The first hint that the fossils might be fraudulent became public in a 1914 article by W. K. Gregory, "The Dawn Man of Piltdown, England."


It has been suspected by some that geologically they are not old at all; that they may even represent a deliberate hoax, a negro or Australian skull and a broken ape-jaw, artificially fossilized and "planted" in the gravel bed, to fool the scientists.


Gregory didn't think it was a deliberate hoax. From a Scientific American Supplement of the same year:


Of first importance is the question of the age of these remains, and in considering this the suggestion that has been made that there was anything in the nature of a "plant" or a hoax may be disregarded in view of the circumstances of the discovery.


But both these found the topic too hot or vaporous to handle.

After the exposé, many people came forward to say that they had known all along that Piltdown Man was a hoax. A. S. Kennard teased that he knew the identity of the hoaxer, but wouldn't tell. Robert Essex's naming the hoaxer 'W' wasn't all that helpful. Martin A. C. Hinton knew back in 1913 that a hoax had been perpetrated, but didn't let on until fifty years later, and named no one. In 1970, Kenneth Oakley reported that Gerrit Miller had asked Remington Kellogg, director of the Smithsonian Institution, back in 1915 to see if the Piltdown teeth had been fraudulently altered and that, by 1930, Miller was sure some of the features of the Piltdown jaw were "the result of fraudulent alteration"; but he never made his suspicion public. C. P. Chatwin, of the British Museum, knew it too; he also kept quiet. Ditto for Teilhard de Chardin. And for Sam Wood[86]head. Peter Costello reports that Professor Frederick Wood-Jones said that 'if it had not been for the outbreak of the Great War, there would have been a terrible scandal about Piltdown."

Ronald Jessup's 1970 South East England tantalizes us with: "Neither Dr. Weiner nor the present writer feel able to name the probable perpetrator of the forgeries, but Mr. Raymond leaves but little to the reader's imagination." Since Dr. Weiner had come as close as close can be to naming Charles Dawson as the hoaxer, this remark is puzzling. The diligent tracker of the Piltdown criminal rushes to Ernest Raymond's Please You, Draw Near (1969), to flush the quarry. The chapter on Piltdown in that memoir ends with:


Who the scholarly forger was remains one of the world's great mysteries,though, to my mind, deductions from possibility, probability, psychology, and horse sense point steadily to one figure. Before whom I bow.


He does not shed light on whom possibility, probability, psychology, and horse sense point to.

Leaving Mr. Raymond bowing, we turn to Francis Vere's conclusion to The Piltdown Fantasy (1955):


Who was the hoaxer? It would be easy to write "your guess is as good as mine." But that would be unfair because 1 know-and you do not-the names of the many people who helped Woodward and Dawson to their fantastic discovery.


Professor A. J. E. Cave, chairman of a symposium held to honor Grafton Elliot Smith, indulged in this worthy reflection: "If motivation is wanted, in my posthumous memoirs 1 will leave my views as to who the nigger in the woodpile was" (summing-up following J. S. Weiner's "Grafton Elliot Smith and Piltdown," 1973; see also Daniel, 1986).

Frank Spencer continues the venerable tradition of hinting. After suggesting that the person whose skull ended up in the pit might have suffered from osteoporosis, he wrote (1984): "As far as 1 know this fact has not been used as a possible clue to the identification of Dawson's co-conspirator(s) in the Piltdown forgery." Professor Spencer is as of this writing editing Ian Langham's manuscript of the Piltdown hoax, and perhaps in that the connection between Cushing's disease and Dawson's conspirator(s) will be made explicit. Having met Ian Langham, having talked with him at length about Piltdown, and having benefited from his insights and from his comprehensive knowledge of the case, 1 anticipate finding a good deal of new data and interpretations in his book. [Ed. note: See Spencer 1990 for identification of Arthur Keith as hoaxer.]

The irrepressible coyness of so many scholars leaves the reader with the bitter feeling that he's heard a joke without its punch-line.

