In late July 1980, Bostonians reading their Boston Globe were quizzed, "Did This Joke Work Too Well?' The Herald American asked "Did Theologian Have a Hand in Great Missing Link Hoax?" and the Washington Post answered: "Piltdown Hoax Said to Involve Jesuit Scholar." Time burst into capitals: "HOLY HOAXER??"

The accusation that provoked these headlines, titillating the public imagination more than any before or since, was entitled "The Piltdown Conspiracy." Both author and suspect were famous people: the author, Stephen Jay Gould, a professor at Harvard University, was (and is) one of the world's foremost authorities on evolution and the history of biology and of world-rank as a popularizer of science. The suspect was Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit theologian, paleontologist, philosopher, and best-selling mystic. Gould had caught a fallen star of great eminence.

Teilhard's posthumous reputation arouses strong emotions. As a priest, he has been a target for evolutionists who laugh at his mysticism; as a paleontologist, for mystics who despise his evolutionism. Others believe that his synthesis of Roman Catholicism and evolution deserves the highest respect. His best contribution to paleontology was his participation in excavating the Choukoutien caves; his most dramatic, that at Piltdown.

Suspicion about Teilhard's role had been running underground for at least 25, perhaps 55, years before it surfaced in Gould's articles. Essex in 1955 claimed that back in 1913 he and Dawson had suspected Teilhard of deception. The thesis that Dawson was innocent and Teilhard guilty impressed Francis Vere and Malcolm Bowden.

Louis Leakey also seemed to have thought Teilhard guilty. I say "seemed" because his comments were not straightforward, and sometimes [124] became insinuations. His Adam's Ancestor gave no hint that Piltdown Man is anything other than a reality (Leakey, 1935). After the exposé, in Unveiling Man's Origin (Leakey and Goodall, 1969), he designed a profile of the hoaxer that differs substantially from that of this inquest's Chapter 6.


The last word on the subject has not yet been written. There can be no doubt at all that at least one of the persons involved in making the forgeries must have had considerable knowledge of chemistry as well as some training in geology and human anatomy. The perpetrators also must have had access to fossil bones from outside Great Britain, since some of the animal fossils "planted" with the skull and jaws, at the site, came from places like Malta and North Africa.


Teilhard de Chardin is the shadow being boxed at in this passage.

In his autobiography (Leakey, 1974), he restated the critical criterion of knowledge of chemistry. A reporter from the Sunday Times called him to pin down whether he really did have Teilhard in mind. Leakey shrugged off the question with, "I don't say so in so many words, do l?" (Bowden, 1981). Mary Leakey prevented her husband's publishing a manuscript in which he did say so in so many words. She feared that its publication would hurt her husband's more than Teilhard's reputation. Glyn Daniel, who reports this story, often opposed Leakey on the Teilhard incrimination (Daniel, 1981).

Others who didn't think him guilty still felt that Teilhard had done something. Ronald Millar, in The Piltdown Men: "The evidence against the priest is as black, if not blacker, than that against Dawson." L. B. Halstead wrote that Teilhard's finding the canine is a clue to his guilt (Halstead, 1979). As early as September 1975, four years before Gould's first article appeared, Glyn Daniel, while feeling that Teilhard certainly had nothing to do with the beginning of the hoax, "just could have been curiously involved in the affair of the canine.... The whole incident of the canine stinks." In the last of his series on the Piltdown hoax, Harrison Matthews, who included Teilhard as one of the quartet of hoaxers, alluded to rumors that in some bank vault lies Teilhard's confession, not to be read until all those concerned with the original case have died.

They have all died, as have the chief investigators who produced the exposé, but the confession has not appeared. Until it does, the inquest will rely upon available evidence in attempting to ascertain whether Teilhard was the sole Piltdown hoaxer, or a collaborator, or a dupe, or a bystander as innocent as his accusers. Accusations against him are based [125] on his activities before and during the Piltdown episode and his responses afterward both to the growing fame of Piltdown Man and to the exposé. This chapter will examine these specific clues: his expertise in the techniques of the four forgeries, his access to the fossils and to the pit, his errors in relating what happened when, his reticence to talk about Piltdown, his ambiguous language when he did, and his sense of humor.

A warning might be of use here. General statements won't suffice in this investigation any more than in an investigation of an ape's jaw. We will be getting into lamentably fine details about dates, the Fifth Amendment, and a garbage dump. The inquest moves from the psychology of the hoaxer to the reasoning of the judges, from canine to rules of evidence, from the meaning of a fossil to the meaning of a phrase, and from propositions to a misunderstanding of a preposition.




Charge #1: The hoaxer had to have special expertise in chemistry, anatomy, and paleontology. Teilhard had it.

As a child, Pierre followed his father's footsteps over mountains, collecting beetles, minerals, fossils. Juvenile interest in naturalism led straight to Cairo, where from 1905 to 1908 he taught physics and chemistry at a Catholic school and went exploring. The hoaxer knew his chemistry. Teilhard was the only one among the suspects to teach that subject.

Leakey's emphasis on this criterion of hoaxery was paraphrased by Malcolm Bowden, who with customarily extravagant use of italics wrote that "Teilhard's knowledge of chemistry was considerable, for he had been a lecturer in this very subject whilst at Cairo University." This is a little misleading: Teilhard lectured not at a university, but at a secondary school- the College of the Holy Family-where he was reader in elementary chemistry. Still, ignorance of advanced chemistry can no more exonerate Teilhard than knowledge of elementary chemistry incriminates him.

