One of the major biographical fictions in the Piltdown case incriminates one of the minor characters. We first meet William Ruskin Butterfield, curator of the Hastings Museum, in the pages of J. S. Weiner's The Piltdown Forgery (where he receives the initials C. S.). Butterfield and Dawson, we learn, got along well together. Dawson had shown the Piltdown fossils to him, and Butterfield, recognizing their importance, had directed Dawson to consult with British Museum authorities. Dawson gave Woodward a quick image of Butterfield's intrepid explorations: Arthur Conan Doyle had spoken of a rumor that iguanadon bones were in Crowborough. There weren't any such bones, but, Dawson wrote, "Anyway, it brought the poor curator of the Hastings Museum up to Crowborough on a bicycle at a moment's notice" (May 13, 1911). Dawson mentions Butterfield again in June 1912, regarding a collection to go to the Hastings Museum. And shortly after the announcement to the Geological Society, Butterfield wrote to Woodward:


I am venturing to ask whether a plaster-cast of the skull and jaw discovered

in Sussex by Mr. Dawson could be made to the order of this Museum. The

discovery has interested me very much, and I am anxious to have here, if

possible, a cast of the specimen. (December 20, 1912)


On August 9, 1913, Butterfield reported, "The clubs and axes carried [in a pageant] by the Ancient Britons were made by Mr. Lewis Abbott, and all who saw them will agree, 1 think, that they were remarkably well done." He helped Abbott out financially. After Dawson's death, he arranged for the Hastings Museum to buy Dawson's collection from his widow. He seems a kindly sort. But, if we probe beneath the patina of [118] avuncular philanthropy, we find, according to his accuser, a rock-hard and obsessively vengeful personality.

It was Guy van Esbroeck's secondary Purpose in his Pleine Lumière to clear Dawson and Teilhard of suspicion. His Primary Purpose was to discover the hoaxer, an impossible task until the publication in 1965 of Teilhard's Lettres: "Fait Nouveau: Un incident in 1909 " heads the chapter, sixth in van Esbroeck's book, describing the first of two critical incidents leading to the identification of William Ruskin Butterfield as Piltdown hoaxer.

On July 1, 1909, Teilhard wrote to his parents about a meeting with Butterfield, "une aventure assez comique." Teilhard and his companion naively recounted to Butterfield that Dawson had found iguanadon bones in a quarry. It was one of Butterfield's dreams to have these for his museum. "I grow wild," said Butterfield. Butterfield, angry at Dawson (some of the anger popping off at Teilhard), decided to get even with this so-called friend who would give coveted iguanadon fossils to the British Museum rather than to the Hastings Museum, of which Dawson was himself a member.

Butterfield then selected fossils from his collection, careful to extract some of continental origin, and thus implicate Teilhard. Like a prestidigitator, he did the fakery; he then looked about for an accomplice who would, under the guise of helping Dawson, plant the fossils-Venus Hargreaves. Butterfield pretended to advise Dawson on what to make of them and where to deliver these fakes. A devilish curator, this Butterfield. A most disreputable navvie. this Venus Hargreaves, "sans doute l'unique complice du genial mystificateur." They planned a devastating supercherie.

Butterfield persuaded Dawson to search in the Piltdown neighborhood. With the fifth columnist Hargreaves at his side, Dawson had no chance of avoiding finding fossils. Butterfield continued to dissimulate friendship as the fossils were exhumed and went so far, says van Esbroeck, as to counsel Morris to exchange his flint for one of Dawson s fakes. The brief against Dawson is made airtight by another incident, that of the decoy goose.

Teilhard breakfasted at Castle Lodge one morning in August 1913 and then went off with Dawson and Woodward to the pit. In his letter to his parents, he added a pet goose to the list of diggers, the goose pestering them and acting fierce toward passersby. While the diggers were distracted by goose-antics, Venus Hargreaves surreptitiously dropped one of Butterfield's fabrications onto a rain-washed refuse heap. Teilhard was poking about and he found the canine of the jawbone of the famous man of Piltdown.



Workers at the pit with goose. Left to right: Teilhard [Ed. correction: Robert Kennard, Jr.], Dawson, workman, ferocious goose, and Woodward. (From archives of the British Museum [Natural History].)


Manwaring Baines had never met Butterfield, his predecessor as curator of the Hastings Museum, but he had been advised that Butterfield was bizarre. Butterfield had founded the Hastings and East Sussex Naturalist. He had a history not quite clean: between 1892 and 1930, 542 of his identifications of birds were rejected. Birdwatchers had been delighted by a flurry of rare specimens over Sussex. Butterfield had imported rare specimens from overseas. He and Dawson patched up their differences, and were reconciled, their British pride preventing them from showing their rivalry to a stranger, particularly to the alien Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin. Butterfield finally received what he desired: when Dawson died, part of the fossil collection, or what remained of the remains, went to the Hastings Museum.

Van Esbroeck, professor emeritus of the University of Gand, detests his fellow Catholic and professional colleague, Father Teilhard. He is offended at Teilhard's believing in the theory of evolution and censorious about Teilhard's placing man as judge of God. Teilhard's philosophy he finds thoroughly heretical. Teilhard was an apostate, not quite sane, "dans la lune," a theological troublemaker, though probably not quite bright enough to conceive of such a hoax.

