Credits and permissions:

Cover illustration from photo by author of Piltdown Man pub sign; permission to reproduce by Linda and Ron Hunt, owners, The Piltdown Man, East Sussex; permission by Punch to reproduce its cartoon; permission to reproduce cartoon Big Daddy by Chick Publications.

Geological Society of London: Photos by and permission to reproduce: Piltdown gravel bed, Elephant femur with slab, Royal Academy Portrait, Sherborne horse's head, Portrait of Lewis Abbott, and Eoanthropus, Homo, Simia.

Wellcome Institute Museum: photo by and permission to reproduce: Kitchen middens.

British Museum (Natural History): photo by and permission to reproduce: Workers at pit with goose. My appreciation to the Trustees, British Museum (Natural History) for permission to reproduce pictures from its monographs "Solution to the Piltdown Problem" and "Further Contributions to the Solution of the Piltdown Problem": Misaligned molars and canine, Abrasion of cusps, Paleolithic flint implements, and Fossilized cricket bat. The photos reproduced here were taken by Professor Frank Carpenter. I also thank the Trustees for making Piltdown archival material available.

Mark Mancevice illustrated Map of the weald, Nomenclature, Critical mistake, Ecco Homo?, New finds and Eoanthropus, Beringer's lying stones, and Homo diluvii testis.

Charles Kidd: photo of Piltdown Man with author.


THE PILTDOWN INQUEST. Copyright @ 1986 by Charles Blinderman. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Inquiries should be addressed to Prometheus Books, 700 East Amherst Street, Buffalo, New York 14215.


90 89 88 87 86 4 3 2 1


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Blinderman, Charles, 1930-

The Piltdown inquest.

Bibliography: p.

1. Piltdown forgery-History. 1. Title.

GN282.5.1155 1986 573.3 86-20485

ISBN 0-87975-359-5



 Acknowledgments    ix
 Chapter  1 The Piltdown Pit  3
   2 The Rise of Piltdown Man  21
   3 The Skeptics  39
   4 Between the Wars  49
   5 Expose  65
 PART II  The Criminal  
 Chapter  6 Profile of a Hoaxer  85
   7 Prime Suspect: Charles Dawson  103
   8 A Curator, An Analyst, and a Chemist  117
   9 The French Connection: Teilhard de Chardin  123
   10 The British Museum: M. A. C. Hinton et al.  145
   11 The Adventure of Queer Street: Arthur Conan Doyle  155
   12 Hunter of Ancients: W. J. Sollas  183
   13 A Counterfeiter: W. J. Lewis Abbott  191
   14 Pilton Man: Grafton Eliot Smith  219
 PART III  The Verdict  
 Chapter  15 Piltdown Man on Trial  235
 Bibliography    243
 Index    259




My thanks to colleagues and other friends who have helped me conduct this inquest: to Clark University: Professors Ray Barbera, Fred Greenaway, Rudi Nunnemacher, and Walter Schatzberg; to Jean Perkins and Marla Wallace of the University's Goddard Library; to Inspector Richard Lacaire, Chief of Police Thomas Leahy, and FBI Agent James Ring; and to Helen Taylor, David Norman, and Ann Mitchell. I should like to thank an institution, the Mellon Foundation, for the financial support that made this project possible. Historians of the Piltdown case were generous in replying to inquiries: Peter Costello, Glyn Daniel, George Erikson, Stephen Jay Gould, John Lynch, Winifred McCulloch, A. B. Milligan, Kenneth Oakley, George Gaylord Simpson, Frederick Thieme, Sherwood Washburn, J. S. Weiner, and, especially, lan Langham. None of these people is to be held responsible for errors in the text. Tony and Margaret Taylor, however, are to be held responsible for providing a home and friendship in Kent.

Clark University

July 1986







Thirteen centuries ago, the Saxons used the word "weald" to describe the expanse of woodland they roamed. Nowadays, the weald still holds forests, but it is also an open countryside of meadows and farms, villages and cities spread over 3,704 square miles of three counties, Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. Sussex, larger than the state of Rhode Island, was originally called Suth Seaxna lond, the land of the South Saxons. After the Saxons had settled down, a fellow named Pileca took possession of a hill, or dun, and Pilecas dun developed into PyIkedoune, whence Peltdowne in the seventeenth century. Thus from the Saxons we have the names of the places indicated in this inquest: the weald, Sussex, and Piltdown, a village near Fletching, in 1908 enjoying a small reputation in guide books as the home of a golf club and of a Church of Christ meeting house.

