L. B. Halstead, a geologist; Malcolm Bowden, a creationist; and L. Harrison Matthews, a

former director of the London Zoo, each put forward a startling thesis: that the sanctum sanctorum itself, the British Museum of Natural History, harbored a nest of hoaxers. Each advocate's brief contains a cast of characters; L. Harrison Matthews's, a central plot with subplots weaving through it, rich dialogue and inner thoughts, conflicts, disguises, a double-cross, and a complex and farcical denouement. The British Museum of Natural History is so incredible a suspect that the accusation succeeded in convincing other scholars.

The briefs differ in their cast of characters, but agree on the hoaxers' target: Arthur Smith Woodward, curator of geology during the Piltdown fiasco. Woodward has not been accorded much of the interest, and has missed the infamy, of others associated with the hoax. There is good reason for his rarely being given even a passing glance as the Piltdown hoaxer. Rumor has it that he was too uncoordinated to fabricate the hoax (he broke an arm in one mishap, a leg in another) and lacked manual dexterity and, worse, a sense of humor. More important than such silliness is that Woodward had no motive to do it and was brought in years after recovery of the first piece. He was himself thoroughly duped. The picture of him in his old age wistfully revisiting the pit and reliving the adventure as he prepared the manuscript on the earliest Englishman solicits compassion rather than suspicion.

The British Museum held in its stores enough fossils to equip a multitude of hoaxes and a staff among which were several people competent to do the Piltdown hoax. That staff was divided between those who affirmed the authenticity of Piltdown Man, Woodward and Pycraft, and those who were disposed to dismiss it as a mistake, if not a fraud. In [146] the latter party were Reginald Smith and Martin A. C. Hinton. Reginald Smith, of the Museum's Department of Antiquity, appears briefly in the history of the Piltdown case with a single skeptical remark delivered during the discussion of Woodward's 1914 paper: that the bone implement might have been 'found and whittled in recent times."

That appraisal of the pit's most extraordinary artifact was shared by A. S. Kennard. Though in the construction rather than the museum business, Kennard was a productive paleontologist. He participated in field work with Reginald Smith and M. A. C. Hinton, amassing a productive bibliography of 250 papers, his specialty fossil mollusks. Friendly with W. J. L. Abbott, under whom he had studied at the City of London School, and with Captain St. Barbe and Major Marriott, Kennard could have been privy to the military men's stories about Dawson's secretly staining flints and to the gossip that the mine had been salted. He knew in 1926 of the resurvey of the River Ouse that showed the pit to be more recent than assumed; he was a member of and eventually president of the Geological Association. He claimed that he knew there had been a hoax, and knew who the hoaxer was, though he never came through with a public identification, except for stating-and coming from Kennard, it's an important statement-that it wasn't Charles Dawson.

In his presidential address to the Geological Association, in March 1946, Kennard lamented a change in attitude: "There has been a marked decline in humour." This view of the Edwardian period as a humorous age recalls Chamberlain's remark in defense of his cousin Dawson that the Edwardian period was the time of "first-class practical jokes."

The British Museum group associated with Piltdown Man consisted of Woodward; his assistant, F. 0. Barlow; W. P. Pycraft, the ornithologist curator of the Department of Anthropology; Reginald Smith, curator of the Department of Antiquities; and Martin A. C. Hinton, in 1910 a volunteer worker at the Museum who would rise to assistant (1921), deputy (1927), and keeper of zoology (1936-1945). Hinton wrote many articles on Pleistocene geology, some with A. S. Kennard, and on his specialty, voles. In 1908, he described a rare find from the Norfolk Forest Bed, a part of a fossilized humerus like that in the macaque. Many people before the revelation of the hoax assumed that an authentic simian jaw had arrived naturally into the pit (Gerrit Miller, Boule, Teilhard, Montagu) and they were happy with the scraps of evidence that England had been host to monkeys and apes in prehistoric times. Hinton's find was therefore something to hang onto.

He also studied hoaxes, including Nessie of Loch Ness.

[147] In a 1926 article ("The Pleistocene Mammals of the British Isles and Their Bearing upon the Date of the Glacial Period"), Hinton found a consistency between the relics from the pit and those from other English sites, such as Ingress Vale, Kent, and the Cromer Forest Bed, which the geologist James Geikie described as the stratum for Heidelberg Man and which W. J. Lewis Abbott described. Thirteen years after its discovery, Hinton wrote of the pit's assemblage thus:

At Piltdown, in my opinion, we see dim indications of what the fauna of the South of England was in the earliest part of the High Terrace stage.... Eoanthropus himself is surely as primitive a mammal as one could wish to find in a post-glacial deposit; too primitive probably to be associated with Chellean implements, but possibly responsible for the Eoliths. (Hinton, 1926)


It seems as though M. A. C. Hinton had fallen for the hoax.