Dawson, said Bowden, couldn't handle the technology for a hoax. Teilhard, however, was "a keen student of paleontology" who went on to obtain international recognition as an expert, writing

numerous papers and assisting at the excavation of Pekin Man. He would have had more than sufficient knowledge to know which animal fossils should be implanted in the grave, to give it the correct age for dating the finds.... He would be aware that the atmosphere in scientific circles was ripe for the finding of an ape-man link.

[126] Teilhard told a different story about himself He wrote to Oakley (March 1, 1954; the letters exchanged by Teilhard and Oakley are reproduced in Teilhard de Chardin, L'oeuvre Scientifique, 1971):


You know, at that time, I was a young student in theology,-not allowed often to leave much his cell of Ore Place (Hastings),-and I did not know anything about anthropology (or even pre-history): my chief passion was the Wealdian bone-beds and their fossil teeth content.


His achieving recognition later as a scientist, such as his rising to the post of professor of geology at the Institut Catholique in Paris after World War I and his field work in China, Africa, and elsewhere, does not relate to his expertise before 1912. One way of finding out something about his alleged expertise is to zoom in on his publication record. To 1912, this record shows that he was interested in the Tertiary period and the natural history of Fayum, physical laws, the miracles of Lourdes, volcanic rock, religious ethnology, and a cricket.

Comment on charge #1: In 1909, Teilhard had sufficient expertise in chemistry, anatomy, and paleontology to execute the hoax. So did the others. I should express my own bias here at the beginning of the inquest on Teilhard de Chardin, since it will affect the commentaries on the charges as it affects my views on which of the Piltdown suspects best fits the profile of Chapter 6: I think that we ought to believe what Teilhard says unless there's strong proof that he's lying.

Charge #2: The hoaxer had to have easy access to exotic fossils and to the pit. Teilhard's history shows that he could easily have obtained the fossils and deposited them in the pit.

Essex reported that John Montgomery had discerned a resemblance between the elephant femur slab and one found in the Dordogne, site of the Cro-Magnon Les Eyzies culture and about a hundred miles from Teilhard's home. J. 0. Head, who knew Robert Essex, described the femur slab implement as "a tool used in the alpine regions of France as an aid to thatching roofs" (Head, 1971). Experts of the Geological Society of London examining that fossil disagreed. They thought it resembled a fossil from an Egyptian deposit of Elephas. But switching from France to Egypt, far from getting Teilhard off the hook, impales him more firmly. He had, after all, lived in Egypt. The Elephas molar tooth fragments could have come only from Ichkeul, near Bizerta in northern Tunisia. Ichkeul is 1,400 miles from Cairo. As for the Maltese hippopotamus tooth, Malta is about 1,100 miles from Cairo, and Teilhard could have [127] stopped off there for that curio.

Bowden, Leakey, and Le Gros Clark found geographical proximity (if 1,000+ miles is proximate) an opportunity for Teilhard to obtain the mammalian molar fragments. But, as Gould pointed out, while Teilhard could have stopped off at Tunisia and Malta, he didn't have to. North African collectors, like their counterparts elsewhere, traded fossils. Teilhard was friendly with Ines Bey, a dedicated fossil-hunter of the region who could have come up with anything wanted.

There is no anecdotal evidence that Teilhard had a habit of secreting fossils in his habit, but if he were the hoaxer, certain fossils that would later appear in the Sussex pit accompanied him as cargo on the voyage from Egypt to Europe. He stopped off to visit his family and friends in France, crossed the channel, arrived at Ore Place in Hastings, began the life of a seminary student, and participated in or initiated the series of events that make him a candidate for Piltdown hoaxer.

"HOLY HOAXER?' Time asked in 1980. "Geologist?' Dawson had asked when he and Teilhard met in a quarry in 1909. Perhaps a year after that encounter among iguanadon fossils, Dawson told Teilhard of the Piltdown pit. Being well into his digs at Ore Place, Teilhard then joined Dawson in the digs at the pit, Dawson having settled Woodward's anxiety by saying that the 27-year-old priest was "quite safe." Although some historians maintain that Teilhard often visited the pit, the record evidences three or four visits. On one occasion, when Charlie called to him to come out and play in the pit, Pierre said that he'd like to, "Mais, je nai plus guere le temps par cela."

Whether one thinks the seminary, forty miles from Piltdown, providentially close to the pit or far away doesn't much matter. Nor does it matter whether Teilhard had a lot of time to go hiking about the weald or very little. Those who think he did not have much time emphasize the tight control of a Jesuit education, with its strict schedule of mandatory activity, classes five days a week; study, prayer, and exercise periods. An excursion once a month would have been more than enough time to do the planting.

It is unlikely that Teilhard could have used the seminary's facilities for renovating the fossils. The forger boiled chemicals whose aroma would have alarmed fellow scholastics and worse, superiors who could have barged in on Teilhard anytime they wanted to and caught the precocious novitiate fiddling away. If Teilhard worked with Dawson, then he would have had access to Dawson's cellar or office.