Before the Saxons, the land had hosted Romans, and before them, Celts, and 250,000 years before them, during the warm second interglacial period, Swanscombe Man. The Swanscombe artisan who sat by his cave knapping flint could have seen deer and beaver and other animals familiar to us, and also some animals now seen only in zoos in England-rhinoceros and elephant. A hundred million years before the rhinoceros and elephant, giant iguanadons and other dinosaurs enlivened the land.

The River Ouse still meanders over the face of this terrain, wrinkling deeper and deeper, leaving behind terraces and cutting to a bed now 80 feet below the southern wealden plateau on its way to New Haven and the English Channel. About a mile north of the river's present location, in the pleasant village of Piltdown, there lay a pit about 20 by 100 feet long and four feet deep.

The compound is still there, a cottage, a shed, some other buildings, and a dignified manor by a turnabout. The pit no longer exists, having been long ago exhausted of its gravel and filled in, though its location is [4] noted by a memorial that looks like a tombstone. A border of shrubbery enhances the ambiance of the grave. Before 1912, the shallow pit had been as obscure as the cows that grazed nearby, nothing having ever been recorded as coming out of it except gravel left by the River Ouse of commercial use for road-building. It would become the scene of the greatest hoax in the history of science.

The hoax called Piltdown Man, bits of bone that emerged from the pit, took seven years to knit and forty to unravel. Between his debut in 1912 and his demise in 1953, Piltdown Man was considered an authentic human ancestor. He stood proud in the American Museum of Natural History's Hall of Man. Hundreds of articles and books were written about him; he was cited in thousands of scholarly and popular works; he made cameo appearances in novels and poems. Then, in 1953, he was exploded. He has since reappeared in half a dozen histories, in two British Broadcasting Corporation television documentaries, in dozens of newspaper reports. Once, for a few minutes, he agitated Jack Palance into husky wonderment on "Ripley's Believe It or Not." He continues to provide sustenance for fundamentalist enemies of evolutionary science.

Stories were made up to justify how bits of a human skull and an ape jaw found in the pit could fit together and how the bastardized ape-man could take a place alongside normal ancient people. This inquest records the stories, rationalizations, alibis, self-deceptions, hot rivalries, conspiracies, estrangements, temper, bombast, farce, melodrama, and intelligent, careful, and decent scientific discovery and interpretation. It entertains us with anecdotes about a pet goose employed as a decoy, a cabinet of secret memoranda, an elephant femur slab wrapped in swaddling clothes, a red-haired King of the Apes, Jesuitical jokes, and the tape-recorded conversation of one dead man accusing another of grievous hanky-panky.




It started harmlessly enough, though some pensive reflection should attend anyone's coming upon a piece of a smashed human skull. It started in 1908, just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Origin of Species.

Charles Dawson, a lawyer by profession, was in 1908 steward of several manors, among them that at the Barkham farm in Piltdown, and clerk to magistrates and to an urban council. A known antiquarian and amateur geologist with respectable credentials, he had spotted tiny teeth of a Mesozoic mammal never recorded in the weald before, and his talent had been immortalized in three discoveries: a reptile, Iguanadon dawsoni ; [5] a mammal, Plagiaulax dawsoni; and a plant, Salaginella dawsoni. He had six books to his credit on Sussex iron-works and pottery and on Hastings Castle. For many years, he had been an Honorary Collector for the British Museum of Natural History, which had accepted his stock of fossil reptiles. A cache of natural gas he had discovered lit a railroad station and a meeting of the Geological Society of London, of which he was a Fellow. He was successful at his profession and accomplished at hunting down fossils and artifacts.

Dawson often took long walks contemplating the ground, a posture favored by gaggles of amateur archaeologists pecking at the rocks of southeastern England. They observed strata, collected fossils, and in their conversation in and out of local clubs, such as the Ightham Circle, gossiped about Ice Age Man, an elusive character about whose prehistoric existence in Britain rumors flourished.