In 1953, after the exposé, in a letter to the London Times, Hinton, the tone of his criticism reminiscent of Gerrit Miller's, chastised Woodward and the others for bad methodology: "Eoanthropus is the result of departing from one of the great principles of palaeontology: each specimen must be regarded as a separate document and have its character read" (quoted in Vere, 1959). He said that, had he been able to investigate the actual fossils themselves, instead of Barlow's casts, he would have spotted the jaw as simian right away. W. D. Lang responded privately:


I saw Hinton's letter and it read as if he thought that if he had had the material handed to him, he would have detected the fraud. But perhaps he didn't mean that. In any case, I think S. Woodward was right in letting only Anthropological specialists and men like [Jones?l see the stuff for detailed handling, and Hinton was not one to be included, for all his eminent work on Voles! I should say that his letter cuts very little ice.... (British Museum Archives)


If in fact Hinton was skeptical back then, that skepticism would have been invigorated not only by Kennard and Reginald Smith, but also by Captain St. Barbe, whom Hinton met while spelunking and with whom he became friendly. There's a rumor about Hinton's legacy comparable to that about Teilhard's hidden letter-that just before his death, he "virtually confessed" to being one of the Piltdown hoaxers.

There doesn't seem much in this history to incriminate M. A. C. Hinton as Piltdown hoaxer. However, we have often seen that the talented [148] historian can make a case out of shreds. The really creative historian can make up the shreds themselves.

Public accusation of the British Museum of Natural History began in November 1978. In a letter to the London Times, Dr. L. B. Halstead said that the orangutan jaw had been taken from the British Museum by the volunteer M. A. C. Hinton. Halstead sketched a cast that included not only members of the British Museum, but also a professor from Oxford (W. S. Sollas) and Teilhard de Chardin. He expanded on this in a BBC External Service broadcast (November 14, 1978). In a letter to Nature a few months later (Halstead, 1979), he alluded to the rumor that Hinton had "virtually confessed" to the hoax. Bowden, who reproduced Halstead's letter and quoted Halstead's comments on the BBC program, approved of incriminating the British Museum of Natural History, the motive of the several villains to embarrass Arthur Smith Woodward (Bowden, 1981).

L. Harrison Matthews changed the casts set up by Halstead and Bowden. While deleting Sollas, he kept Hinton and Teilhard, and added Dawson and Abbott. His approach to the hoax was refreshingly different from that of all other historians: he invited us to enter not only into the private doings but into the private thoughts of the various suspects. It's a story as fascinating as it's fantastic.

The original fakes were made and planted by the co-conspirators Dawson and Abbott. Then M. A. C. Hinton came into the act. He visited the pit in June 1912; he was the one whom Mabel Kenward saw, the 40-to-45-year-old tall man who said nothing and flitted away like a ghost. (Hinton was 28 at the time.) His exploration of the pit and study of the casts convinced him that Piltdown Man was not merely a mistake in interpretation but a deliberate, and stupid, fraud. He thought about the way in which his colleagues had been gulled and decided to pull a leg by planting a tooth. Sometime after his visit to the pit, he plucked an ape's canine from the Everett collection of orangutan skulls.

Meanwhile, Teilhard de Chardin was sorely perplexed about what to do with his suspicion that Dawson was faking the fossils. He couldn't very well tell anyone, and thus get his ami into trouble; nor could he justifiably keep his mouth shut and allow the hoax to continue.

During a reflective lunch hour, the volunteer Hinton took the canine to Barlow's workroom and, using Woodward's cast as his model, filed away industriously, going too deep, through the surface of the tooth, and having to plug the hole. Rummaging about in a box of paints, he was caught by C. P. Chatwin, whom Harrison Matthews identifies as "the boy [140] attendant." As embarrassed as Dawson had been when he was caught by Captain St. Barbe, Hinton alibied, "Just looking for a bit of colour to tint this specimen. But don't let-on to Barlow that I've been in here-or anyone else."

