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.")


[23] 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, [24] 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 [25] 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

[26] 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.)


[27] 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 Neander[28]thalers. 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" [29] (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.




Three reasons are available to explain the success of the Piltdown hoax-the state of physical anthropology before World War I (under which one [30] 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.

John Cooke, R. A., Royal Academy Portrait. In 1915, the partisans of Piltdown Man gathered to celebrate his arrival. On wall: picture of Charles Darwin. Standing (left to right): F. 0. Barlow, G. Elliot Smith, C. Dawson, and A. Smith Woodward. Seated: A. S. Underwood, A. Keith, W. P. Pycraft, E. R. Lankester. (From archives, Geological Society of London.)


Victorian and Edwardian anthropology was explicitly racist, drawing a hierarchy down from white European to Australian bushman and African black wrestling for a place on the lowest rung of the human ladder. Piltdown Man became, for most British commentators, the standard-bearer of a moderate ethnocentrism.

The investigator could ascertain a specimen's place on the ladder by tracing correlations between discernible physical structure and the cognition, the rationalizations, the dreams that kept the brain roiling. Craniometry was the pseudo-scientific corollary of phrenology; in Victorian phrenological texts, such as the Fowlers', the noble brow of a humani[31]tarian signaled the goodness within, while a sloping forehead, heavy brow ridges, and pronounced occipital marked a malefactor-just as, in Chaucer, the amorous proclivities of the Wife of Bath had their physical expression in a gap between her upper incisors. Long before his remains were blasted out of a cliff, people knew that Neanderthal Man would look like a brute with an elongated head, heavy brows, a weak chin, and the posture of a pugilist.

Unlike the Neanderthal ignoramus, Eoanthropus, like modern Europeans, had been educable. That conclusion derives from the theory then called paedogenesis (neoteny today) that ours has been a victorious species because human beings retain infantile features of the anthropoid fetus and infant, such as globular cranium, incomplete closing of sutures, and a straight face, all contributing to keeping human beings educable. In the London Times's December 19, 1912, issue, the article "A Palaeolithic Skull" mentioned that Frank Barlow, Woodward's assistant, had reconstructed a skull that seemed to be like that of a young chimpanzee, with globular cranium and orthognathous face, while other cavemen's faces were prognathous, like those of grown-up apes. Dawson also made this point.

Two different theoretical approaches to the human lineage were followed by different theorists. The minority party, led in England by W. J. Sollas and (for a while) Arthur Keith and in the United States by Aleg Hrdlicka, proposed that a single line led to human beings, Neanderthal Man a stage in our lineage. Most paleontologists believed that there had been several hominid lines; this party tended to erase Neanderthal Man from our lineage, and insult him while doing so. Marcellin Boule was as passionately hostile against having Neanderthal Man as our ancestor as others were about having an ape. He described the La Chapelle Neanderthal of 1908 as the slouching troglodyte familiar to us as the malefactor of countless modern horror movies. Boule took the skull of Piltdown Man as evidence of a human ancestor not only better-looking than Neanderthal Man, but also more fit. Neanderthal Man, he said, had gone extinct. As for Java Man, to Boule he was a gibbon.

Arthur Smith Woodward agreed with Boule on the idea of branching hominids, that Piltdown Man was better, and that Neanderthal had gone extinct, though he disagreed on Boule's severance of jaw from skull. After the expected review of the history of the find and the expected inventory of the fragments, Nature noted (on December 19, 1912) that, though Eoanthropus did have some simian features (a low and broad occipital and the apelike mandible), it was sufficiently advanced to be ancestral to the human species itself.


[32] At least one very low type of man with a high forehead was therefore in existence in western Europe long before the low-browed Neanderthal man became widely spread in this region. Dr. Smith Woodward accordingly inclines to the theory that the Neanderthal race was a degenerate offspring of early man and probably became extinct, while surviving modern man may have arisen directly from the primitive source of which the Piltdown skull provides the first discovered evidence.


The notion that Europeans were mentally more advanced than non-Europeans, a notion agreeable to Europeans, received support from many sources, including the Bible. Tennyson back in 1850 expressed this general cultural bias when he eulogized European Man as "the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time." Almost without exception, European anthropologists for generations preceding the Piltdown finds agreed with that. Commentaries on Piltdown Man did not improve the hopes of non-Europeans to share common humanity with Europeans. The commentators did not look out their windows at English countrymen for examples of throwbacks; they looked overseas. The strategy was to emphasize the simian nature of the skull and the human nature of the jaw by finding comparable features in benighted colonial subjects. The process elevated Piltdown Man from a link between ape and human being to a link between African black (or similar "low" people) and European white.