Comment on Charge #2: Proximity to the sites where the exotic [128] fossils came from has no bearing on availability of those fossils in England. Access to the pit is more important, and Teilhard, whether he had a good deal of free time or not, whether he had always been in the company of a compére or had been able to escape now and then, had that. He lacked a convenient alchemical laboratory in which to work the miraculous transubstantiation of a couple of handsful of fossils into the apparition Eoanthropus dawsoni.




Charge #3: Teilhard was too successful at finding fossils to have found them by sheer luck.

In April 1912, Dawson showed Teilhard some fossils from the pit and invited him to dig, to which Teilhard responded that he didn't have time. His first recorded visit to the pit was on May 31. About that he wrote to his parents on June 3 from Bramber, where he was chaplain, that he had found a fossil. "This find considerably enhanced my reputation with Woodward.... This first tooth of an elephant impressed me the way another man is impressed by bringing down his first snipe." He might also have found a flint implement on that dig. He refers to "the famous human skull."

During the following months, he went about his clerical and paleontological businesses, including (in July) a return to France for graduate training in paleontology under Marcellin Boule and (in January 1913) duties as priest to glassworkers. After returning from France to Lewes on August 8, 1913, Teilhard visited the pit a second time and then, on August 30, found the canine. Harry Morris said afterward that that canine had originated in France. Teilhard wrote home, in the letter referring to the pet goose, "It was a moment of grand excitement. Remember that it was the last dig of the season." That last dig of the season would be the last time Dawson and Teilhard would meet.

From Vere (1959):


What a lucky man was Teilhard! A flint in situ and a stegodon fragment within two days of beginning inspection in 1912, and the invaluable canine within a few hours of his arrival in 1913.... Is it not "inherently possible"- to use one of Weiner's phrases-that some one other than Dawson had "planted" it and Teilhard by sheer good luck had found it? Or even that the latter had brought it?


[129] In a letter to Oakley, Teilhard wrote that the canine was so inconspicuous, it seemed "quite unlikely" that it could have been planted (November 23, 1953).

Comment on Charge #1 Dawson was even luckier. Woodward found a flint. Davidson Black and E. Ray Lankester, both of whom just dropped in, picked up fossils. Teilhard found an inconspicuous darkly stained canine in a mound of darkly stained gravel of the same size. The leaner explanation, namely that he had sharp eyes, is more presentable than the padded speculation that he didn't find it, but took it out of his pocket.




Charge #4. Teilhard did not comment often enough about the finds before the exposé or about the hoax afterward. He was silent because he was guilty.

When Teilhard recalled the Piltdown excavation, he spoke of his good luck at having been invited to participate in it, one of his "brightest and earliest" paleontological memories. He praised Hastings as the Cannes d'Angleterre. But he shied away, or so the brief against him goes, from talking much about Piltdown Man. In 23 volumes of Teilhard's collected works, Gould states (1980), there are not half a dozen references to Piltdown Man. Yet certain events clamored for his reference to that hominid, such as the finds at Choukoutien, which Grafton Elliot Smith seized on as another opportunity to discuss the finds at Piltdown.

His reticence would be even more suspicious if Piltdown Man were a good example of Teilhard's philosophy of evolution. He sometimes did speak (as in an early paper, 1920) as though that were the case: Eoanthropus "admirably resumes life's previous effort," journeying along the human line while Neanderthal Man rode a rail destined for extinction. But, according to a Teilhard partisan, the sequence of Piltdown skull followed by smaller skulls argued precisely for what Teilhard rejected in his philosophy: "the domination of matter over spirit" (King, 1983). His mature judgment is in one of his last published statements on human evolution (1953). In this late paper, "The Idea of Fossil Man," he escorts Eoanthropus out of the human lineage. Eoanthropus was only "sapientoid," a "para-hominian" like Neanderthal Man rather than a "pre-hominian." Though he rejects Piltdown Man as an ancestor, he does accept it as "a paleontological reality." Whatever gambit one tries to open an understanding of whether Piltdown Man did or did not exemplify Teilhard's cosmic philosophy, the game ends in stalemate.


Hypothetical Structure of Human Phylum

Hypothetical structure of the human phylum, as suggested by the Australopithecines and the Pithecanthropines. Key: H.Rh., Rhodesian Man; H.Nd., Neanderthal Man; H.St., Steinheim Man; H.Sw., Swanscombe Man; H.Pal, Palestine Man; H.Sc., Saccopastore Man; Eo., Eoanthropus,. H.Sol, Solo Man; Sin., Sinanthropus,. Pith., Pithecanthropus group (and Meganthropus); Modj., Modjokerto Man; Tel, Telanthropus,. Austral, Australopithecines. 0 is the presumed point of human origin. In H. sapiens, the originally diverging elements composing the human phylum are decidedly converging under the pressure of forces of socialization. (Teilhard, 1952)


When he was told about the hoax, he shied away from entering into conversation about it. When Oakley tried to engage him in a conversation, the priest, in Gould's words, "always changed the subject." Oakley, Gould continues-Gould hearing significance in Teilhard's silence-guided Teilhard through the British Museum exhibit of the hoax.

Teilhard glumly walked through as fast as he could, eyes averted, saying nothing.... Finally Teilhard's secretary took Oakley aside and explained that Piltdown was a sensitive subject with Father Teilhard. (1980)


[131] This embarrassed silence, Gould concludes, "arose from guilt."