Each suspect in the rogue's gallery could have fabricated the hoax, part of it or all of it, alone or collaboratively with a like-minded villain. Charles Dawson has been identified more often than any other as the hoaxer, having accomplished the feat all by himself. Or in a limited partnership with Teilhard de Chardin. Some critics have opted for Teilhard's doing it as a jonglerie to embarrass the miserable English pebblehunters, duping Dawson in the bargain. Or maybe Dawson collaborated not with Father Teilhard but with jeweler Abbott. But, then, Abbott may have been the hoaxer and Dawson as blameless as the driven gravel. The curator of the Hastings Museum, W. R. Butterfield, has been identified as the hoaxer, wild to revenge himself upon Dawson. The British Museum's Martin A. C. Hinton did some of it, a few people have argued, to sober up his fellow paleontologists intoxicated with the fakes. No, Professor Sollas did it, to get even with Arthur Smith Woodward, claimed a taperecording; or maybe Sollas conspired with Dawson. But then there's evidence proving that another professor, Grafton Elliot Smith of Manchester, was responsible, because he wanted advancement or was funloving, like Teilhard. The creator of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, was also the creator (Professor Winslow claims) of the fictional ape-man because he hated the materialistic evolutionists. Glyn Daniel thinks that Peter Costello's identification of Sam Woodhead as the Piltdown hoaxer (1986) is the most convincing. Sam Woodhead was a pious Presbyterian. Professor Daniel joins John Theodore Hewitt, professor of chemistry at Queen Mary College, to Sam Woodhead as collaborator, his motive to play a joke. A short paper of mine in the Journal of Irreproducible Results (1986) proves almost beyond the shadow of a doubt that the British Secret Service was the Piltdown hoaxer.




That the fraud required extraordinary skill and extensive knowledge is a principle advocated by the triumvirate of detectives. "The faking," Le Gros Clark affirmed in the second of the British Museum's monographs (Weiner, 1955), "obvious though it now appears, had been accomplished With extraordinary skill." He also said it was "a most elaborate fabrication," an opinion supporting Weiner's in the first (1953) monograph:


[88] From the evidence which we have obtained, it is now clear that the distinguished palaeontologists and archaeologists who took part in the excavations at Piltdown were the victims of a most elaborate and carefully prepared hoax. Let it be said, however, in exoneration of those who have assumed the Piltdown fragments to belong to a single individual, or who, having examined the original specimens, either regarded the mandible and canine as those of a fossil ape or else assumed (tacitly or explicitly) that the problem was not capable of solution on the available evidence, that the faking of the mandible and canine is so extraordinarily skilful, and the perpetration of the hoax appears to have been so entirely unscrupulous and inexplicable, as to find no parallel in the history of palaeontological discovery.


It required "sophisticated knowledge," said Scientific American ("Piltdown Won't Down," 1979). Ronald Millar, in The Piltdown Men (1972) thinks the hoax skillful throughout. Dozens of other critics agreeing that the hoax required great skill inculpate or exculpate the suspects on the basis of whether they had it or not. The popular impression is that the hoaxer really knew his science.

While S. J. Gould finds the forger's "main skill in knowing what to leave out-discarding the chin and articulation," he thinks most of it "an indifferently designed hoax" (Gould, 1979). A few others have agreed with Gould's opinion. Richard de Mille: "This was no careful forgery" (de Mille, 1979). William Broad and Nicholas Wade, in their Betrayers of the Truth (1982), assert that the betrayal was "not expert-the tools were poorly carved and the teeth crudely filed." Gertrude Himmelfarb calls it a not particularly subtle fraud" (1959). 1 agree with this view.

The hoaxer lived in Edwardian England. He had historical and scientific models of mistakes, hoaxes, authentic fossils available to imitate and adapt. For example, the classic blooper in the history of anthropology comes to mind-that of Dr. Johann Jacob Scheuchzer. Scheuchzer, a Swiss naturalist who began his university career (at Altdorf) in 1692, was enamored of the Deluge as God's way of wiping out a world of sinners. In addition to holding chairs in natural history and mathematics, he was a medical doctor, an editor, an assiduous collector of fossils, and the author of scores of books on natural history.

Desiring to prove the inerrancy of scriptural history, he looked for evidence of the old sinner; in 1725, in an Upper Baden quarry, he found a fossil that, to his eyes, did not merely approximate, but "corresponded completely with all the parts and proportions of a human skeleton." He named the find Homo diluvii testis, human witness to the flood, buried [89] 5,858 years before the exhumation. Georges Cuvier, who a hundred years later reclassified the old sinner as an old salamander, pointed out a prosaic moral: that self-deception had led Scheuchzer, who as a medical doctor should have known better, to make this egregious error.