Thus Dawson thought that the molar occlusal surfaces were as flat as those of savages, who uncouthly allowed grit to get into their mouths; and when the nasal bones were recovered, Woodward compared them to those of Melanesian and African people's. Professor A. F. Dixon would later (Nature, July 12, 1917) inquire into whether the lower jaw's "ape-like peculiarities have not been over-emphasized in the various reconstructions of the entire skull. The author believes that it is possible to reconstruct the lower jaw on more distinctly human lines than has been proposed hitherto."

Pycraft illustrated his article "The Most Ancient Inhabitant of England" (Pycraft, 1912) with a series of drawings showing that the chimpanzee has no chin and the Caucasian has a well-developed chin, the African Kaffir's slight chin occupying a middle position. Another picture lines up jaws in this order: chimpanzees, Torres Straits Islander, and European, showing a progressive increase in enlargement of the mouth cavity, larger mouths being better vestibules for speech than the parsimonious dental arcade of ape or New Guinean.

The Manchester anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith drew a different genealogy: the Piltdown brain led in one direction to Neanderthal and other primitive extinct and extant peoples (Tasmanian, Australian bush-man, Negro), and in another direction to more advanced races (Cau-casian). As late as 1939, Sir Arthur Keith wrote (Keith, 1939): "Certainly the prognathism is marked, and although such a full muzzle has never been seen before in a skull that is human, yet the degree of prognathism is not beyond the range found in Australian and African skulls."

In sum, the lower jaw satisfied a general cultural bias of lay and scientific people; it showed Eoanthropus to be like the apes and their lower-rank human counterparts. But the skull showed that this English ancestor was a high-brow, properly unlike the continental and Java cretins. Piltdown Man thus vitalized English national morale and undercut Belgian, German, and French pride of ancestry.

Though Piltdown Man did not illustrate everyone's theory, he had a protean adaptability to many different cultural biases and professional traditions. In an act of retrospective prediction, Darwin had suggested that our ancestor was arboreal, tailed, with prehensile toes and imposing canines, that he was a monkey, and that he came from the African veldt rather than the Sussex weald. The commentators neglected those details, extrapolating only the one about fighting teeth to force a parallel between Piltdown Man and Darwin's guess.

The biases distorted many theories of minor importance and at least three proposed by the most prestigious supporters of Piltdown Man. George Grant MacCurdy, a professor at Yale University, had worked out a "law of mammalian paleontology." As he defined this in Science (July 31, 1914), "the permanent teeth of an ancestral race agree more closely in pattern with the milk-teeth than with the permanent teeth of its modified descendants." One would expect in an ancestor not just generalized fight-ing teeth but fighting teeth that looked like modern baby teeth. The infantile features of the Piltdown canine illustrated that law. "If a com-parative anatomist were fitting out Eoanthropus with a set of canines he could not ask for anything more suitable to the tooth in question," wrote MacCurdy.

Woodward and Dawson assumed that the earliest hominid would be Pleistocene; they therefore focused upon the Pleistocene fossils as confirmation. Arthur Keith and Lewis Abbott, however, had theorized that the earliest hominid had been a Pliocene production; the pit supplied evidence for that. An extensive and often acrimonious debate was conducted in those years about whether certain rocks had been flaked by natural action or by prehistoric artisans. These eoliths were (and are) abundant at the Piltdown pit. Abbott thought that Piltdown Man had made them.

[34] The geologist J. Reid Moir believed that the human species had originated in England. He wrote on flint implements retrieved from Kent, Salisbury, and East Anglia. After the finds at the pit, he was satisfied that the eoliths had been made by "the Piltdown person," and took it as proof that our origin was not in misty Asia but on the solid bedrock of England (Moir, 1913, 1917). Lewis Abbott's theory also insisted upon England as the site of the origin of our species. W. J. Sollas, professor of geology at Oxford University, inclined to the theories that human intellectual prowess had appeared early and that structurally the earliest hominids manifested features of both human being and ape. He had seen such features in the Neanderthal specimens (Sollas, 1911). In 1915, the second edition of his Ancient Hunters appeared, featuring Eoanthropus dawsoni as a rival to Heidelberg as the oldest known European. He praised Woodward, for Teilhard's discovery of the canine tooth vindicated the Woodward-Barlow method; that tooth agreed "in a remarkable manner with the tooth inserted in the restoration, differing only in being a little smaller, more pointed, and less obliquely inclined."

At the very top of the hierarchy of British science stood two people whose authoritative support of Piltdown Man's authenticity helped to legitimize the fake: Arthur Keith (Scottish) and Grafton Elliot Smith (Australian). Arthur Keith, conservator of the Royal College of Surgeons, was a luminary whose acceptance of Eoanthropus as authentic brightened its chances in the world.