Comment on Charge #4. I shouldn't doubt that Gould's account is entirely correct. (Gould reports in "The Piltdown Conspiracy" that A. S. Romer witnessed the same reticence from Teilhard; Leakey said he did too.) But I would not extrapolate guilt from silence. Taking the Fifth does not mean that the taker by doing so thereby incriminates himself. Silence does not signify culpability, nor even knowledge.

If Teilhard were silent not because of guilt, the interesting question is why he did not write about Eoanthropus in that fable's heyday or speak about the exposure of the hoax as much as we would wish. One reason might be that he was more impressed by the excitement of the digging than by the significance of the find. Of 158 letters he wrote from 1908 to 1914, only 12 relate to Dawson; and only half of those to Piltdown, which converts into 1/ 13th of the total epistolary collection. His attitude toward Piltdown Man in these letters to friends and family is like Dawson's own in his letters to Woodward. We might feel that he should have been more interested; but he wasn't.

Although there isn't an abundance of references to Piltdown Man in Teilhard's letters and articles before the expose, the references are significant. From as early as 1913, he urged upon others his thesis that Eoanthropus should be applied only to the skull; the Eoanthropus we all know and some loved, that is, skull and jaw, he repeatedly severed.

1. On New Year's Day 1913, he wrote to his companion Fr. Pelletier:


The last news from Dawson is a postcard giving me information on the skull he found at Lewes, Eoanthropus dawsoni, which was presented to theGeological Society on December 18. To know the importance of the discovery, one must wait some time for publication of the paper and for the critical evaluation that will follow.... Anatomically it seems that the form of the skull, and especially of the jaw (which I have not seen) is very remarkable. I am in a special position to hear the opinions of Boule and Oberimeier who are not easily taken in-especially if the findings are English.(Ore Place records are now in the Jesuit archives at Chantilly, France; this letter is quoted in Schmitz-Moorman, 1981)


Boule's opinion (as of that time; he wavered after Site II's finds were made public) was that the mandible and its molars were ape.

2. In 1920, Teilhard wrote an article entitled "Le Cas de I'Homme Piltdown." This opened with an apology: others, including Marcellin Boule, had already explicated Piltdown. But the author's having been a friend of Dawson and a participant in the hunt might make his testimony [132] of interest. He proceeded to give an account of the excavation. One reads along, familiar stuff, and comes to the section subheaded "Restes d'animaux" (Animal remains).

But the section on human remains is headed "Restes presumés humains" (Presumed human remains). The skepticism indicated in that heading is bolstered by Teilhard's references to Waterston, Boule, and Miller, the three major opponents of Piltdown Man's being a single being. He elaborated upon their criticism-that the mandibular (or glenoid) fossa, typically human, could not have accepted the articular condyle of a chimpanzee's jawbone and that the cranium belonged to a human being, the jaw to an ape. It is clear from this paper that he belonged to the skeptics. In this article, describing Eoanthropus as "human skull, ape jaw," Teilhard explicitly came out in favor of dissociating the two. Piltdown Man was a geological accident: a prehistoric human skull (Eoanthropus) neighbor to a prehistoric ape-jaw (Pan vetus or Troglodyte s dawsoni).

3. On February 23, 1952, in an address to the Anthropology Section of the New York Academy of Sciences, he designated Piltdown Man only by the skull.

4. He again defined Piltdown Man only by the skull in the 1953 "The Idea of Fossil Man."

5. Then the exposé broke. He wrote to Oakley (November 28, 1953, in L'ouevre Scientifique, 1971) that anatomically Piltdown Man had constituted a kind of anatomical monster and paleontological aberration. Because he had early (back in 1920) realized that, he was "fundamentally pleased" by the solution despite its spoiling a bright memory.

6. A collection of Teilhard's paleontological essays, L'Apparition de l'Homme, came out posthumously, in 1956. The editor, N. M. Wildiers, wrote that Teilhard had requested that references to Piltdown Man be deleted. Teilhard explained he was happy that he no longer had to refer to Eoanthropus, which had always posed, with reason, an insoluble classification problem. The exposé had settled the matter.

Another reason for someone choosing to be silent is a reluctance to snitch on friends. Maybe Teilhard had known all along about the hoax. Von Koenigwald said that Teilhard, knowing that Europe had not been the habitation of any Pleistocene ape, must have realized that something was in the works, and must therefore have felt "deceived and cheated" (1981).

1 doubt that Teilhard had any suspicion before the exposé that there had been a hoax. Others, people who knew him, also doubt that. Sher[133]wood Washburn remembered that Ashley Montagu had brought the bad news to Teilhard about the results of the British Museum investigation. The occasion was a meeting of the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Montagu said that Teilhard, reeling backward and raising his hands, was "either the best actor in the world or the thought of forgery came as a complete surprise" (Private communication, August 18, 1981). Washburn referred to a letter he had received from Teilhard, who said "at once that he could not believe that any of the people with whom he had been associated was guilty and that he was sure some other explanation would be found" (Washburn, 1981). Teilhard said much the same thing to a New York Times reporter on November 25, 1953.

