roots of the molar tooth were inserted in the bone in the human and not the ape manner.
The next year's excavation at Barkham Manor yielded what Keith called 'the most amazing of all the Piltdown revelations'. Digging a few feet from the place where the Piltdown skull had first been found, the workman with Woodward and Dawson exposed a fossil slab of elephant bone which had been artificially shaped to form a clublike implement. It was found in two pieces 'about a foot below the surface, in dark vegetable soil beneath the hedge which bounds the gravel pit'. The clay encrusting the object enabled Woodward to settle its contemporaneity with Piltdown man, to whose kit of stone tools there was added this, the earliest known bone implement.
The finding of the canine convinced many of the sceptics of the rightness of Woodward's interpretation, but not Waterston, whose opinion remained unchanged till his death in 1921. The two camps persisted. Like  Waterston, Gerrit Miller, 13 Curator of Mammals at the United States National Museum, preferred to believe that two fossil creatures were really represented in the Piltdown remains and introduced the new name Pan vetus for what seemed to him a new fossil form of chimpanzee. His arguments were met by the zoologists of the British Museum, 14 but Miller continued in his disbelief. 15 At this period Woodward's case was very strong and it had the benefit of Keith's powerful advocacy, presented in masterly fashion in the Antiquity of Man.
In 1915 the last, and in its way the most conclusive, of the Piltdown discoveries was announced, for Dawson found the remains of yet another individual two miles away. 16 To those who had been prepared to accept the theory (however far-fetched it might appear) that at Barkham Manor somehow two different creatures had become commingled, this new discovery came as a devastating refutation, for it was hard to conceive of so astonishing a coincidence happening yet again. At the second site at Sheffield Park there were, as before, parts of the brain-case and a molar tooth quite like those previously found. From that site came also another tooth of rhinoceros of, at least, lower Pleistocene age and perhaps older.
 The news of the second Piltdown man spread rather slowly and was not fully appreciated until the First World War was over. The foremost French anthropologist, Marcellin Boule, changed his views on learning of this new development. 17 Among the Americans, who for the most part had supported the sceptical attitude of Waterston and Miller, there was a process of general conversion to Woodward's belief. A leader of American anthropological opinion, Fairfield Osborn, had stood out against Woodward with great resolution; his change of mind assumed the nature of a religious conversion. He tells in Man Rises to Parnassus 18 how he visited the British Museum after World War I in a mood of the greatest thankfulness that the bombs of the Zeppelins had spared the treasure-house of the Natural History Museum and in particular the priceless Piltdown remains. He tells of the hours he spent that Sunday morning with Woodward going over and over the material and all the arguments, and how at last, in the words of the Opening Prayer of his Yale college song, he felt he had to admit: 'Paradoxical as it may appear 0 Lord, it is nevertheless true.' Direct handling of the material convinced him that he had been too dogmatic in his two-creatures belief. Woodward had, after all, been right, and, like Keith, Osborn was happy to find himself on common ground and reconciled with Arthur Smith Woodward.
There had been a period of coolness, and indeed,  hostility, between Keith and Woodward. Keith admitted the fault lay partly in himself and arose from a feeling of resentment that the unique fossils had not come to him, 19 an established human anatomist, a recognized authority on the skeleton of man and apes, and the Conservator of John Hunter's great anatomical museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. Woodward had treated him with coldness, had kept the new discovery secret from him until a bare fortnight before its public announcement, and then had allowed him only a short twenty-minute visit to South Kensington to view the finds from the Piltdown gravel. Keith's differences with Smith Woodward and Elliot Smith were aroused by the (faulty) reconstruction of the brain-case which Woodward exhibited at the Geological Society meeting. This rather painful argument about the cranium probably did something to distract Keith's attention from the problem of the jaw, for he spent much time and ingenuity and made many searching tests in an endeavour to arrive at a really accurate reconstruction of the cranium, so as to get at its real shape and size. To the whole problem of Piltdown man Keith devoted much painstaking and indeed brilliant anatomical analysis, in the course of which he studied with the greatest thoroughness, to the permanent benefit of other workers, all the relics of ancient man available to him. Though intellectually convinced by Woodward's arguments and the evidence, Keith from the first felt some uneasiness. Many times he assessed the strength and weakness of the case and concluded in favour of E. dawsoni. But puzzled he remained and his ambivalent attitude to Piltdown man coloured all his pronouncements. In his work he used the plaster casts made by Mr. Barlow of the British Museum, and distributed in April and May of 1913 to the scientific men principally interested-to Elliot Smith, who was working on the brain of Piltdown man as revealed by the cast of the inside of the skull, to Duckworth at Cambridge, and through Teilhard de Chardin to Boule in Paris. Dawson received one and was able to show it to the many inquirers who now flocked to Piltdown and Uckfield, as Mr. Eade, the present chief clerk at the firm of Dawson and Hart, recollects. There it was seen at this time by Captain Guy St. Barbe, a client of the firm, and by another informant.