Nothing in any recorded conversation, letter, or other memorabilia gives any evidence backing up this story of a young man on the lowest rung of the professional ladder engaging in such shenanigans to embarrass Woodward. But Harrison Matthews is on a roll:


Chatwin thought nothing of the episode at the time; he was used to Hinton's way of carrying a specimen or two in his waistcoat pocket. It was not until months later, when Teilhard found the canine tooth at Piltdown, that he guessed the truth and when he saw Barlow making casts of it he recognised it for what it was. He had the sense to say nothing, not even to Hinton, for he could see what trouble he would land them both in if he mentioned what he knew. Besides, Hinton was his friend and he could not let him down-and loyally he never did. (Harrison Matthews, June 11, 1981)


There's no evidence that Chatwin said anything to anyone, ever. That fact makes it hard to know what he saw.

Gleeful over the prospect of fooling his dim-witted boss, Hinton had drawn Teilhard into his confidence, showing him the fake canine and asking him to plant it. Teilhard at first virtuously refused, but then, reflecting on this being an excellent way to expose the hoax without having to expose the hoaxer, he gave the proposition some thought. He traveled to Paris, met with Marcellin Boule, a good man severely tried by doubts about Piltdown, and returned to England, his mind made up to do it.

On August 30, 1913, while Dawson and Woodward were probing the pit, Teilhard reached into his cassock. He removed a canine tooth-the one slipped to him by M. A. C. Hinton, or maybe a different one, smuggled in from France-in any case, the canine hadn't been part of that orangutan jaw found earlier, the one Dawson had manufactured. He bent down, put his fist on the spoil heap, stood up, opened his fist and shouted--Harrison Matthews doesn't tell us just what Teilhard shouted, but it must have been something like "Hé, look what I found!" At Woodward's excited exclamation of pleasure, Teilhard-Harrison Matthews does tell us this-"chuckled inwardly." What Dawson experienced inwardly when Teilhard rose with a fossil not of Dawson's manufacture can be easily imagined.

Then somewhat more than a year later Teilhard left to join the 4th [150] Zouaves in the French Army. Hinton remained at home, more amazed than ever at the turn of the screw. Broad and Wade, present experts on the subject of scientific fraud, pick up the story at this point:


Hinton was astonished that his scientific colleagues could be so taken in by so transparent a fake, and he suffered the additional mortification of seeing Charles Dawson, whom he suspected to be the culprit, acquiring kudos for his handiwork. He decided to try again. Only this time with something so outrageous that the whole country would laugh the discoverers to scorn.


Hinton required something that had never been found before, anywhere, by anyone, one of a kind. He rummaged some more in the treasure house of the British Museum, coming up with many possibilities, but none quite right-until there it was, maybe under a table amidst a melange of prehistoric debris. A 16-inch-long fossil fragment of an elephant thigh bone. That alone would have been a good enough joke, but he provided a neat punch-line: he whittled it to resemble a cricket bat. Teilhard being off to war, he would have to plant this one himself. That shouldn't be too hard. He took the underground.
Fosilized Cricket Bat

Fossilized cricket bat. The femur slab having been shaped to look like a cricket bat testifies to Kennard's thesis that in Edwardian days geologists had a sense of humor. (From Weiner [1955],

Plate 29.)


Harrison Matthews again:


[151] When he left the museum at mid-day he took the Inner Circle train from South Kensington to Victoria and caught the next train to Brighton via Lewes and got out at Uckfield. He knew the way to Piltdown, only three miles away, because he had been there the year before with Teilhard, when Miss Kenward had caught him in the pit.


Harrison Matthews's omniscience is infectious. The imaginary details are so fine that one can hardly resist going even further than he does, seeing Martin A. C. Hinton on that train, dozing off as it hummed over the tracks, cradling in his arms a femur slab wrapped in swaddling clothes.

He walked to the pit. His hat may have been drawn over his forehead. One hand clutched a garden trowel. At the pit, he began to dig a hole in an outcropping of yellow clay in which to bury the bone. But he was caught again, this time not by Mabel Kenward, "that wretched young woman sticking her oar in again," but by a farm laborer, the very farm laborer who had been hired by Dawson and Woodward in earlier exploits. Venus Hargreaves warned Hinton to leave that be; Hinton was glad to do so, and escape; Venus was glad to see a brand-new fossil poking up, for the toffs might give him a shilling for this one, it was big enough. God knew what it was. It looked for all the world like a cricket bat.

Harrison Matthews knew Hinton and often dined with him; but, sad to say, they never got around to sharing Hinton's confession, though Hinton did remark, the metaphor pregnant with meaning, "one canine doesn't make a dog's dinner." The boy attendant, C. P. Chatwin, grew up to become M.Sc., a member of the Geological Survey (and therefore colleague of one F. H. Edmunds, whom we will meet later), and a professional paleontologist. Sometime in 1953 or early 1954, K. P. Oakley, walking along Cromwell Road, saw Chatwin and asked him directly about the hoax.