To Washburn's and Montagu's accounts, I'd like to add that of George Gaylord Simpson. Simpson wrote that Gould's thesis was unacceptable. One day after the exposé, Simpson met Teilhard at the American Museum of Natural History. "Teilhard told me that he had never before known and that it had never occurred to him as possible that 'Eoanthropus' was a hoax"' (Private communication, September 21, 1984).




Charge #5 with comments. Teilhard left ambiguous clues scattered around, as if on purpose to tantalize Piltdown historians. In the letter of June 3, 1912, he referred to "the famous human skull." In his article "Le Cas de l'Homme Piltdown," he inadvertently used an expression that clues us in to his knowledge of the hoax. After he had been told of the exposé , he created a false chronology about when he had met Dawson and then he built a garbage dump.

1. The famous human skull. In his letter to his parents of June 3, 1912, the day after he had joined the diggers and before the skull had become famous, or even a skull, Teilhard referred to it as "the famous human skull." Bowden wrote that this slip means that Teilhard not only participated in the fraud but anticipated its reception. The phrase is "du fameux cråne." I think that Teilhard meant by "fameux" not "famous," but something more akin to "wonderful" or maybe even merely "interesting." In the same letter of June 3, 1912, he refers to "la trop fameuse miss Peter," who was the author of a book on George Tyrrell.

2. As if on purpose. By using a phrase "stunning in its directness," Teilhard clued us in to his complicity in the plot. This is the relevant passage from Teilhard's 1920 "Le Cas de I'Homme Piltdown":


[134] It is curious to note that we lack a direct and basic measure between the two contending parties. Since the glenoid fossa exists on the temporal in perfect condition, it would have been possible, had the mandible kept its condyle, to attempt an articulation: we could have seen, without any doubt, whether the one and the other fit.
As if on purpose, the condyle happens to be missing' (Comme par exprès, le condyle s'est trouve manquer')


And now, Gould's analysis:


Comme par exprès. I couldn't get those words out of my mind for But I think that Teilhard was trying to tell us something he didn't dare revea directly. (Gould, 1980)


A kind of security prevails with empirical solutions-tracing where fossils originated or how they were made presentable through being dressed up and cosmetized. But when it comes to "comme par exprès" and other phrases we have to examine, the inquiry slows, gets waylaid by the inaccuracy of translation, the imprecision of memory, the subtleties of authorial intention, and the vagaries of critics' psychohistories.

Gould interprets the phrase to mean that Teilhard knew Piltdown Man was fraudulent, "as if on purpose" a code for "on purpose." Edward O. Dodson (1981) thinks that Teilhard was expressing "his disappointment that the defects of the fossils prevent a critical test," not that the fossils had been deliberately altered to prevent a critical test.

There is, alas, another option. In the article, Teilhard refers favorably to Gerrit Miller's theory that the cranium was that of a human being, the jawbone that of an extinct ape. Miller had written, in a passage already quoted, but important enough to quote again:


Deliberate malice could hardly have been more successful than the hazards of deposition in so breaking the fossils as to give free scope to individual judgment in fitting the parts together.


Miller had no cognition in 1915 of any fraud. By "deliberate malice," he was venting his aggravation that the fossil jawbone had been (accidentally) broken or had. in Dawson's phrase, "rotted off." Teilhard's "comme par exprès" may be nothing more than a rendition or even translation of Miller's "deliberate malice." More likely, Teilhard simply observed that the condyle looked as though it had been broken off deliberately, without [135] any messages underneath that he thought it had been or that he had broken off the structures. We might recall that there is no evidence anyone broke off the condyle or symphysis.

3. A decoy chronology. On March 1, 1954, Teilhard informed Kenneth Oakley that he had not known Dawson in 1908, which is true, but, as Gould points out, misleading-he had met Dawson in 1909. At another time, he recollected that he had met Dawson in 1911. If the plot had begun in 1909, and Teilhard had not been on the scene, then this false dating would remove him from involvement.

I think he just forgot when he had first met Dawson. What's important about this is that if he were forgetful about the year of his first meeting with Dawson, which he enjoyed, found profitable, and reminisced about pleasantly, we ought not to be surprised if he was forgetful about other, less important occasions.

4. A garbage dump. Teilhard invented a story to justify how the pit could have received its fossils without anyone's planting them. The pit, flooded during the winter with water that iron-stains remarkably fast, was available as a "Perfect dumping place" for Barkham Manor. Suppose some collector had thrown a discarded ape jaw into it? That would have been stained as was a fresh-sawed bone Teilhard had seen in a Hastings stream, a butcher's bone "stained almost as deep brown as the human remains from Piltdown." He admitted to Oakley that this was a fantastic hypothesis, but held to the opinion that it was "no more fantastic than to make Dawson the perpetrator of a hoax."

Guy van Esbroeck sneered at the rationalization that the pit was a dump as an "ideé bien farfelue." Bowden reminded us that butchers don't dispose of their bones in streams: Teilhard was probably testing the staining property of stream water. Oakley in his November 19, 1953, letter wrote that he would send The Solution of the Piltdown Problem "almost immediately"; it's unlikely that Teilhard received the monograph by the 23rd and therefore unlikely that he knew just how the staining had been accomplished.

I suppose he built the garbage dump to get the reputations of his friends--not his own-out of the net.