[120] Van Esbroeck's thesis has not been given the slightest attention by other Piltdown scholars, which might mean that he hit on the truth about Butterfield as the Piltdown hoaxer or that his Pleine Lumière is itself an aventure assez comique. The only person to pick up on his book was A. P. Chamberlain, who, perhaps flailing about for some target other than his cousin Dawson, reminded Dawson's accusers "of recent press articles on suspected ornithological frauds on the Sussex coast about the same period."

If it were not for the prestige of the authorities I will now rely on, I would not invite you to visit the next two suspects. However, Peter Costello, a biographer of James Joyce and one of a handful of Piltdown scholars, and Glyn Daniel, a world-famous archaeologist, editor of Antiquity, and student of Piltdown for decades, cannot be disregarded in any inquest into the Piltdown case. There is (at the time of this writing, June 1986) very little upholding the incriminations posed by Costello and Daniel-in chronological order, an article by Peter Costello in Antiquity (1985), a BBC program (November 22, 1985) on that article, and another article in Antiquity by Glyn Daniel (March 1986).

Lionel Woodhead, son of Samuel Allison Woodhead, wrote a letter (dated in Costello's article as January 10, 1954) to Kenneth Oakley. In this, the son says that Dawson brought the skull to analyst Woodhead; both returned to the pit to look for other parts; "Dad himself found the eye tooth"; but Dad was not party to any hoax. A reply from Oakley elicited a further comment (January 16, 1954): Sam Woodhead and Dawson found the jaw a few days (not months) after Dawson had brought the skull. A day or so after Sam Woodhead found the jaw, he found the tooth. A year later, Teilhard found some other tooth.

In another letter (undated) to Glyn Daniel, Lionel said that his father refused to talk about Piltdown. Mrs. Woodhead remembered that Dawson had brought the bones in to find out how "one would treat bones to make them appear older than they were and my father told him how it could be done." Then Dawson "found" (the quotation marks are in Lionel Woodhead's letter) bones and so did Sam Woodhead. He continues: "Unknown to Dawson my father took some back to his lab where he became very suspicious. Before he could ask Dawson what he was trying to do the 'find' had been publicized. Unfortunately for what happened later my father was an extremely loyal friend and did not give the secret away."

These letters by Lionel Woodhead, written to exculpate his father, pointed Costello precisely to the opposite conclusion. According to Lionel Woodhead, his father had known of fraudulence as early as 1911; but [121] Woodhead continued to dig as late as October 1913. Since (a) he knew it was a hoax and (b) he continued to help out, then (c) he was in on it. It could be that he collaborated with Dawson, but Costello is firmly persuaded that Dawson was innocent, hence (d) Samuel Allinson Woodhead was the Piltdown hoaxer.

Lionel did not find that logic persuasive. On the BBC "Newsnight' program of November 22, 1985, Lionel Woodhead and Peter Costello had a go at it. Lionel said that Sam Woodhead accused Dawson of doing "something funny" and "there was a terrible row." His father kept quiet out of "misplaced loyalty."

Peter, however, returned to the point that if Sam Woodhead had continued digging at the pit after knowing "something funny" was going on, he was at least part of the funny business. Furthermore, Sam Woodhead used potassium bichromate in his chemical analyses. That clinches it.

Why did Sam Woodhead do it? Because, Costello said on the program, as a "devout Presbyterian," he hoped that exposure of the hoax would destroy evolutionary theory. (Sam Woodhead died in 1943; Costello did not discuss why Sam Woodhead had not revealed the hoax in the thirty years between its initiation and his death.)

Lionel Woodhead countered that his father, as a public analyst, would not fake anything. The narrator said that Samuel Allinson Woodhead was a "model of Edwardian respectability."

Glyn Daniel, who had rejected every prior identification of a culprit, approved of Costello's. In a heading to Costello's article, Daniel said that Piltdown scholars had wondered whether they would "ever know the truth. Now we think we do." In his own article on the subject, that of March 1986, he offered up John Theodore Hewitt (1868-1954), professor of chemistry at Queen Mary College in London, as a collaborator. Hewitt had read a paper on the natural gas that Dawson discovered at Heathfield; Sam Woodhead, like Hewitt a member of the council of the Society of Analysts, analyzed that gas.

The day after the BBC interview was broadcast, a Mrs. Elizabeth Pryce wrote to Daniel. She said that in 1952 she had been a neighbor of Professor Hewitt in Hurst. At a Sunday luncheon, "he told my parents and me that he and a friend had made the Piltdown Man as a joke." She didn't remember who that friend was "or if in fact it is true." She and her mother had discussed Professor Hewitt's confession. In another letter to Glyn Daniel, she elaborated: she and her mother had "talked about the time when Dr. Hewitt, as we knew him, spoke about the making of the skull. How he laughed when he said, 'One day they will find out it was [122] made by man.' My mum says she can close her eyes and see this."

Dr. Daniel went to visit Mrs. Pryce and her mum, Mrs. Hawkins, who remembered clearly the conversation that had taken place with Dr. Hewitt 34 years before. Daniel is impressed by the fact that in the entire field (he comes to a total count of 21 suspects), Hewitt was the only one who said he did it-with a friend who may have been Samuel Woodhead.

The case brought against Woodhead (I don't know whether Costello accepts Hewitt as Woodhead's accomplice) is more reasonable than that brought against Butterfield, and shorter. If the accusation hinges on Woodhead's having access to potassium bichromate and his being a devout Presbyterian, it's shaky. But final judgment awaits Costello's book.

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