Homo diluvii testis. The skeleton of a prehistoric giant salamander misinterpreted by Professor Scheuchzer as that of a petrified sinner.

The classic example not of a mistake but of a hoax is that of Dr. Beringer's lying stones. A contemporary of Scheuchzer, Professor Johann Beringer, was investigating fossils dug up from Mt. Eibelstadt, also in Franconia. Senior professor at the University of Wurzburg, dean of the [90]

Faculty of Medicine, chief physician to the Julian Hospital and to the Prince-Bishop, Beringer dedicated his lithophilic talents to his country and to his god.

Beringer's Lying Stones. (1) The rayed face of the sun. (2) A spider catching a fly. (3) Hebrew word (Adonai) and crescent. (4) A bird laying eggs.



Through his own digging and the efforts of students, he recovered a stony menagerie of figures raised in bas-relief on rocks, replicas of plants and animals, frogs copulating, birds laying eggs, spiders patrolling their webs; of the crescent moon, the sun with a face, comets with tails; and alphabetical letters, mostly Hebrew. After he published his report, colleagues at the university confessed that they had cooked up the[91] fossils to discredit Beringer.

The nineteenth century offers two relevant hoaxes, America's busted miner and France's Moulin Quignon jaw. A miner excavating gold in Calaveras County, California, extracted a human skull from a ten-million- year-old stratum. The skull, that of an American Indian, may have been planted; it's of interest only insofar as Marcellin Boule thought its indices approached those of Piltdown Man and in that Bret Harte wrote a poem about it foreshadowing some of the Piltdown affair. The poem is relevant, short, and funny enough to warrant quoting:


"Speak, 0 man, less recent! Fragmentary fossil!

Primal pioneer of Pliocene formation,

Hid in lowest drifts belong the earliest stratum

Of volcanic tufa!

"Eo-Mio-Plio-whatso'er the 'cene' was

That those vacant sockets filled with awe and wonder,--

Whether shores Devonian or Silurian beaches,--

Tell us thy strange story!"

"Speak, thou awful vestige of the Earth's creation,--

Solitary fragment of remains organic!

Tell the wondrous secret of thy past existence-,-

Speak! oldest primate!"

Even as I gazed, a thrill of the maxilla,

And a lateral movement of the condyloid process,

With post-pliocene sounds of healthy mastication,

Ground the teeth together.

And, from that imperfect dental exhibition,

Stained with expressed juices of the weed Nicotian,

Came these hollow accents, blent with softer murmurs

Of expectoration;

"Which my name is Bowers, and my crust was busted

Falling down a shaft in Calaveras County,

But I'd take it kindly if you'd send the pieces

Home to old Missouri!"


In the spring of 1863, from a gravel pit at Moulin Quignon, near Abbéville, France, came bright yellow primitive flint tools. The workmen. earning a few francs by selling such relics, brought these and a hominid tooth to Boucher de Perthes, and later showed him at the pit itself a jawbone with one tooth still in it. De Perthes concluded that the material constituted a memento of an authentic prehistoric hominid. However, English paleontologists who visited the site and examined the material came to an opposite conclusion, namely, that they were all fakes.

[92] A small international quarrel broke out, the French believing the Moulin Quignon relics real, the English hearty in their belief that they weren't. The French invited the English not to a duel at sunrise but to a conference. The English demonstrated that the coating, seemingly an indication of the fossils' antiquity, washed off easily, that sawing the jawbone gave forth the organic odor familiar to surgeons and butchers sawing recent bone, and that both jaw and molar tooth had a high nitrogen content. Since nitrogen escapes over time from organic material, this test suggested the modernity of the jawbone. The flints, said the English, were also fakes.

Scheuchzer's and Beringer's was the time for the beginning of fossil collections. By the Victorian period, the demand for fossils was large enough to generate a forging industry. The most notorious of the forgers was Flint Jack, who after a thriving career died in 1864 while a prisoner in Bedford Gaol. A cave was named after him, in Cheddar.

One of the most informative-and funniest-passages to be found in any of the archaeological books of the time is in Worthington Smith's Man the Primeval Savage. He warns collectors: If you tell the workmen exactly what to look for, they may make it for you. Carpenters and plasterers, "men who knew how to use different forms of hammer and punch, speedily produced forgeries." They'd sell them to the laborers, who would resell them "often for very large sums," as much as five pounds, to the dotty collectors. Worthington Smith grows rhapsodic about these beauties:


The best forgeries are beautifully and perfectly made, in close imitation of the best type forms. Every delicate gradation of form, shape, and thinness of point has been most successfully imitated.