Dawson's account of what happened at the pit begins with his attending, sometime toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Barkham manorial court, for which he was solicitor. The session over. and just before dinner, he went out for a stroll. He noticed some brown, iron--stained flints on the road, flints which he had previously encountered no nearer than Kent, five miles away. Returning to the manor house, he asked Mr. Kenward, the farm's tenant, where those flints had come from and was surprised to hear that the source was a gravel pit on the north--western side of the Barkham Manor drive. After dinner, he ambled over. The laborers shoveling out gravel responded to Dawson's inquiry about whether they had found anything of interest in the pit; no, they had not. He asked them to keep a sharp lookout in case something interesting should turn up. The workmen agreed to do that. An affluent collector such as this toff would tip handsomely. It was not until one day in 1908 that a workman (Venus Hargreaves or Alfred Thorpe) found a fragment of a human cranium's parietal bone and gave it to Dawson.

W. J. Lewis Abbott, a local antiquarian, geologist, jeweler, and counterfeiter, embellished on the story. He said that Dawson didn't know what the piece was-a piece of coconut, an iron-stained concretion, or a fossil. Dawson brought it to Abbott. Abbott enlightened Dawson: it had once belonged to a human skull.

In 1955, Mabel Kenward, daughter of the Barkham Manor tenant, told a different story, one that removes Dawson from an active part in the first find. One day, she said, she had been sitting by a window watching her father chatting with the workmen at the pit. When he came in, Mabel wondered aloud why he was bringing "those old rocks in." Her father [6] replied that the workmen had smashed what they thought was a coconut with their pickax. He returned the pieces to the workmen, advising them to save the hoard for Mr. Dawson.

Right from the beginning of our inquest, we have to deal with different, even contradictory accounts of what happened in 1908 in that pit. The widely accepted coconut story is full of holes. If the laborers thought the thing was a coconut, they would not have brought it to Mr. Kenward. He would have had no more pleasure in an inedible and otherwise unremarkable old coconut than the navvies themselves. And if they thought it wasn't a coconut, they would have saved every splinter of it. How adult laborers in a gravel pit could have confused a human skull with a coconut is hard to explain. How Dawson could have done so is beyond explanation.

A more central mystery is whether the parietal piece, which was real, and later finds making up the Rubik cube of the cranium had come to the pit naturally generations ago or had been brought there the day before and inserted into the gravel by a villainous hoaxer. J. S. Weiner, in his 1955 The Piltdown Forgery, concluded that the very first fragment had been planted, as had everything else. Peter Costello guessed in 1985 that the skull might have been from a victim of the Black Death; the body could have been disposed of in or near the pit in the Middle Ages.




The parietal piece failed to impress Dawson, who waited years before going back to the pit. In 1911, from refuse heaps of gravel, he retrieved portions of the cranium's left frontal bone (which fit well with the parietal piece), left temporal, and occipital. In that they were thick and mineralized, these cranial fragments looked ancient. The supposition of great age was backed up by the discovery of a fossilized fragment of a hippopotamus lower premolar. These finds hinted at a prehistoric hominid having lived right there in the weald.

Perhaps believing that the experiment would harden relics long submerged in the often-flooded pit, or for a less honest reason, Dawson dipped the fossils in a solution of potassium bichromate. He also dipped a flint tool in this bath. The bath may not have hardened them, that flint tool being hard enough, but it did endow them with the ruddy patina expected of fossils. Sam Woodhead, public analyst for East Sussex and Hove, agricultural analyst for East Sussex, principal of the Agricultural College in Uckfield and a friend of Dawson, may have recommended undertaking this experiment at hardening, or at camouflage. Lewis Abbott [7] said he himself had collaborated with Dawson in the skull-dipping.

Someone in 1908 who wanted to manufacture an extinct hominid had available many real specimens of what such a production should look like-its coloration, mineralization, and anatomy; and of what animal remains should be found with it, fossils of known age serving as an index to fossils of unknown age.

In 1857, an early human ancestor, the first recorded, had been blasted out of a limestone cliff overlooking the valley of the Neander in Germany. No one questioned the authenticity of the assemblage itself, limb-bones, parts of ribs and other post-cranial anatomy, and a skull cap. But because there were no index fossils, controversy did develop over dating and identifying Neanderthal Man. Opinions differed radically on whether it was a link between human beings and apes; a member of our species, though ancient: or merely a skeleton of someone who had recently passed away-an ancient Dutchman, a hermit, a cannibal, or an Irishman. Its curved leg bones suggested either rickets or equestrian training. Perhaps it had been a Mongolian Cossack who crawled into the cave and died there after chasing Napoleon around Europe. "Neander" means new man.