By 1915 the British anatomists and palaeontologists were generally of one mind and had accepted Woodward's views-though Waterston still stood out. A Royal Academy portrait 20 (P1. 3) in oils of 1915 shows us the group of men concerned with the evolutionary study of Piltdown man, who now passed into the general histories and encyclopaedias as easily the best-known of the primal ancestors of the human species. In the centre, holding the reconstructed skull, is Keith, as if to symbolize the newly won harmony of view, with Woodward on one side and Elliot Smith on the other. Woodward's assistants, the zoologist Pycraft (he had been concerned in some interesting study of the jaw and refutation of  Gerrit Miller) and Barlow, the skilful maker of the casts, are also of the group. The others depicted are Charles Dawson, Ray Lankester, who had been somewhat sceptical over the implements, and Dr. Underwood, who had advised on dental matters.
The season of excavation of 1916 proved completely unsuccessful. There were many helpers, but nothing was found, either human or animal. Dawson had fallen ill towards the end of 1915, and took no part, though Woodward kept in touch with him. His anaemia however led to septicaemia and his condition became steadily worse. He died on 10 September 1916.
In 1917, after correspondence with Mrs. Dawson, Smith Woodward obtained from Dawson's home, before the auctioneers' sale, the fragments known as the Barcombe Mills skull, and these he deposited in the British Museum.
During the next few years Smith Woodward opened up a number of pits in the vicinity of the original excava-tion. He also watched closely the digging of some founda-tions near the farmhouse at Barkham Manor. Except for a flint which he took to be a 'pot-boiler' at the latter site and miscellaneous bone fragments of recent animals, nothing came to light. After his retirement Woodward went to live at Hayward's Heath, near Piltdown, in order to search the original site and the fields of Site II at Sheffield Park, but with no success whatever. 21 He occasionally employed one of the local labourers to do a  little digging in these excursions. One such expedition, as late as 1931, yielded only a sheep's tooth.
The site of the first excavations was cleared under the auspices of the Nature Conservancy 22
in 1950 and a large new section of the gravel terrace opened up. Everything was carefully sieved and examined, 23 but the many tons of soil and gravel yielded nothing. This re-excavation made possible the exhibition of a demonstration section of the famous strata protected by a glass window. The cleared area was scheduled as a national monument.
1 Dawson, C., and Woodward, A. S., 1913, 'on the Discovery of a Palaeolithic Human Skull and Mandible in a Flint-bearing Gravel overlying the Wealden (Hastings Beds) at Piltdown (Fletching), Sussex', Quart. J. Geol. Soc., 69, pp. 117-44.
2 Now termed 'Villafranchian' from the name of the formation which geologists recommend should be used to define the earliest stage of the Lower Pleistocene, that is, the beginning of the Period of Ice Ages which began about 600,000 to 1 million years ago (see Leakey, L. S. B., 1953, Adam's Ancestors, pp. 16-9, London, Methuen).
3 Elliot Smith, G., 1912, Address to Section H, British Association, Dundee.
4 Keith, A., 1925, The Antiquity of Man, 2nd ed., P. 667, London, Williams and Norgate.
5 Duckworth, W. L. R, in Discussion to Dawson and Woodward, 1913) Op. cit., p. 149.
6 Sollas, W. J., 1924, Ancient Hunters, 3rd ed., London, Macmillan.
7 Elliot Smith, G., Appendix to Dawson and Woodward, 1913, op. cit., p. 147.
8 Waterson, D., in Discussion to Dawson and Woodward, 1913, op. cit. p.. 150.
9 Woodward, A. S., 1915, Guide to the Fossil Remains of Man, British Museum (Natural History), p. 20.
10 Dawson, C, 19 15, 'The Piltdown Skull', The Hastings and East Sussex Naturalist, 2, p. 182.
11 Underwood, A. S., 19 13, 'The Piltdown Skull', Brit. J. Dent. Sci., 56, pp. 650-2.
12 Keith, A., op. cit., p. 684.
13 Miller, G. S., 1918, 'The jaw of Piltdown Man', Sniihs. Misc. Coll., 65, pp. 1-31.
14 Woodward, A. S., 1917, 'Fourth note on the Piltdown gravel with evidence of a second skull of Eoanthropus dawsoni', Quart. J. Geol. Soc., 73, p. 9.
15 Miller, G. S., 1918, 'The Piltdown jaw, Amer. J.. Phys. Anthrop., 1, pp. 25-52.
16 Woodward, A. S., op. cit., pp. 1-7.
17 Boule, M., 1923, Les Hommes Fossiles. 2nd ed., pp. 158-76, Paris, Masson et Cie.
18 Osbom, H. F., 1927, Man Rises to Parwassus, pp. 45-74, London, Oxford Univ. Press.
19 Keith, A., 1950, An Autobiography, pp. 324-5, London, Watts.
20 Painted by John Cooke, R.A., and presented to the Geological Society in 1924, by Dr. C. T. Trechmann, F.G.S.
21 Woodward, A. S, 1948, The Earliest Englishman, pp. 12-13, London, Watts.