If a collector wanted an implement with a polished patina, he'd get an implement with a polished patina post haste; if he wanted slightly abraded edges, he'd get that; if he had a fetish for ochre, he'd get ochre-stained tools; if he liked to see the evidence of glacial action, he'd get tools with scratches very like those etched by glaciers; he might even have an eye for tools with quicksilver-like specks, and suddenly there'd be a pushcart full of those.

Forgers were often weak on counterfeiting patina, the staining coming out a wrong color or superficial and easily spotted. Such incompetents could turn to Worthington Smith for a recipe on how to do it right: drop implements into water boiling in an iron saucepan, add old rusty nails, [93] then polish-don't polish before boiling.

Beauty Parade

Linnean Beauty Parade. Some years after the Scheuchzer and Beringer episodes, Linnaeus published his Systema Naturae (1740). Linnaeus pictured four genera of (very) humanlike apes, the Anthropomorpha: from left to right: Troglodytes, Lucifer, Satyrus, and Pygmaeus. Satyrus represents a chimpanzee and Pygmaeus an orangutan.


Historical examples of what to do and what not to do, specimens of real Victorian cavemen, and guidance on customizing forgeries were thus all available to the Edwardian villain. So were the materials. Assiduous searching of the weald and adjacent areas like the Red Crag would have provided domestic deer, horse, beaver, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, and elephant remains. It was, says A. S. Kennard in a most informative little article of 1946, "Fifty and One Years of the Geologists' Association," a Golden Age for collectors. Hands rather than machines dug canals and quarries, and the navvies, usually thirsty souls, were glad to sell fossils for a pot of beer. "It did not matter what excavation you went in, if there were fossils the men had them safely hidden, as a rule in caches. . . ." Chalkies had available fossils from the chalk pits they mined; "Totty Jimmy," a Whitechapel rag-and-bone merchant, had early London in his storeroom; East Coast fishermen were on the lookout for fossils washed from the cliffs; at Brighton, fishermen charged 2s. 6d. for an elephant molar.

For exotic as well as domestic fossils, the hoaxer could have browsed indoors rather than tramped about outdoors. Gerrard's, in business since 1860, and Stevens, two among many such firms, sold this material, as [94] biological supply houses sell fossils today. Auctions Of fossils were held. Much trading, some of it sharp enough to cut the gullible, went on. Several of the suspects themselves had, or had easy access to, museum stocks. One of them had a comprehensive, well-stocked private museum.

Fossils came into England from all over the world, not only from Mediterranean islands and North African countries but from South America, the South Pacific, from India and other colonies of the Commonwealth, and from other nations vulnerable to the blessings of British paternalism. Sailors returning from the East Indies brought with the skulls, bones, and other curios, human and not human, for sale on the London docks. In their native land of Borneo, orangutan skulls were passed on from generation to generation in families as good luck charms protecting against spooks. A group of these was brought to England and found permanent residence in the British Museum of Natural History as the Everett Collection. One of the jaws in the collection or a collateral collection could well have strayed from its shelf. If it had been an imperfect specimen lacking condyle and symphysis, it might have been retrieved from a rubbish bin, and from thence into a supply house or auction, into the hands of a private hobbyist, and finally into the pit in Piltdown.

Anyone wanting them could have bought the necessary supplies. Photography, the jewelry business, and chrome plating used potassium bichromate. Art supply shops sold red sienna and Vandyke brown. The hoaxer might have had such paints right at hand from his honest trade. No special tools were needed, though having at hand a variety of saws, burrs, files, abrasives, acids, and so on would have facilitated the operation. He had to have a workshop somewhere, in a museum, a shop, a cellar, an office.