As fossil-hunting accelerated, relatives of the new man were found in Gibraltar, Czechoslovakia, and the Belgian site of Spy. The type had as its features thick skullbones, a flat, sloping forehead, a heavy jawbone without a chin, stout limb bones. Prominent brow ridges flowed into a single frontal torus. By 1908, Neanderthal had been accepted as either a predecessor of the human species or, in T. H. Huxley's view, an early human being.

The next find of a different hominid type validated an earlier, imaginary construction. The German biologist Ernst Haeckel directed an artist to sketch what the missing link would look like when it would be found, and he gave it a name: Pithecanthropus alalus, speechless ape-man. Eugene Dubois, who had studied under Haeckel, went to Java while serving as an army surgeon in the Dutch East Indies, and there, in an enviably short time, found a hominid skull cap, molar teeth, and a left femur. The skull cap was low-vaulted and thick-boned, like an ape's, its forehead sloping even more than Neanderthal's, its torus a ledge level enough to balance a cup of tea. At a cranial capacity of 900 cubic centimeters, the skull had held a brain twice the size of an ape's but below the average for a human being. The femur did not differ from that of a modern human being's.

Argument broke out about this 1891 find of Pithecanthropus erectus, or Java Man. Six experts, mostly German, thought the skull was that of [9] an ape. One thought the femur an ape's; eight, an intermediate form; thirteen, human. Eight, mostly French, claimed that the fossil had come from a single individual, one authority in this group wantonly dreaming that it could have been the offspring of an indiscretion between a human being and an orangutan. The critical question was whether the skull cap and the femur, which had been found some forty feet away, had belonged to the same being. Professor Haeckel, impatient with those who refused to accept Pithecanthropus erectus as an ancestral hominid, advised that the strongest resistance to the idea that human beings had developed from apelike creatures came from human beings who were mentally on a par with Java Man.

Two years before the parietal fragment was found in the Piltdown gravel pit, another expedition to Java recovered bone weapons and fireburnt wood, as well as fossils of tropical fauna, monkeys, tapirs, and a prehistoric elephant of the genus Elephas. The erect apeman had made weapons and had undertaken a successful quest for fire. The appearance in association with these remains of the index fossil Elephas dated Pithecanthropus as Pleistocene, such contemporaneity further supported by the fact that the pithecanthropine remnants were in the same state of mineralization as the elephant fossils. Frustrated by all the busy argument, Dubois hid the fossils under his living-room floor. He had himself come to believe they were relics of a prehistoric ape.

In 1899, at Krapina in Croatia, Neanderthal fossils were found in association with Chellean rhinoceros and Mousterian mammoth, beaver, and cow. Eight years later, from a limestone grotto of a Dordogne tributary, at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in France, came a skeleton of a small elderly male. The head lay on a pillow of stones, the right arm brought toward the face, the prone body oriented from rising to setting sun. Marcellin Boule, who wrote the descriptive paper (Boule, 1971), imagined this Neanderthaler an ugly brute. Its thick cranial bones, its flat vault, its projecting torus and occipital bone, and its prognathous face would have earned it a cage in the Paris Jardin des Plantes. Near the body lay flint tools.

The next discovery occurred at Mauer, near Heidelberg. The jaw found there was like an ape's in being massive and chinless, but human in lacking the structures of an ape's jaw (the simian shelf and diastema). The molar occlusal surfaces were typically human, worn flat, as they are in our mouths, and level with each other. The articular condyle, a knob that fits into the mandibular fossa, had a completely human shape. Because the Heidelberg jaw conformed neither to Neanderthal nor to modern



T. H. Huxley's Java Man.


"The Dutchmen seem to have turned up something like the 'missing link' in Java. . . . I expect he was a Socratic party, with his hair rather low on his forehead and warty cheeks. Pithecanthropus erectus Dubois (fossil) rather Aino-ish about the body, small in the calf, and cheese-cutting in the shins. Le voice!" (Letter to J. D. Hooker, February 18, 1895, from Huxley [1901] )



[10] GEOLOGICAL TABLE, c.1910: CENOZOIC ERA [Ed. note: adapted]

Years Before Present



Index Fauna


10,000 + Quaternary Holocene
P Magdalenian
A Solutrean
L Upper Beaver Aurignacean
E Middle Red Dear Mousterian
O Rhinoceros Acheulian
L Mastadon
T Lower Elephas Chellean
400,000 Pliocene Chimpanzee
150,000 Pleistocene




Fayum Apes




[11] jaws, it was given the name Homo heidelbergensis, important enough to be a new species, but insufficiently alien to be a new hominid genus.