Keith, by six years the elder of the two, would write more pages on Piltdown Man than would anyone else. Born in 1866, he graduated at 22 with a medical degree from the University of Aberdeen. Thus starting out his professional career as a physician, he soon revealed a more abiding interest in research than in medical practice. He proceeded through the corridors of the scientific establishment from Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons to senior demonstrator of anatomy at London Hospital to head of that department. Research, papers, and books on human embryology, cardiology, and anthropology preceded his taking the position of conservator of the Royal College of Surgeons Museum in 1908. His Introduction to the Study of Anthropoid Apes had been published in 1897.

Keith thought that human beings had existed with about the same cranial capacity and face since the Pliocene. This theoretical bias encouraged his accepting Galley Hill Man as a credible prehistoric hominid buried during the Pliocene or early Pleistocene. The fact that the skeleton had a globular skull competent to room a brain of modern grandeur, far from dissuading certification, encouraged it. But Keith had few allies [35] eager to accept Galley Hill Man as an ancient burial. Lewis Abbott was one of the few. He therefore looked forward to a specimen that would better illustrate his theory.

Rumors had reached Keith before the Geological Society meeting in December 1912 that the British Museum harbored interesting hominid fossils dug up from a gravel pit in Piltdown. He was jealous because he had hoped that the Royal College of Surgeons would have been chosen as the repository for such fossils of ancient man. Woodward allowed him to visit the fossils for twenty minutes. Given his theoretical assumption that the earliest hominid would be very like the latest, one would expect that he would disagree with the Woodward-Barlow model's showing a cranial capacity of only 1070 cc.

He also disagreed with the reconstruction of the jaw, believing that Woodward and Barlow had made it too apelike, the canine tooth so massive that it would have inhibited the free lateral motion of human mastication. After Teilhard had found a real canine, Keith changed his mind: though perplexing, it was more reasonable to assume that the jaw had belonged to the possessor of the cranium than that a coincidence had occurred. But the canine hadn't come from that jaw. The jaw's third molar had not yet erupted, which meant that the jaw was young. The wear of the canine suggested that it was old and therefore that it had come from some other eoanthropine specimen's jaw.

He disagreed on some other, less important points. He argued that the skull should have been reconstructed as symmetrical and that its bearer had been male. But he was mostly gratified by Piltdown Man and decided to write a book on it. The book appeared in 1915, The Antiquity of Man, its cover embossed with a gilt portrait of Piltdown Man, his favorite hominid occupying a volume and a half of the text. He deplored the dilapidation of other ancient hominids into gravel to mend roads.

He made a reconstruction to rival that of Woodward and Barlow. He adjusted the angle of the cranial bones to open the skull for an additional 400 cc of brain, and he curved out the dental arcade more toward human divergency. The Keith reconstruction then was of a Piltdown Man more modernly human than the Woodward-Barlow model. To counter criticism, he submitted to a test: he put together pieces of a skull that had been whole and had been measured before being fractured; his guess that the original had had a cranial capacity of 1415 cc was almost exactly right (it had contained 1395 cc of brain).

The second high authority supporting Piltdown was Grafton Elliot Smith. Born in Australia, Smith had begun his research on the brain while [36] studying for a medical degree at the University of Sydney. He lived in England for a while before taking a post, in 1900, at the Government School of Medicine in Cairo, shortly before Teilhard de Chardin arrived in that city. His work in Egypt included the autopsy of mummies and investigation of the pyramids, and he became deeply interested in Egyptology. He theorized on cultural diffusion, that civilization had radiated out from Egypt, a theory attested to, in his opinion, by congruent practices all over the world in embalming and monument-building.

In 1909, two years after election to the Royal Society, Smith returned to England, where he continued work on Nubian skeletons and, as professor of anatomy at Victoria University, Manchester, on neurology. He was well known in his own time for his studies of Egypt, his theory on the diffusion of culture, and his research on the evolution of the brain. Pugnacious and witty and learned, he was as ready to defend Eoanthropus as his hero, Thomas Henry Huxley, had defended Darwin.

Piltdown Man satisfied the theories of Lewis Abbott and of Grafton Elliot Smith better than it did anyone else's. In 1912, at the Dundee meeting of the BAAS, Smith, then president of the Anthropological Section, hazarded a prediction: available evidence sketching human genealogy back a million years shows that, in human evolution, the unquestionable and tangible factor is the "steady and uniform development of the brain along a well-defined course throughout the primates right up to man." The brain came first, developing toward humanness before the hands did, before the advent of upright posture, before speech. Thus, if a very early hominid should be found, it would have a brain halfway between a pithecanthropine's and a modern human being's. It would also be apelike. It could very well have large canines.

