Piltdown Man: His Rise and Fall

in Mankind in the Making: The Story of Human Evolution 1959

William Howells


Skulls of the Australopithecines. Left, Australopithecus from Makapan, after the restoration by Dart. Right, Paranthropus from Swartkrans, based on various photographs and casts. Notable features of Paranthropus are the great jaw height, and the short crest along the mid-line of the skull. Approximately 1/4 natural size. Human and chimpanzee skulls are sketched in for reference.


Java Man. Drawn from Weidenreich's restoration, based on skull IV and mandible B. 1/4 natural size.



The Heidelberg jaw (left) in profile. After Schoetensack, 1/4 natural size. Right, the main muscles of the jaw in biting. From the angle, the masseter, partly cut away, which pulls up and slightly forward, being attached to the under edge of the cheek arch (zygomatic arch). From the coronoid process, or forward point of the upright branch, the temporal muscle, pulling up and slightly back, being attached to the side of the skull. (Drawing not to scale.)


[243] "Several years ago I was walking along a farm-road close to Piltdown Common, Fletching (Sussex), when I noticed that the road had been mended with some peculiar brown flints not usual in the district. On enquiry I was astonished to learn that they were dug from a travel-bed on the farm, and shortly afterwards I visited the place, there two labourers were at work digging the gravel for small repairs to the roads. As this excavation was situated about 4 miles north of the limit where the occurrence of flints overlying the Wealdean strata is recorded, I was much interested, and made a close examination of the bed. I asked the workmen if they had found bones or other fossils there. As they did not appear to have noticed anything of the sort, I urged them to preserve anything that they might find. Upon one of my subsequent visits to the pit, one of the men handed to me a small portion of an unusually thick human parietal bone. I immediately made a search, but could find nothing more, nor had the men notice anything else. The bed is full of tubular pieces of iron-stone closely resembling this piece of skull in colour and thickness; and, although I made many subsequent searches, I could not hear of any further find or discover anything–in fact, the bed seemed to be quite unfossiliferous.

"It was not until some years later, in the autumn of 1911, on a visit to the spot, that I picked up, among the rain-washed spoil-heaps of the gravel-pit, another and larger piece belonging to the frontal region of the same skull, including a portion of the left superciliary ridge. As I had examined a cast of the Heidelberg jaw, it occurred to me that the proportions of this skull were similar to those of that specimen. I accordingly took it to Dr. A. Smith Woodward at the British Museum ( Natural History ) for comparison and determination. He was immediately impressed with the importance of the discovery, and we decided to employ labour and to make a systematic search among the spoil-heaps and gravel, as soon as the floods had abated; [244] for the gravel-pit is more or less under water during five or six months of the year. We accordingly gave up as much time as we could spare since last spring (1912), and completely turned over and sifted what spoil-material remained; we also dug up and sifted such portions of the gravel as had been left undisturbed by the workmen.

"Considering the amount of material excavated and sifted by us, the specimens discovered were numerically small and localized.

"Apparently the whole or greater portion of the human skull had been shattered by the workmen, who had thrown away the pieces unnoticed. Of these we recovered, from the spoil-heaps, as many fragments as possible. In a somewhat deeper depression of the undisturbed gravel I found the right half of a human mandible. So far as I could judge, guiding myself by the position of a tree 3 or 4 yards away, the spot was identical with that upon which the men were at work when the first portion of the cranium was found several years ago. Dr. Woodward also dug up a small portion of the occipital bone of the skull from within a yard of the point where the jaw was discovered, and at precisely the same level. The jaw appeared to have been broken at the symphysis and abraded, perhaps when it lay fixed in the gravel, and before its complete deposition.

"Besides the human remains, we found two small broken pieces of a molar tooth of a rather early Pliocene type of elephant, also a much rolled cusp of a molar of Mastodon, portions of two teeth of Hippopotamus, and two molar teeth of a Pleistocene beaver. In the adjacent field to the west, on the surface close to the hedge dividing it from the gravel-bed, we found portions of a red deer's antler and the tooth of a Pleistocene horse . . . All the specimens are highly mineralized with iron oxide." (Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, vol 69, 1913).

These are the words of Mr. Charles Dawson, a lawyer of Uckfield, Sussex, and an antiquarian of varied tastes. He pronounced them December 18, 1912, when he and Dr. Smith Woodward introduced Piltdown Man to the Geological Society of London. Present at this meeting were famous men: Sir Ray Lankester, Doctor Duckworth of Cambridge, Professor Arthur Keith of the Royal College of Surgeons and Professor G. Elliot Smith, then of the University of Manchester (Smith Woodward, Keith, and Elliot Smith all later knighted). There was great excitement over the new fossil since, except for the Heidelberg jaw, the only non-sapiens men then known were the Neanderthals and the first skull of Java Man.