Britain had many specimens to offer as challenges to those from continental Europe and Java. The first skeletal finds listed in Vallois and Movius's comprehensive Catalogue des Hommes Fossiles date from 1797; during the following century calvaria and other parts of human beings were exhumed from at least twenty other sites throughout England, Wales, and Scotland. In 1823, from the Welsh Paviland Cave came the Red Lady (so called because of its ochre coloration, though it was the skeleton of a 25-year-old male), In 1855, a coprolite pit in the Suffolk site of Foxhall yielded a human jawbone. In 1867 and 1873, from Kent's Cavern came a maxilla bone, the distal end of a humerus, a canine and a premolar. Antiquarians had dug up flint tools and sometimes bone and ivory ornaments as early as 1690 and from dozens of sites in the following two centuries, Sussex represented by finds at Brighton and Eastbourne.

In 1888, an early Pliocene deposit at Galley Hill, southeast of London, was found to contain a hominid skeleton. Experts involved later in the Piltdown affair commented on this find. W. J. Sollas, professor of geology at Oxford University, not believing that human beings had romped through so early a period as the Pliocene, asserted (Sollas, 1911) that the burial was recent. Arthur Keith, conservator of the Royal College of Surgeons, who thought that human beings had gone unchanged for a long time, was pleased with this combination of modern skeletal form and Pliocene vintage (Keith, 1915). Grafton Elliot Smith, professor of anatomy at Victoria University in Manchester, favored a theory that human beings had achieved a big brain before the appearance of other human parts; since the Galley Hill brain had been big, Smith fell on the side of those who thought it Pliocene. (Smith's views on Galley Hill and other hominids are most thoroughly presented in his The Evolution of Man, 1924) W. J. Lewis Abbott insisted that Galley Hill Man was a Miocene ancestor of human beings. He said that he had found prehistoric flint implements associated with the skeleton, but couldn't prove it.

Many specimens, but not one of them indisputably ancient. It was an embarrassment if not a disgrace that, while other countries had ancestors, England was poverty-stricken in its pedigree. The French were getting supercilious about all this, dismissing the English paleontologists as chaissons de caillous, pebble-hunters. The very names of prehistoric cultures are French-Chellean, Acheulean, Mousterian, Magdalenian.

In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell is not pleased by John Worthing's puny birth. To his admitting that he had [12] been found in a handbag in the cloakroom of Victoria Station, Lady Bracknell confesses her bewilderment:

To be born, or at any rate, bred in a handbag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.

Jack asks what to do, and Lady Bracknell advises him that he ought

to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.

The Piltdown find was just such an acquisition.




Dawson showed the pieces and spoke of them to several friends: Sam Woodhead, who accompanied him on some of the digs; Mr. Ernest Clarke of Lewes; W. R. Butterfield, curator of the Hastings Museum; and Lewis Abbott, who had the fossils in his possession for a while. Woodhead tested the cranial fragments and found them to contain phosphates and iron, which was to be expected, but nothing organic. Organic content had long since vanished from these ancient pieces.

These friends were not authorities. Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of geology at the British Museum of Natural History since 1901, Fellow of the Royal Society, vice-president of the Geological Society (into which he had been accepted the same year as Dawson), was a specialist in fossil reptiles and fish, having published more than a hundred papers on the latter, but he was also conversant with human evolution. He and Dawson had met in 1884, and he had specified Dawson's Plagiaulax find with the patronymic dawsoni. Woodward was the clear choice of professional authority to consult.

About six months after the 1911 fossil-hunting season, Dawson wrote a letter to Woodward about what he had found (the letters of Dawson and Woodward are in the archives of the British Museum of Natural History, Department of Palaeontology). It is a curious letter in that it concentrates on an accounting of expenditures before it gets to the important point:


I have come across a very old Pleistocene (?) bed overlying the Hastings Bed between Uckfield and Crowborough which 1 think is going to be interesting. It has a lot of iron-stained flints in it, so 1 suppose it is the oldest known flint gravel in the Weald. 1 think portion of a human (?) skull which will rival H. Heidelbergensis in solidity. (February 14, 1912)

In the rest of the letter, Dawson remarks that he's been very busy at the office, that his clerical friend from Hastings (Teilhard de Chardin) has gone to Jersey, and that Conan Doyle is writing a sort of Jules Verne book (The Lost World ). The first communication of this terrific find is thus sandwiched between business and personal gossip.