What everyone could agree on is that the hoaxer was lucky. Sam Woodhead could have analyzed the jawbone for organic content, or Woodward, had he not been negligent, could have done so; such examination would have demonstrated so critical a chemical disharmony between jawbone and cranium that the fraud would have fizzled out right away. Reginald Smith and A. S. Kennard hinted that a twentieth-century artisan had whittled the elephant femur slab with a steel knife. The advocates of Piltdown Man didn't follow through on that any more than on the skeptical estimates given by Waterston, Lyne, Miller, and so many others. Testing for organic content may be a laborious procedure and extrapolating a steel knife from a cut surface a speculative one, but when the inquirer holds the fossils he finds that the skull fragments, being stone, are heavy, while the mandible, being bone, is light. Just jiggling them in the [95] palms of one's hands should have set off an alarm. Most had to use casts, but those who had access to the originals didn't jiggle.

X-rays taken of the molar teeth should have revealed long ape roots, but showed instead short roots-they had been taken at the wrong angle. Le Gros Clark studied the original fossils back in 1913 when he was a medical student; but it wasn't until 1950, employing no superior technology, that he saw the scratches, a giveaway of tampering to mimic human occlusal flatness. Everybody had missed those scratch-marks.

Whether a genius or not, the hoaxer was skillful enough to propel many scientists into the craziest rationalizations-of reconstructions, of alibis for explaining where the canine fit, of bringing in bacteria to expand a canine cavity and inventing extinct British apes, of conversions and deceptions.

I think talking about the hoax as an entity inhibits identification of who did it. It comprised three or four distinct forgeries, each of which required a different degree of knowledge and skill: (1) anatomical; (2) chemical; (3) paleontological; and (4) lithic.

1. Anatomical. A cursory familiarity with physical anthropology indicates that the condyle and symphysis, directive diagnostic signals to the nature of the beast, could not have been modified. Miller thought that the condyle had been broken off naturally; Dawson, that it had rotted away; Pycraft, that a wretched pickax had done the damage. Though most scholars assume that the condyle had been broken off deliberately, Miller's understanding is the most credible.

The jawbone could have lacked symphyseal and condyle regions from the beginning. If it were an imperfect piece, that would account for its having been kicked out of a museum's or connoisseur's collection. That is the simplest (but 1 hope not simplistic) explanation. But if the structures had in fact been deliberately broken off, little more skill would have been involved than in the similar operation of breaking a chicken wishbone, though the person who did so had to have known the diagnostic values of these structures. If the forger had really known his anatomical business, he would have knocked out the temporal bone's mandibular fossa, an important feature indicating humanness, but he did not..

Contrary to Dr. Weiner's comment, what was done to the teeth shows a remarkable lack of talent for anatomical chicanery. The flatness of the Heidelberg molar occlusal surfaces served as a convenient model for the Piltdown replication. But the hoaxer was not skillful at all in filing to achieve flatness. He failed to bevel the edges to imitate natural wear, he failed to file the surfaces on the same plane, and he failed to smooth out [96] the scratches left by his maladroit tinkering.

The canine is an even worse job. He filed the surface so roughly that he invaded its pulp cavity; he used common artist's paints to coat it; he left, as though scribbling "Kilroy was here," a tiny nugget of metal alloy on it; and, the most preposterous mistake in the whole Piltdown assemblage, he was so ignorant of anatomy that he selected a juvenile canine to go with a mature jaw. With some of the forgeries, application to the hoaxer's knowledge and skill helps identify who he might have been; with the anatomical forgery, we ought to consider someone whose weak suit was anatomy.

2. Chemical. The chemical forgery required knowledge, though not much skill. Those who wanted to transform fossils of poor color into rich earth tones or who hoped to harden fragile specimens regularly used a solution of potassium bichromate. More esoteric was the use of iron sulphates as part of the procedure to oxidize the fossils rapidly.

3. Paleontological. The paleontological tricks were more clever than the anatomical, though no prize-winners either. The hoaxer had a good recipe for the community of index fossils that would date the hominid and simian fragments. Heidelberg had been accompanied by Elephas, rhinoceros, horse, red deer, and cervus fossils. Gather those and put them into the stew with the cranial pieces. Add mastodon and hippopotamus for flavoring-the extinct Maltese hippopotamus was known to paleontologists of the time, and its bones were available. One might not, however, have at hand a cave bear fossil. Omit that. Serve to the experts hungry for just such a potpourri. The mixing in of Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene specimens may have been purposeful. It led to a provocative confusion of fossils that in different times could have been brought to the pit by different vehicles. Or it may have been a mistake. It would have been useful, though by no means essential, for the hoaxer to have had some knowledge of the province, of deposition of gravel beds in the weald, of likely sites for seeding.