After the Geological Society announcement of December 1912, Smith acknowledged that he had predicted Piltdown Man's cranial anatomy "some months before I knew of the existence of the Piltdown skull, when I argued that in the evolution of the development of man the brain must have led the way." He found the association of a human skull that had primitive simian features with an ape jaw of advanced human features just right and commended the Woodward-Barlow reconstruction for its design of a brain of only 1070 cc.

He was delighted by later finds also, especially by that of the canine tooth.


Just as the young child still uses its teeth for purposes of attack, so in the dawn of human existence teeth suitable for offensive purpose were [37] retained long after the brain had attained its distinctively human status and had made the hands even more serviceable instruments for attack. ("The Piltdown Skull' 1913)


His talk to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester on the controversies (summarized in Nature, December 18, 1913) was picked up by Current Opinion (also December 1913), "The Controversy over the Discovery of 'Dawn Man,' " which solved the controversy by stating that it was permissible to associate a human skull and ape jaw. Evolutionary theory had prepared us for just that.

An example of how Eoanthropus could be shaped to fit different theoretical assumptions comes through in a dispute between Arthur Keith and Grafton Elliot Smith, a dispute that thrilled the pages of scientific journals for three decades.

At a meeting of the Royal College of Surgeons, at a Royal Society meeting, and in the exchange of views in Nature throughout 1913 and 1914, Keith and Smith (Smith seconded by Woodward and Dawson) argued about whether the Piltdown cranial capacity had been 1350 cc or 1070 and about the shape and symmetry of the brain. They continued reviewing the Piltdown material for the rest of their lives, Keith returning to a final reconstruction twenty years later. He confirmed a cranial capacity of 1350 cc but deduced that the brain had been, like the modern, asymmetrical. Smith defended the virtue of Eoanthropus in interviews, articles, letters, monographs, books, writing more pieces on Piltdown Man than anyone else did, and revising his defensive tactics as paleontologists found new material and formulated new theories. Though the two continued to disagree, they held fast to the belief that Piltdown Man was an authentic hominid. Both were knighted for their services to the nation.

Dawson carefully observed the quarrel between Keith and Smith. In letters of 1913, he recognized that "it will be very awkward if a considerable error has been made about the capacity of the skull," arguing that the thickness of the cranial walls necessitated a low cranial capacity; that Keith was unfair, holding a grudge against Woodward, going about "looking for trouble." He recommended Smith's interpretation as a "splendid manifesto." Still on the prowl for other missing links, Dawson thought he had found one in the camp of the enemy, Arthur Keith. "Since 1 last saw you," he wrote to Woodward, "I have been writing on the subject of 'the 13th dorsal vertebra' in certain human skeletons, which 1 believe is a new subject." He sent along the results of this investigation, asking Woodward to introduce the paper to the Royal Society.

[38] I am very anxious to get it placed at once because I have had to work the photographs under the nose of Keith and his assistant. I gather from the latter person that Keith is rather puzzled as to what to make of it all, and 1 want to secure the priority to which 1 am entitled. (May 12, 1912)


Human beings don't have a 13th dorsal vertebra.

The synopsis of where Piltdown Man stood at the end of 1912, that drawn by Smith in his December 1913 talk to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, is useful because it shows what most British scientists believed at the time and because, by negating each of the statements, we can arrive at an equally clear understanding of what no one believes anymore.

1. The fossils were almost certainly Pleistocene.

2. The jaw was not an ape's for it contained human teeth.

3. The skull was that of a primitive human being.

4. The canine discovery settled once and for all the validity of Woodward's reconstruction of jaw and teeth.

5. The brain capacity of Eoanthropus was no more than 1100 cc.

6. Eoanthropus was a legitimate new genus, ancestral to Heidelberg and to modern human beings.

A good deal of luck attended the rise of Piltdown Man-a geological survey of the Piltdown area had come up with a mistaken Pleistocene age; Sam Woodhead had analyzed the cranial fragments for organic content, finding none; but he had failed to analyze the jawbone. X-rays had been taken of the molar roots, but at the wrong angle. That investigators had limited or no access to the real fossils meant that they would miss gross points, such as the disharmony in weight between cranial pieces (which were well mineralized) and mandible (which wasn't). The hoaxer may not have been a genius; but he knew his subject well enough to produce a plausible phony with intriguing connections to Neanderthals, pithecanthropines, apes, and contemporary citizens. Scientists had fun in tracing out these connections. Cultural biases of phrenology and racism warmed the climate for acceptance, and those theories promulgated by esteemed scientists (Woodward, Moir, Sollas, Keith, Smith) as well as by those occupying a lower professional level (Butterfield of the Hastings Museum, Pycraft of the British Museum) and those of productive amateurs (Dawson and Abbott) were bolstered by Eoanthropus dawsoni. But not everyone approved.

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