By the spring of 1912, Dawson had retrieved other fossils from the pit-pieces of a hippopotamus left lower molar and of an elephant molar. In March letters to Woodward, he wrote that painters and builders were working on his house and that a visit to the pit would depend on the weather. He asked Woodward to identify one of the tooth fragments (the hippopotamus premolar) and, on March 28, assured him that he would "of course take care that no one sees the pieces of skull who has any knowledge of the subject and leave all to you."

Dawson did not keep that promise, for in April he brought the fossils to Marie-Joseph Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a 31-year-old Jesuit novitiate whom he had met in 1909. Workmen had alerted the solicitor that a couple of poachers in clerical garb were digging without tipping them. Dawson tracked the priests down to a quarry where iguanadon fossils had been excavated. "Mr. Dawson," Teilhard wrote to his parents about that first meeting in May 1909, "turned up while we were still on the spot, and immediately came up to us with a happy air, saying, 'Geologist?"' (May 31, 1909; Teilhard de Chardin, 1965). On April 26, 1912, Teilhard first mentions the Piltdown pit in one of his letters home. This suggests that Dawson had not told him about it for three years. In this letter, Teilhard relates Dawson's finds of flint tools, elephant and hippopotamus teeth fragments, and especially of cranial fragments.

On May 23, Dawson wrote to Woodward that he would be coming to London with odds and ends from the pit. Woodward would finally see and hold the fossils. In the display rooms at the British Museum of Natural History in South Kensington, Dawson might have passed some of the staff members who would become involved in the case-Reginald Smith, Curator of Antiquities; W. P. Pycraft, Curator of Anthropology; Frank 0. Barlow, Woodward's assistant; and Martin A. C. Hinton, then a volunteer.

[14] Dawson handed the odds and ends to Woodward. The fragment of elephant tooth, which Woodward classified as Stegodon (but which has since been reclassified as Elephas planifrons ) had not been found in western Europe before and seemed to be of pre-Pleistocene vintage. These mammalian relies were nicely tanned, as befit specimens that had slept for hundreds of thousands of years in a gravel pit or bathed for a few hours in a chemical solution. More exciting were the cranial fragments.

"How's that," Dawson announced, one would guess in a triumphant tone of voice, "for Heidelberg?" (Dawson, 1913).

On the last day of May 1912, the trio of pebble-hunters went to dig. In a heap of gravel by the side of the pit, they found additional fragments of the parietal bone, each of the three days rendering up a piece. Woodward found a fragment that joined the occipital to the parietal bone; this was the only skull piece found in situ rather than on the refuse heaps. Teilhard, either on the first or second day, discovered another fragment of the elephas tooth. He wrote to his parents (June 3, 1912) that there was as much of a thrill in that discovery as in a hunter's bringing down his first snipe. In this letter, he referred to the skull fragment as "the famous human cranium."

The 1912 season brought forth a mastodon molar cusp, unlike anything that had ever come from such a site in Europe; and, close to a hedge, they found portions of a red deer's antler, the tooth of a Pleistocene horse, and several flints, Teilhard contributing to that hoard with a flint tool that looked like a handax (to receive the British Museum number 606). Unsure about whether the flints were rocks or actual tools, Dawson checked with the maven on the subject, Lewis Abbott, and on June 30, 1912, wrote happily to Woodward: "He says they are 'man-man all over.' "

Things were looking up. Piltdown Man was coming through as the oldest human inhabitant of England, perhaps of Europe, perhaps of the world. And even better, he had made tools, the oldest tools ever found. Interesting and remarkable, but not spectacular. For achieving prominence, something else was needed, something really unique.

One early evening, Dawson, hacking away at the lowest stratum of the pit, a layer of sand and gravel impregnated with and cemented together by iron oxide, unearthed half of a lower jaw.

By autumn, the loot from the pit consisted of fossils of elephant, hippopotamus, mastodon, red deer, horse, and beaver; flint implements; nine fragments comprising four cranial bones (frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital); and a right lower jawbone with two intact molars, but lacking chin and articular condyle. If that jawbone went with the cranium, [15] the contraption would have been truly spectacular. For it was the jawbone of an ape. And to have a hominid with a human head and an ape snout would turn out to be just the thing to elevate the find from an aspirant waiting in the wings to an international star.

Woodward supervised the reconstruction of the skull at the British Museum. He and Dawson got to work on a joint paper.