4. Lithic. To J. Reid Moir, the flint tools were critical in establishing the existence of pre-Paleolithic man in England. "The ill-defined cones of percussion," he wrote, "and rough heavily truncated flake-areas of the Piltdown specimens stamp them indelibly as the work of pre-Paleolithic Man." One of the Piltdown flints showed traces of chromium from its potassium bichromate dip.

The Kenward boys would have had no trouble obtaining prehistoric flint tools; they're easily obtainable today. I'm not even sure that any cunning was required in selecting the particular tools found in the pit. But [97] it is difficult to know whether the flint tools found in the pit were authentic fossils or whether they had been made to order from unworked flint or from worked flint tools of a later industry.

Flint Implements

Paleolithic flint implements. A, B, and C were recorded as having come from the Piltdown gravel; D is Morris's flint core. The arrow points to an area chipped to show pure white cortex beneath the superficial stain. (From Weiner 1955, Plate 1)


In 1917, J. Reid Moir told his readers, as Lewis Abbott told everyone, as modern paleontologists occasionally tell us, and as anyone who has seen an expert at it will testify, making flint tools requires "an immense amount of practice and much care in flaking." If the hoaxer made tools from flint, he had a degree of knowledge and manual dexterity that is most commendable; if he made old tools from late ones, he was one of a kind.

His modus operandi obviously required that he have access to the pit on his own or through an accomplice. I don't think it much matters whether he visited the pit publicly or privately. After Dawson had been given the first cranial fragment by a laborer (if that particular tale is credible), he returned to the pit, sometimes with friends, to look for more, but didn't find any more until 1911. The pit, one must remember, had no more area than a tennis court. And it was being probed not only by the pebble-hunters, but by the workmen who while taking out gravel when [98] the pit wasn't flooded were on the lookout for anything that wasn't gravel. The hoaxer probably seeded the pit every season, like a farmer, leaving the largest fossil, the femur implement, to be harvested last. It should be remembered that most of the fossils were retrieved, not from the pit itself, but from refuse heaps on its periphery. The hoaxer didn't have to bury many; he could have flung them.

This was an unusual kind of thievery, where the criminal brought goods to, instead of snatching them from, the scene of the crime. Maryon-Wilson, the owner of Barkham Manor, had put out the word that he would not tolerate trespassers, and he tried to renege on the permission he had given Dawson. Kenward, the renter of the farm, Dawson wrote in a letter to Woodward, hoofs off enthusiasts and the "Miss Ks are especially pugnacious against intruders" (January 1, 1912). Woodward admonished Mabel Kenward that she keep "unauthorized persons" from the site. When she was 87 years old, in 1973, she recounted to K. P. Oakley that sixty years earlier she had seen such a person in the pit, a man about 40 to 45 years old, tall, wearing a suit and boots. He refrained from saying anything to her and departed like a ghost. Hers is the only eyewitness account of the hoaxer at work-if that person were the hoaxer and not just a tourist ambling through.

Just who visited the pit and how often is a matter of conjecture. One of the oddest aspects of the case is that the diggers spent so little time digging. Woodward reports in The Earliest Englishman that, since he and Dawson were "Well occupied with ordinary duties during the week," they could devote only their weekends and occasional holidays to the exhumation of the most important fossil in the world. After his retirement, Woodward spent more time there than he had during the feisty years of exploration. Woodhead visited more frequently than others. Occasional visitors included Dawson's friend Clarke, A. S. Kennard, Lewis Abbott, E. Ray Lankester, Reginald Smith, Davidson Black, Grafton Elliot Smith, Arthur Keith, W. P. Pycraft, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Familiarity with what these and others were writing and discussing, and with their comings and goings, would have enabled the hoaxer to keep tabs on how compliantly the pigeons gobbled up the bait.

He became more and more reckless, as though taunting his victims into conducting the exposé that took an unexpectedly long time to come. He was rash enough to attempt linking an ape's jawbone with a human being's skull. Then he planted the ridiculous bone slivers defined as a turbinal. Anthropologist William Howells sees that as an attempt to wake up Woodward and company.

[99] The hoaxer used Woodward's plaster cast as the basis for his own deceptive replication of an ape-man's canine. That could be analyzed as a covert message that someone should call the police. Then he shaped a slab of elephant femur bone into a cricket bat. An especially sporting touch.