Chatwin went red in the face and with an embarrassed giggle said, "No. I am not talking about that," and hurried off. Oakley never had a chance to speak on the matter to him again, although Chatwin lived until 1971.


It is most regrettable. Harrison Matthews, a neighbor of Hinton for six years, often having dinner with him, often talking about Piltdown, yet never getting around to resolving that question so much on their minds: Who did it? Then K. P. Oakley, also much concerned to arrive at the answer to that interesting question, meeting Chatwin and just as unaccountably failing to follow through with him for the remaining seventeen years of Chatwin's life.

[152] It is also regrettable that there are several problems with Harrison Matthews's account besides the noteworthy one that it's all fiction. We cannot willingly suspend our disbelief because the story is inconsistent in itself-one part of the episode about the femur has it covered with yellow clay from outcropping, another part with that clay from a different place, the bottom layer of the pit; the canine is said to have come from the Everett Collection in the British Museum, Hinton painting it there with Vandyke brown, but then quite unexpectedly its origin shifts to France. We can quickly enough agree that Venus Hargreaves may have caught someone planting a fossil, but it's difficult to go along with the notion that he refrained from telling his patrons about the visitor who left the gift.

Harrison Matthews's story does, however, have a redeeming value: it's comical. Readers can delight in imagining Teilhard slowly twisting in the wind, deeply perplexed by the responsibility to expose the hoax without exposing the hoaxer, and finding such a nice resolution in helping to stop the crime by becoming a criminal. And the change of complexion on Dawson's ruddy, good-natured face as he witnessed the appearance of the canine tooth and of the femur, both not from his factory. Best of all is that maddening frustration Hinton must have felt, his surprise at the swallowing of the canine tooth, and then his trying a larger object that they also swallowed. He must have been tempting apoplexy brought on by their insatiable gullibility. It is all so comical one wishes it were true.

Conspiracy has its problems. Having someone else competent to talk about what was done increases the risk of disclosure, and the more conspirators, the more that risk is increased. Since any one of the suspects could have done the deed all by himself (even Butterfield), there is no prima facie reason for him to have brought in another. Yet several historians of the case think conspiracy is the answer-Leakey and Gould accuse Dawson/Teilhard; for van Esbroeck, the deadly duo is Butterfield/ Hargreaves; Halstead and Bowden like the trio Hinton/ Sollas/ Teilhard; Harrison Matthews (followed by Broad and Wade) expand that to the quadruplicate Dawson/ Abbott/ Teilhard/ Hinton. Dodson ("Piltdown in Letters," Gould 1981) tells us not to "overlook the possibility that there may have been three or more conspirators at Piltdown."

Still, the British Museum staff, Hinton himself or Hinton with others, is attractive as a suspect. This identification, in addressing well the larger questions of opportunity and motive, provides solutions to specific problems, such as the concordance between the real canine tooth and its plaster-cast model, Barlow's staining the femur slab in solution, the possibility that other fossils may also have been immaculate in the pit but [163] stained in the Museum, Kennard's and Reginald Smith's hint that the femur slab had been whittled recently, Kennard's disavowal of Dawson as the hoaxer, and Marston's complaint that the British Museum jokers were making a scapegoat out of Dawson.

Most of the suspects and observers who would after the expose congratulate themselves on having suspected a hoax knew one another. Some were together in the same institutions and organizations: for example, Woodward, Barlow, Pycraft, Hinton, and Chatwin on the staff of the British Museum; F. H. Edmunds and Chatwin, when he grew up, on the Geological Survey; Dawson, Butterfield, and Abbott in the Sussex Archaeological Society; Dawson, Woodhead, and Hewitt in the Society of Analysts; A. S. Kennard, Sollas, Elliot Smith, and most of the others members of the Geological Association. Networks can be drawn that would include these and Major Marriott, Captain St. Barbe, and Henry Morris. These people rubbing against each other generated a good deal of smoky rumor.

1 don't believe Harrison Matthews's tale any more than I do van Esbroeck's, but I like it much better. And I particularly like Bowden's "Probably some members of the Museum staff could reveal a great deal more, but are prevented by their signing of the Official Secrets Act." What I find seriously deficient in the imaginations of Halstead, Bowden, and Harrison Matthews is their failure to go the whole hog. It would have been simple to throw in the inventor of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, whom we will now meet.

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