A week before Christmas and all through Burlington House, members of the Geological Society of London listened enraptured to an autopsy of old bones and other debris disinterred from a gravel pit located in the Sussex village of Piltdown. A precocious notice in the Manchester Guardian's issue of November 21, 1912, ensured a packed house. Two major questions were on the minds of the auditors: When had the creature lived? Did the cranium and jaw come from a single being?

Dawson described the geology of the Piltdown area and the flint implements recovered from the pit. The pit had four layers: the first, soil; the gravelly level under that contained paleoliths; those bones found in situ and nearly all the mammalian remains were in the next layer; and the bottom consisted of a mixture of clay and sand. Stratigraphic evidence indicated that the pit had originated in the Pleistocene. Paleontological evidence, the Pleistocene index fossils, confirmed that indication. Furthermore, all the fossil specimens were highly mineralized and of similar patina, as though they had shared being oxidized over a long time. They had come from two pockets-the cranial fragments, the lower jaw, and the handax that Teilhard de Chardin had found occupied or were close to one of these pockets; the other pocket disgorged most of the mammalian relics. The Piltdown hominid had whacked out tools like those of the Chellean industry.

Other finds, from Bury St. Edmunds and Galley Hill and Kent's Cavern (and, by the time of the report, from Cheddar, Jersey, Dartford, Shippea Hill, and Ipswich) had started out with promise and ended with disappointment. This one from Piltdown seemed to have stratigraphic, geological, and paleontological authenticity. England finally had a viable competitor in the race for ancestry.

Woodward's anatomical contribution was more startling. Described by Teilhard as a very vigorous little man, with salt-and-pepper hair and a cold appearance, Woodward spoke first of points that were merely interesting-the skull was thicker than those of modern Europeans or [16] even Australian aborigines, the latter being the then-current model of low-class humanity. He estimated its cranial capacity as 1070 cc, higher than the 900 cc of Pithecanthropus erectus, but lower than the cranial capacities of Geological Society members.

The relatively (relative to the male cranial anatomy) small brow ridges, area of temporal muscle insertion, and mastoid processes led Woodward to decide that the living individual had been a female. Professor W. Boyd Dawkins would get a laugh from audiences he lectured to when he'd mention that the ivory texture of the female bone showed the superiority of that sex over his own.

Now came something of greater interest than a woman's skull: the cranium, though obviously human, had two apelike features: upper extension of a temporal bone structure and broad occipital bone. (The skulls of Neanderthal Man and of Java Man also had apelike features: sloping forehead and prominent brow ridge.) Then the stunner: an ape jaw.

A human head below which slung an ape jaw-that was the signature of a real ape-man. T. H. Huxley had thought the Spy skeletons brutal, and Worthington Smith in his 1894 Man the Primeval Savage had thought them pithecoid; the British Museum had labeled a Melanesian skull from Torres Straits the most apelike of all. Woodward specified how the jaw, in its grooves and bumps, was just like an ape's. Four features are critical in diagnosing whether a jaw is ape or human: the simian shelf, the mylohyoid ridge, the shape of the dental arcade, and the articular condyle.

1. Unlike Heidelberg's, this jaw had a simian shelf. In the course of evolution from a common ancestor, hominids had developed a chin, a truss structure compensating for progressive lightening of the jaw bone. Apes developed something different, a thin inner flange. No human being has that simian shelf, all apes do. The Piltdown jaw has it.

2. A second diagnostic feature distinguishing human from ape jaw is the presence of a mylohyoid ridge, attachment for a muscle of the floor of the mouth. All hominid jaws have it. Ape jaws lack it. The Piltdown jaw lacks the mylohyoid ridge.

3. A third differentiating diagnostic feature is the shape of the dental arcade, which is divergent in a human mouth (distance between canine teeth is less than that between rear molars), parallel in an ape's. Since only part of half a lower jaw had been found, no one could know just how wide or of what curvature the entire jaw had been.

Could the creature talk? The cranial capacity, three times that of an ape, hinted that it was advanced enough to speak. Woodward informed [17] his audience that the divergent arcade of the Piltdown jaw was wide enough to allow for speech. This was circular reasoning, since Woodward had designed the reconstruction to be more divergent than an ape's.


Nomenclature of skull and jaw. (A) Profile view of human skull and jaw. (B) View of human skull from beneath. (C) Ape lower jaw.