Charge #6. After being informed that Piltdown Man was a hoax, Teilhard wrote letters full of all kinds of errors and strange interpretations that [136] seem deliberately contrived as alibis for Dawson and for himself. The most important of these, the fatal error, was not deliberate-the truth slipped out: he had participated in the Site II hokum.

From the November 28, 1953, letter to Kenneth Oakley:


As far as the fragments of Piltdown Location 2 are concerned, it must be observed that Dawson never tried to emphasize them particularly, although (if I am correct) these specimens were announced after the finds in Locality I were complete. He just brought me to the site of Locality 2 and explained [to] me that he had found the isolated molar and the small pieces of skull in the heaps of rubble and pebbles raked at the surface of the field.


When could Dawson have brought Teilhard to Site II to show him the heaps of rubble and pebbles? It had to be before late 1913 because Teilhard left England for France then or early in 1914. Oakley wrote to Teilhard for a clarification. Teilhard responded on January 29, 1954:


Concerning the point of "history" you ask me, my "souvenirs" are a little vague. Yet, by elimination (and since Dawson died during the first war, if I am correct) my visit with Dawson to the second site (where the two small fragments of skull and the isolated molar were supposedly found in the rubble) must have been in late July 1913, certainly not in 1914....
P. S. When I visited the site no. 2 (in 1913?) the two small fragments of skull and the tooth had already been found, I believe. But your very question makes me doubtful! ... Yes, I think definitely they had been already found:

and that is the reason why Dawson pointed [out] to me the little heaps of raked pebbles as the place of the "discovery." . . .

According to this clarification, Dawson found the Site II fossils in July 1913, and told Teilhard of them, even taking him to the place. Woodward, we know, didn't find out until January 1915. Teilhard visited with Woodward in September 1913. He would certainly have told Woodward of this choice find, and then the game would have been up for Dawson. Certainly Teilhard would have told Woodward-unless Teilhard were in on the hoax.

In another letter, on March 2, 1954, Teilhard wrote to Mabel Kenward: "Dawson showed me the field where the second skull (fragments) were found. But, as I wrote to Oakley, I cannot remember whether it was before or after the find" (quoted in Mary Lukas and Ellen Lukas, 1983). One resolution is that Teilhard was guilty all by himself. Bowden maintained that Teilhard planted the fossils in Site II "for discovery by Dawson [137] long after Teilhard had left for France." How Teilhard could have hoped Dawson would come upon a few small fossils in a field raises a mystery that we needn't pause to solve.

An alternative resolution is that Dawson and Teilhard were collaborative culprits. Gould defines Teilhard's "fatal error": Teilhard "could not have seen the remains of Piltdown 2 with Dawson, unless they had manufactured them together before he left"; and again, in reply to a critic, "If Teilhard saw the Piltdown 2 material, he probably helped Dawson to manufacture it before he left."

Comment on Charge #6. If we review Teilhard's letters, we find that he never said he saw the remains of Piltdown 2. He said that he had seen the site, and that Dawson had told him fossils had been retrieved from the heaps. In 1920, Teilhard returned to England. Cuénot tells us that he was "excited being shown the new fragments of cranium and the new fossil tooth" of Site 11. Apparently, he hadn't seen them before; ifs possible he hadn't heard of them. I've found no mention by Teilhard of the Site II fossils before 1920 or after, until Oakley's inquiry.

Two economical explanations are available. The first is that Dawson was the Piltdown hoaxer. Teilhard's letters confirmed Oakley's impression, as Oakley wrote on February 9, 1954, that Dawson "withheld information from Woodward. Thus according to the records we have here [at the British Museum] he said nothing to Woodward about having found the specimens at the second site until 1915!' Dawson fabricated the Site II finds, told Teilhard about them, even most diabolically showed Teilhard the pebble-heaps, and somehow persuaded Teilhard to keep it quiet. That explanation has its difficulties. (Why would Dawson have wanted to keep it quiet until 1915? What could have persuaded Teilhard to go alone.)

An even more economical explanation is that both Dawson and Teilhard were innocent. Dawson, having discerned a similarity between flints in the pit and flints in a ploughed field, imagined that since the former had been accompanied by fossils the latter would be too. He and Teilhard toured Site II in 1913, seeing nothing but grass and flowers and trees. In the spring and autumn of 1914, Dawson returned to that site, this time with Woodward. They also found nothing. He returned again in the winter of 1914-1915, this time accompanied by someone else.

But if Teilhard hadn't seen the heaps of pebbles, how come he had such a clear picture of them? I think he got his picture from this:


When, however, in the course of farming, the stones had been raked off the ground and brought together into heaps, Mr. Dawson was able to search the

material more satisfactorily; and early in 1915 he was so fortunate as to find

here two well-fossilized pieces of human skull and a molar tooth, which he immediately recognized as belonging to at least one more individual of Eoanthropus dawsoni. Shortly afterwards, in the same gravel, a friend met with part of the lower molar of an indeterminable species of rhinoceros, as highly mineralized as the specimens previously found at Piltdown itself.


This passage comes from Arthur Smith Woodward's 1917 paper on Site II. Teilhard's only detail of the site-"in the heaps of rubble and pebbles raked at the surface of the field"-is very like the detail in Woodward's paper-"the stones had been raked off the ground and brought together into heaps."