And Piltdown Man was vastly different from both of them. To anyone's first glance, he had the skull of modern man combined with the jaw of an ape: a skull with a high brain case and a vertical forehead with slight brow ridges, and a jaw with a simian shelf, exactly as in an orang or a chimpanzee. A strange combination. Nevertheless all the bones had been picked out of gravels from the same pit, and all shared the dark brown color of the gravel of lowest stratum and of other bones from the same layer. Furthermore, the skull was rather small in size, as restored, and the bones were extraordinarily thick–apparently primitive and, therefore, one might conclude,

ancient. And the only teeth in the jaw, the first two molars, were ground quite flat, in hominid fashion, suggesting that the mandible had worked like man's, from side to side, not impeded like an ape's by interlocking canines at front. The same kind of jaw action was suggested by the glenoid fossa, , the socket for the condyle or joint of the jaw just in front of the ear. But alas, the condyle itself was broken off and missing, so that proof as to how skull and jaw fitted together was lacking.

There was, as I said, great excitement at the meeting. The incongruity between brain case and mandible was noted at once by some, and doubts were expressed as to whether the find represented a real fossil man, or simply the accidental combination of a fossil human skull and a fossil ape jaw. But these remarks evidently reflected plain astonishment rather than deep doubts, and most of the men present agreed that Dawson and Woodward were correct. Elliot Smith said that the apparent paradox of the association of a simian jaw and a human brain was not surprising to anyone familiar with recent research on the evolution of man, stating that the growth of the brain had preceded other human traits in development. (How wrong: but Elliot Smith was a brain specialist, and this was 1912.)

Smith Woodward gave it as his belief that, if the canine tooth had been found, it would have proved to be intermediate, larger than ape's but not protruding like an ape's, not sticking up in such a way as to prevent rotary chewing and the flat wear of the molar teeth. Smith Woodward even exhibited a model canine tooth he had made, to show what might be expected. Keith seems to have been bothered by certain features, especially the flat tooth wear, which made him think the suggested reconstruction of Piltdown Man was too ape-like. Keith did not actually demur to the validity of Piltdown Man, although in all the years which followed he continued to regard it as an enigma. Not so Smith Woodward, who had no qualms about the [246] combination, which he named Eoanthropus dawsoni (Dawson's dawn man ) .

Thus, in spite of the genuine and well-grounded surprise of the anthropologists, the Piltdown remains were quickly accepted as a important new kind of ancient man. This acceptance was fortified in the next few years by certain further developments. The following summer, in 1913, Smith Woodward and Dawson returned to the Piltdown pit to look for more of the skull, aided briefly by Father Teilhard de Chardin. This Jesuit Father later became a renowned paleontologist particularly in working with Davidson Black at Choukoutien and with Roy Chapman Andrews in Mongolia, but in those years he was a young priest staying at a Jesuit College at Ore, Hastings, and collecting fossil plants in the district. He had become a friend of Dawson's, working with him and Smith Woodward at Piltdown the first year, before the discovery was announced.

Dawson and Smith Woodward had little luck that second summer although Dawson made a truly extraordinary find, right in the gravel: the small bones of the nasal bridge and, apparently still in place behind them, remains of one of the extremely delicate filagree-form turbinal bones which support the mucuous membrane inside the nasal cavity. This fell apart on finding, but the parts, carefully saved, were glued together again with feminine deftness by Mrs. Smith Woodward. Later, one hot day in August, Father Teilhard worked so zealously in his black clothes that he had to be persuaded to rest. He was sitting on one of the dump heaps beside the pit, running his fingers through the gravel, when he found, of all things, a canine tooth. Sure enough, as Smith Woodward had predicted, it was smaller than an ape's but distinctly larger than a man's and well worn into the bargain.

When this was presented to the Geological Society, Keith expressed further surprise. He thought the canine tooth was still rather large for a jaw used in human fashion, which would produce level wear on the other teeth. Also, he considered it odd that this tooth should be worn, as in an older man, when certain aspects of the jaw looked youthful–for example, he believed that the missing wisdom tool, judging by the socket, had not fully erupted. He did not doubt that the

skull, jaw. and teeth all came from the same kind of creature, Eoanthropus, but he thought more than one specimen of that creature might be present. However, others disputed his idea about the wisdom tooth and pointed out that the two remaining molars were heavily worn, like the canine. Keith seems to have accepted this. There was agreement that X rays showed the molar tooth roots to be short, as in man, not long, as in the apes.