The critical mistake. The jaw should have guided choice of condyle. But instead of reproducing the condyle of an ape jaw, B, for the missing piece, Woodward choose a human condyle, C, that would fit into the mandibular fossa of the skull, thus creating Piltdown Man, A. If Woodward had chosen B, there would have been on Eoanthropus dawsoni.


4. The fourth diagnostic feature is the articular condyle, the knob that fits the lower jaw into the mandibular fossa. This structure, Dawson guessed, had "rotted off." Therefore it had to be designed. Only two [18] options were available: the condyle could have been designed to be compatible with the jaw fragment, that is, apelike, in which case it would not have fit into the mandibular fossa, which was that of a human being; or it could have been designed to be incompatible with the jaw fragment but compatible with the human cranial housing. They chose the latter option and reconstructed the condyle to be like a human being's.

The jawbone could have been immediately consigned to a source different from that of the cranium. It could have been a real ape's jawbone that had accidentally been found next to a real ape's skull. But England, a land attractive to Saxon, Roman, Celt, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, mastodon, and elephant, had been shunned by ape. A fossil tooth found in Essex had been identified by the authoritative anatomist and paleontologist Richard Owen (in his 1884 Antiquity of Man as Deduced from the Discovery of a Human Skeleton at Tilbury ) as that of an Old World monkey, Macacus pliocenus (Owen), and Abbott's collection included a monkey's skull that he claimed to have dug up in England. But these finds had not been considered convincing evidence of anthropoid residence in England. Of course, some trespasser could have thrown an old ape jawbone into the pit (that crazy excuse would many years later be used to explain how the jawbone got into the pit). Therefore, and this was a tremendous leap of faith, the cranial pieces and jawbone had come from the same source.

The American anthropologist Earnest Hooton, having nicknamed Piltdown Man "The First Female Intellectual," rationalized Woodward's choice:


In order to fit the simian jaw to the human socket we must model upon the mandible a humanly shaped condyle which is incongruous with the rest of the bone. This little difficulty need not, however, embarrass us. If nature puts conjoined human and anthropoid parts into the same orga-nism, some compromise has to be made at the junctures. (Hooton, 1931)


The little difficulty would swell into a big controversy.

The two implanted molars, apelike in their cusps and proportions, were at the same time the most human feature of the jaw. Since the human jaw can move in a rotary way, side to side as well as back and forth, the surfaces of its molar teeth tend to be flatter than those of ape molar teeth. In "The Piltdown Skull," Dawson expanded on this point that the molar teeth were worn as flat


as in primitive races of men who carelessly grind up minute quantities of [10] grit with their food, and this is a characteristic which has only been met with in man. It is believed that the long canine teeth of the apes would prevent the particular grinding motion by which the molars acquire this process of wear.


Everything was so unusual as to be incredible. The finds of mastodon and elephas were firsts for Southern England. The combination of human cranium and ape jaw was a first for the whole world. The creature was chimerical, like a satyr. Yet there he was. From the Piltdown grave, his final resting place, had been exhumed a good part of his skull and most of half a jaw, with a couple of teeth in it. The resurrection men had fit it all together, and that full skull staring at the members of the Geological Society was powerful, though silent, witness. An apeman could well have looked like that; and if he could have, why should he not have? An additional mark of authenticity was given when Woodward dubbed the contraption Eoanthropus dawsoni, another tribute to its discoverer, like Iguanadon dawsoni. He was even fleshed out in the London Illustrated News and elsewhere so that everyone could see what he looked like as he squatted, hacking out tools.

Dawson disliked the "artistic efforts":


I was very disappointed with the Eo. bust.... It represents a common type among the Sussex agricultural labouring class and [?] by no means the lowest stages.

The Americans are evidently not used to see the type and imagine it to be very savage in appearance. I think there is yet scope for further artistic efforts. Perhaps an india-rubber balloon stretched over the plaster cast might inspire a sculptor. With such a thick skull, Eoanthropus might well have done without such a head of hair. (October 8, 1915)

While German paleontologists were gloating over the 1907 discovery of Heidelberg Man and French paleontologists were reveling in a frisson of pleasure brought on by the 1908 discovery of the ugly, elderly gent at La Chapelle, a manufactured Englishman was on its way to a ditch 70 miles south of Piccadilly Circus. Just how the hoax was done has been explained and will be summarized later; but who did it and for what motive remains a mystery. In 1896, Worthington Smith had written, "Bad fortune seems to attend nearly all discoveries of very ancient human relics." The Piltdown case underscores that dismal appraisal.

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