Teilhard's opinion about the possibility that Dawson was the Piltdown hoaxer changed over the post-exposé years. In the letter to Oakley, he entirely discredits the idea that Dawson (or anyone) committed the hoax. In a letter to Abbé Breuil, reproduced in Mary Lukas's biography, he is more hospitable to the interpretation of fraud, though still not to the identification of Dawson as hoaxer:


I still have trouble believing that Dawson himself perpetrated the fraud. Fantastic though it seems, I would prefer to think that someone else innocently threw the bone fragments from a neighboring cottage into the ditch.... Nevertheless, I must admit to you that this new discovery, splendid though it is, spoils one of the happiest memories of my early scientific career.


Shortly before his death, Teilhard moved to accepting Dawson as hoaxer. A very close friend of his, Comte Henry de Begouën, whom Teilhard had known for forty years, submitted a statement to Antiquity (March 1981) relating two meetings, one during World War II, the other after 1953, with Teilhard. One evening, on the Belgian front by the village of Killem, Begouën greeted Teilhard with "C'est donc vous 1'homme de la dent de Piltdown," which might have brought back memories of Dawson's "Geologist?" Asked to do so, Teilhard recounted the story of Piltdown: he was conducted by Dawson to the pit, found the canine. 'Cest tout."

Begouën visited Teilhard after the scandal broke. Teilhard said that, [139] if he had had doubts on the authenticity of the find back in the Piltdown days, he would have expressed them, but that he lacked experience of the terrain and he was blinded by friendship. He claimed that he still had difficulty admitting that Dawson had deceived him, yet a "deception cruelle" had been practiced on him by this friend in whom he had had full confidence; and he felt the mortification of having been duped. In any case, it was comfortable to know that Science had attained a degree of finesse such that it was now immune to the most elaborate frauds. Bégouèn adds his persuasion that, above all, Teilhard tried to safeguard the reputation of his old friend. He was of too high a "valeur morale" to take vengeance.

Teilhard progressed from believing that Piltdown was the remains of two authentic fossils (monstrous if they were jammed together) to defending it as a mistake, to accepting it as a hoax, and finally, to accepting Dawson as hoaxer.




Charge #7. Teilhard's motive was to play a joke on Dawson. Or Dawson and Teilhard together decided to have some boyish fun. Maybe they came to that decision over a couple of mugs of stout or a more lethal brew, Teilhard favoring snails in whisky. Many paleontologists Gould consulted suspected Teilhard-A. S. Romer, Bryan Patterson, Louis Leakey, even K. P. Oakley, who said to Gould in April 1980, "I think it's right that Teilhard was in it." That quick clue, which can scurry under a sentence in a blink, has to be brought forward: "I think it's right that Teilhard was in it."

It was only a joke on Teilhard's part, the motive to embarrass Dawson. The first person to come up with that explanation of Teilhard's motive was Robert Essex, Dawson's schoolmaster friend, who linked Teilhard (Mr. X) to the elephant femur piece and jawbone. In 1961, Essex, then an old man, met Mr. J. 0. Head, who reported, ten years later ("Piltdown Mystery," 1971):


One of Essex's points lay in his estimation of the personalities of the two men: Dawson being pompous, self-opinionated and unimaginative, far ore likely to be the victim than perpetrator of such a hoax, whereas Teilhard was, as Leakey states, well known as a practical joker. One has only to read

Dawson's patronizing references to Teilhard to find a motive.


[140] Leakey rewrote the story by having Teilhard not a sole hoaxer duping Dawson, but a co-conspirator duping everybody except Dawson. Gould embroiders Leakey's bland prose, imagining "Dawson and Teilhard, over long hours in field and pub, hatching a plot ... to expose the gullibility of pompous professionals; Teilhard to rub English noses once again with the taunt that their nation had no legitimate human fossils." (Gould gets carried away: we soon have a Teilhard who hides "passion, mystery, and good humor behind a garb of piety," a "fun-loving" Teilhard who "strove to experience the world in all its pleasures and pains.") At any rate, after the thing was done, the two planned to tell everybody and have a good laugh.

But two unfortunate things happened. First, Dawson died. Second, anybody who counted for anything went for it with unexpected ferocity. Teilhard was scared to confess. Maybe he thought his friends and colleagues would stone him. So he kept quiet about it for the rest of his life. The unexpected roaring success accounts for Teilhard's willingness to surrender Dawson to the critics-according to Bowden; and for his sulky silence, evasive tactics, irritation when pressed-according to other accusers. In the traditional fashion of golem-makers, having animated the monster, he couldn't stop it from smashing its way into the human party.

This portrait of a prankster, a young Jesuit who strove to experience the world in all its pleasures and pains (all?) isn't what Teilhard's partisans draw. Marcellin Boule, Cuènot, the Lukases, Schmitz-Moorman, Thomas J. King, S.1, Winifred McCulloch, and others who have studied Teilhard's life, found him not a double-crosser, but an honest, authentic person, industrious, observant, keen in analysis, talented at synthesis. His career, wrote Boule (as quoted in Cuènot), "though just begun, already gives promise of being among the most brilliant."

The biographers and friends of Teilhard have a vested interest in protecting their hero. But it is not only from that direction that a personality opposite to the accuser's comes through. We have seen that the defenders of Teilhard's innocence include evolutionists-Washburn, von Koenigswald, and Simpson. J. S. Weiner wrote to me that he had done his best to counter the theory that Teilhard was the-or a-Piltdown hoaxer (May 14, 198 1).