Finished with Piltdown, at Site II he topped off the previous sundry outrages with skull fragments that did not even belong to the same skull-the frontal came from the Piltdown skull, the occipital from some stranger's. He took a molar extracted from the original jaw and planted that at Site II.

William Krogman, who after studying the fossils in 1913 had concluded that the jawbone was an ape's, wrote that the Site II assemblage was the perpetrator's only major mistake. "In essence, what at first seemed a good thing was pushed too far, pushed over the brink of credulity" (1978). Yet it worked well enough to firm up the believers and to silence if not convert many skeptics.

Woodward's reaction to Site II is inexplicable. The first notice Dawson sent him of that was in January 1915, the second in July of the same year. Woodward appended this to the latter:


I enclose an important postcard from the late Charles Dawson, 30th July 1915, in which he announced his discovery of the isolated lower molar tooth of Eoanthropus with the remains of the second skull in the Piltdown gravel [Site II]. I think that this should be carefully preserved, and that a reference to it should be added to the number of the specimen in the Registrar. Hrdlicka (Smithsonian Miscell. Coll., vol. 83, p. 87) has already doubted my statement about Dawson's discovery, and there may be other doubters for whom Dawson's own record is needed.


Woodward himself could have been such a doubter. Doubt would explain his not publicly announcing the find until two years after Dawson told him of it and his giving only four lines to Site II in his memoir of the Piltdown case. He doesn't mention in his note that he had received a letter from Dawson in January concerning the same site. Yet doubt about Site II would have contaminated faith in Site I.

That the hoaxer got away with a canine so similar to the plaster cast one making the rounds, and unique in anatomical history, with an elephant fossilized femur slab whittled by a steel knife not in the toolkit of any prehistoric artisan, with the loot from Site II, with the whole fiction called Piltdown Man reflects, as so much else in the story does, not to the skill of the hoaxer, but to the victims' credulity. He duped them from 1912 on; but between the wars, as they negotiated Piltdown Man through [100] the crowd of hominid australopithecines, pithecanthropines, and Neanderthals, they expeditiously duped themselves.

Another feature in drawing the profile of the hoaxer is his history. Involvement in questionable previous enterprises is no guarantee that he committed this act; and forty years of purity would not necessarily establish innocence. But one's having been a repeat offender could be given some cautious credence as a lead. Part of personal history, at least as important as opportunity, a factor as critical as it is elusive, is motive. What would the hoaxer have to gain from gulling either his close circle of friends (and, for some of them, family) or the wider circle of British and world paleontologists? And what would he have to lose? The motive had to be fairly strong to keep him going at it for the seven years from the pit's delivery of the first cranial piece to Site II's delivery of the last cranial piece, and to keep silent about what he had done for the rest of his life, which ranged from one year in Dawson's case to nearly sixty in Teilhard de Chardin's.

Patriotism could explain part of the ready acceptance of the hoax. But it's unlikely that the hoaxer's motive was to boost Mother England, especially since his being found out would be to the detriment of national prestige. The Moulin Quignon hoax, which may have been a conspiracy of the French Academy of Sciences to ridicule the idea of antediluvian man or to discredit Boucher de Perthes, or for the workmen to engage in a profitable sideline, was a small stain on French national scientific prestige, unlike Piltdown, which was a depravity. The motive may have been to enhance the glory of evolutionary theory, to prove that theory with a creature so amenable to wearing the vestments of then-current fashions; but the theory would have been debased had the hoax been exposed. Allegiance to evolutionary theory, however, may be spotted in the emphasis on the skill of the hoaxer by Oakley, Weiner, Le Gros Clark, and their peers. The more skillful the hoaxer, the less clumsy the hoaxee.

William King Gregory spoke of the possibility of a hoax, its purpose "to fool the scientists." Francis Vere also considered that possibility: to bring the evolutionists down. Winslow attributes that motive to Conan Doyle; Costello, to Woodhead. Perhaps the motive was to fool not the scientists, but a particular scientist, to get even with someone who challenged one's own authority or failed to recognize one's own genius. But there's a problem to be kept in mind about ascribing the motive of revenge-against evolutionists, against a national or local group of paleontologists, against a competitor or superior. Revenge could account for the fabrication of the hoax; but it cannot account for the subsequent [101] failure to reveal it. The capstone of vengeance, its psychological and even aesthetic fulfillment, lies in revelation: See what a dunce he is! The canvas is incomplete, the hoax seems blunted without revelation.