The Piltdown Man. Left, the skull and jaw, as restored to form "Eoanthropus ." Right, above: the molar

tooth roots, showing the human appearance in old X rays, and the true, ape-like appearance in later

X rays. Below, left: a close view of the molars, showing that the "wear" is unnatural, being in a

different plane in the two teeth. Below, right, an X-ray section of the canine, showing the pulp

cavity (packed with sand grains) extending to the worn surface of the tooth, without secondary dentine.

After Le Gros Clark, Oakley, and Weiner.


Nothing more of interest turned up at Piltdown. Dawson died in 1916. In 1917, Woodward reported a last find. "One large field, about 2 miles from the Piltdown pit, had especially attracted Mr. Dawson's attention, and he and I examined it several times without success during the spring and autumn of 1914. 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.." Later, it proved impossible to identify this field for further search. And Hrdlicka always thought it strange that these particularly small fragments should have been caught up by a rake. But there was no mistaking the striking similarity of the small bit of forehead to the parts of the first skull, nor of the new molar tooth to the teeth in the first jaw, and so this clear evidence of a new [248] Eoanthropus, found at some distance from the first, settled many doubts as to the combination of manlike skull and ape-like jaw. Nature, said Elliot Smith, would hardly play such a trick twice.

One other thing, I think, strengthened Eoanthropus' scientific pedestal. Smith Woodward had provisionally put the skull together, getting a smallish brain case with a capacity of 1070 cubic centimeters, about what Pekin Man had in his much more brutish cranium. When Keith got a copy of this reconstruction, he disapproved of certain details: it was not symmetrical, and too small for the size indicated by the temporal bone in the ear region. He worked over the parts, opening out the top for various anatomical reasons, and arrived at a rather positive preliminary estimate of "about 1500" cubic centimeters, or at least the size of modern man in this respect. Smith Woodward rejected Keith's figure, supported by Elliot Smith.

Keith continued to disagree. At length Professor Parsons of St. Thomas's Hospital suggested that Keith test his procedure (which involved locating the mid-line of the top of the skull accurately) by making a restoration of a modern skull of known size, after it had been cut up into pieces corresponding to those from the pit at Piltdown. Keith was delighted with the idea and decided to make it the subject of a talk he had already promised to give at the Royal Anthropological Institute early in 1914. He was given the test pieces, from the skull of an Egyptian woman. He fell to work and produced an estimate of 1415 cubic centimeters, against an original measurement of 1395, an excellent approximation and nearly within the limits of precise measurement on a complete skull. This triumphantly accurate result carried the field for Keith, and Smith Woodward came eventually to accept Keith's figure (which the latter, as a result of all this study, finally brought down to 1400 cubic centimeters). I think it is likely that Keith's tour de force, because it showed that Piltdown Man's brain size could be estimated with reasonable accuracy, indirectly and fallaciously invested everything about Piltdown Man with greater scientific sanctity.


At any rate, harmony reigned among the British anthropologists, a few years after Eoanthropus was brought to London. A new kind of man stood recognized on the stage of our history, to become so well known in the popular mind as to star in a comic strip as well. With his high forehead and his entirely ape-like jaw, he was in shocking contrast with the Java or Neanderthal men. But, half a century after Darwin, and soon after the Java and Heidelberg discoveries, a feeling [249] of bright expectancy suffused museums and universities. The time was ripe, the time was ripe, the stars were in conjunction, to welcome Eoanthropus and to be instructed by him: if he could combine so modern a head with so antique a mandible, then that was part of the story of evolution. After all, a truly great anatomist, Elliot Smith, could hold the opinion that the brain had outstripped the skeleton as man was rising from the apes.

And how old was Piltdown Man taken to be? Both flint tools and animal bones had been discovered in the pit, along with a large tool or pick of sorts, made from a slab of bone from an elephant's leg, sharpened to a point. The flints were crudely shaped flakes, still sharp, but brown in color, like the rest of the lowest gravel. The animal fragments and teeth were a faintly bizarre group. It contained mastodon, rhino, and hippo, all good early Pleistocene. It also included a distinctly early elephant, Elephas planifrons, heretofore a stranger to England, as well as a beaver of the modern and late Pleistocene genus, Castor. Mr. Dawson himself, however, suggested that the oldest animals were probably late Pliocene, and had been washed out of an old fossil bed and into a new one together with the Piltdown skull and the beaver in Pleistocene times. Years later, in 1935, Dr. Hopwood (namer of Proconsul ) went over all the bones again without being able to resolve the difficulties, but concluding that the skull actually belonged with the earlier animals, not the later. At any rate, the date was never settled on exactly, but was supposed be in the first half of the Pleistocene, perhaps First Interglacial, perhaps Second.