One more authority has to be heard from. K. P. Oakley told Gould (in April 1980) that Teilhard had been "in it" and wrote to Gould (in June of the same year) of Gould's accusatory paper that he could not find "anything (of importance) which I would wish you to alter." But Oakley seems to have altered his own opinion, moving from support of the [141] accusation against Teilhard to uncertainty and to a position close to exoneration. I wrote to him to find out what he thought of it all. He answered in a long letter.

The letter begins with Oakley exclaiming that more than some writers on Piltdown had put their words into his mouth. He recalls that Gould, however, took care in transcribing their conversation. He guesses that Gould was impressed by Oakley's having held the view that a letter he received from Teilhard (January 1954) "might be taken as circumstantial evidence that Teilhard had been working in collusion with Dawson on a joke." On Site II, Oakley felt that there was some confusion in Teilhard's report: how could Teilhard have rendered so "vivid" a description of the heaps of pebbles if he had not been at Site II with Dawson and seen them there? Oakley does not rule out the possibility that "Teilhard was visualising the site as a result of reading' its published description.

He quotes his own letter to the London Times (July 23, 1980):


Teilhard's letter about his recollections of 1913 suggested that he and Dawson were working in collusion. The evidence for this is circumstan-tial and consequently I strongly maintain that until positive support for Teilhard's involvement with the forgery has been brought forward, he should be given the benefit of the doubt.


In his letter to me, Oakley added to this that imagining Teilhard as the hoaxer "seems contrary to all we know about [his] transparent honesty." The confusion seems to rest on the iota of what Oakley meant by telling Gould that he thought Teilhard was "in it." Gould took that to mean support for the identification of Teilhard as a collaborative hoaxer. But Oakley meant only that Teilhard, having found three specimens in the pit, was more "in" the Piltdown scenario than Keith, Smith, or Sollas.

In a letter to the New Scientist, Oakley alluded to three long meetings he had with Teilhard in 1954 at the British Museum of Natural History, at his home, and at the Swanscombe site. Teilhard talked freely on topics other than the Piltdown forgery, which he termed "so very sad." Max Begouën's having explained the reasons behind that remark, Oakley said we can no longer regard Teilhard as having felt guilty about Piltdown. Oakley described Teilhard as "the ideal fall-guy to find the fraudulent canine tooth": an "eagle-eyed collector," he would have spotted it. Impressed by Teilhard's dedication "to what he saw as truth," Oakley could not believe that Teilhard would have placed a fraudulent Eoanthropus on the tree of human evolution that he displayed to the February 23, 1952, meeting of the New York Academy of Sciences. Oakley's letter was published on November 12, 1981. He had died on November 2.

Comment on Charge #7: The motive attributed to Teilhard--that he wanted to play a joke on or with Dawson has no support. Designing a motive for any of the suspects challenges the imagination; designing one for Teilhard de Chardin exhausts it. Twitting the tail of the English lion hardly justifies seven years of hoaxing and forty of evasive action.

The Piltdown finds would have ended up as curios on some collector's shelf had it not been for the support given it by top authorities. The accusation against Teilhard is flimsy and had it remained with Essex, Bowden, Vere, or L. S. B. Leakey, no one would be much concerned with it now. But though the argument is flimsy, Stephen Jay Gould is not. The esteem in which Stephen Jay Gould is held by those who admire him elevated it to importance. Yet Gould's procedure in conducting the argument is not as careful as his arguments about hen's teeth, horse's toes, panda's thumbs, or any of the other subjects that make his monthly column in Natural History and his books worth reading and deserving of the awards they have received. His concluding moral to the four papers on Teilhard as hoaxer tends to minimize the seriousness of the hoax, and that may conduce to minimizing the quality of proof needed for indictment. The moral is that, if Teilhard had been the hoaxer, it wouldn't be very important to our sense of him.

I don't think that there's any more evidence that Teilhard suffered pain for having collaborated on the hoax or that he paid his debt than there is that he committed it in the first place. I do wonder about what kind of a Teilhard he would have been to do it. It's not just that he would have had to fool the priest who trotted with him from bone to bone over the weald, and Woodward and all his friends from Cannes d'Angleterre, but also Marcellin Boule and, worst of all, his parents. He wrote to them faithfully, enthusiastically, warmly about the great happenings at the pit, Dawson's unearthing cranial fragments, his own discovery of a tooth fragment. It's hard to imagine anyone, much less this devoted son, filing a canine tooth, planting it, retrieving it, and then exclaiming to his mother and father about how happy he was to be part of that fraudulent excavation.

The Piltdown hoax was far from one of the greatest crimes of the twentieth century. But it did injure that evolutionary science to which Teilhard contributed proudly. So much time spent by so many scientists for so little in trying to make sense of Eoanthropus. The hoax gave, and still gives, aid and comfort to the enemies of evolutionary theory. Not [143] much of a joke. "The evidence," Sherwood Washburn pointed out, "suggests a serious attempt at fraud, not a joke or minor hoax."

We may have to wait for the withdrawal from its bank vault of that letter Harrison Matthews mentions as the final word of Teilhard de Chardin on his friend and foe, Piltdown Man. Unless the rumor of that letter is also a hoax.

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