Unless the hoaxer enjoyed, over a gin-and-water, laughing to himself about those fools. If we are to believe Professor Pforzheim of Angus Wilson's Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, there is nothing Englishmen like so much "as a joke against themselves"; the hoaxer of the novel does it as a joke against his father, who, a scholar ripe for a fall, had been in charge of the tomb's excavation. A. S. Kennard of the Geological Association and A. P. Chamberlain, Dawson's cousin, both looked back upon the Golden Age of Geology as the Age of the Practical Joke. The motive of doing it for a joke often comes up in the literature, Teilhard de Chardin, Grafton Elliot Smith, John Hewitt, M. A. C. Hinton, and Arthur Conan Doyle all having been identified as possessors of a sense of humor. Still, a seven-year joke seems a bit tedious, more a compulsive pounding home of whatever nail the hoaxer was driving than a lark in Albion.

Perhaps the hoaxer was ambitious to advance his own reputation, though that too would carry the double-edge of being found out and having whatever reputation he possessed terminated. On a profit-and-loss calculus. Arthur Conan Doyle was the only one of the lot with little to lose were he found out. He was not a professional paleontologist, but at best an amateur. All the others would have had a great deal to lose. Woodhead was a public analyst, a government official; Dawson was a solicitor, and his law-firm partner would rise to be Official Solicitor of England. Dangerous, perhaps fatal, for such people to be involved in a hoax. Though Abbott was a jeweler, his true love was paleontology. He too would have been cast out of the scientific community had he been uncovered as a forger.

The others were all professional scientists. What happens today when a scientist is found to have cooked up data would have happened to them, to Teilhard de Chardin, John Hewitt, Martin A. C. Hinton, Grafton Elliot Smith, and W. J. Sollas. The theory of evolution has survived the mayhem wrought by Piltdown Man, but these professionals do not come out of the event with their good sense intact.

An insightful perspective is given about the profile of the hoaxer by Jessica North in her Mask of the Jaguar (1981). Two characters are discussing a fraudulent archaeological find. Ruska reminds Julia of a parallel case. a "remarkable discovery" in England that "fooled experts for years until new scientific tests unmasked the fraud." The oddest thing about this Piltdown fakery was


[102] the little man who must have perpetrated it-a respected, scholarly gentleman who had nothing-absolutely nothing!-to gain. The hoax brought him no money, no promotions, yet he spent months and maybe years perfecting his forgery. And at a terrible risk of disgrace!

He wanted fame, to be sure, but also to make the world agree with a theory he believed in. He concocted Piltdown Man because he was sure that somewhere, unfound, a genuine Piltdown Man had to exist. In a warped mind, fraud in the service of truth seems hardly fraud at all.


I think this is one of the best comments made on the hoaxer and would rank it in brevity and insight with Waterston's paper on the mandible.

Although a brief is strengthened if it holds only one strong motive rather than a bundle of weak ones, it is more in accord with human nature to assume that what was at work here was a human being, talented, somewhat pathetic, perhaps a bit barmy, driven by several motives. Dennis Rosen suggests that "many scientific cheats ... clinically are, and most deserve to be treated as, mentally unbalanced" (Rosen, 1968). Retreating to the irrational seems a copout, yet it could help explain motive better than applying to an irrelevant rational. Perhaps the hoaxer did not set up a calculus of how much he would gain by a successful hoax, how much he would lose. People don't always act rationally.

The new direction in Piltdown research, to track down the hoaxer, may be harmful to pursuers. The Lukases report a rumor (1983): Elihu Progwhistle, allegedly a medium, warned Oakley after the exposé that the spirit of Charles Dawson was threatening "extralegal action against the Piltdown detectives unless they gave up the search."

To sum up, there are two basic points in the identification of a criminal: opportunity and motive. The question is not who had opportunity (which would include knowledge, skill, access to supplies and the pit), because all the suspects did; nor who had a motive, because all the suspects had (or could easily be given) a motive; but rather who was best placed to assemble the fossils and execute the forgeries and had the most credible motive. All the evidence for accusation is circumstantial. It's all a matter of footprints in the snow. The hoaxer did not confess.

But one came close.

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