Nor did the clouds ever wholly leave the skies of the Dawn Man himself. In spite of the satisfaction and delight over his discovery, doubts remained. He was among friends in England, but even Keith was never quite comfortable. Abroad he had fewer adherents. Boule in France, Mollison in Germany, Giuffrida-Ruggeri in Italy, all said his jaw was not his own, but a fossil ape's. Gregory in New York felt so at first, but later took an intermediate position more benevolent to Eoanthropus. In Washington, Gerrit Miller would use the name Eoanthropus only for the skull; he separated the jaw and named it Pan vet us, as a new species of chimpanzee, while Friederichs in Germany gave the jaw a whole new ape genus, Boreopithecus (Ape of the North). Hrdlicka kept finding small inconsistencies and always remained a doubter. He noted that the molar tooth of the second specimen, reportedly found in 1915, was so exactly like those of the first that he suggested an error in the records: perhaps it had actually come from the original pit. Sir Ray Lankester had already remarked that both tooth and frontal fragment might conceivably be parts of [250] the first specimen, except that the 1915 specimen also had a piece of the occiput, similarly present in the first find. And Mr. Marston, finder of the Swanscombe skull, kept pointing to the incongruities in the maturity of the Piltdown person: the skull was definitely middle-aged; the jaw, in spite of the wear of the teeth, seemed young and recently adult; while the canine was frankly immature, with an uncompleted root, still open at the end.

Against all these prickly points, and a host of others, were arrayed the powerful, simple arguments of the nature of the find itself, arguments which, as the years went by, tended once more to make even the doubters doubt their doubts. Here, in gravels of seemingly early Pleistocene times had lain fossil animal remains, mostly taken out under the careful eye of Smith Woodward of the Natural History Museum. Among these fossils were bones of ape-human nature, the only relics of any such highest primates of the early Pleistocene from anywhere in the British Isles. And there were remnants enough only for one individual. If the jaw was a chimp's, why no chimp head parts? If the skull was a modern man's, why no human teeth? And the combination had been repeated again, a mile or so away. Who could arbitrarily throw down the plain evidence from the soil, and turn his back on it?

Weidenreich could. . As early as 1932, before going to China, he had decided flatly that the combination was too incongruous, and never mind the geology; he noted that, in human fossils, the jaw tended to shrink, and become more human, as the brain grew, and that Piltdown Man was the lone exception to this rule. (I think it is fair to say that Weidenreich was an acute and deeply experienced student of physical form, and not much inclined to let geological scruples interfere with anatomical conclusions>) At last in 1943 he wrote "I am only wondering why, if a human vault, a simian mandible and an anonymous 'canine' were combined into a new form, the other animal bones and teeth found in the same spot were not added to the Eoanthropus combination; I do not believe in those miracles whether offered by anti-Darwinian [sic] or Darwinians. The sooner the chimaera Eoanthropus is erased from the list of human fossils, the better for science."

But the redoubtable Weidenreich was by this time virtually alone in taking so positive a stand. Others continued to feel a sympathy for the geological evidence. And the discovery in 1935 of the modern-looking Swanscombe skull, of Second Interglacial date, renewed attention to Piltdown Man and to the possibility of putting him into the family tree somehow. But there was no real Restoration. In fact, mere bewilderment over the meaning of Eoanthropus, after prevailing for a [251] generation, gave way finally to mounting distress, distress which became acute by 1950.

This was not due to anything new about Piltdown Man himself. In all these years he had gone on as an object of prime anthropological interest, though only through reconsideration, re-examination, rehashing of the same original evidence. None of the old arguments or objections settled the matter; instead, the tree of knowledge put out a lot of new foliage. Rhodesian and Pekin Man were found, and then more jaws of Java Man, and Meganthropus; finally, from 1947 on, copious remains of the australopithecines (still no apes in England). And all of these things were entirely consistent, in their general story of development, as well as on one particular point: early man never had a jaw like a chimpanzee. (I have already noted that a simian shelf was probably a late pongid acquisition rather than an ancient primitive trait. ) Piltdown Man became at last quite incomprehensible. Remember that the gentlemen who gathered at the Geological Society in December 1912 had been imagining an early kind of humanity which had, roughly speaking, the skull of a man and the jaw of an ape. But the fossils have since taught us that early hominids had, again roughly speaking, the skull of an ape and the jaw and teeth of a man. The man-apes of South Africa finally outdid even Weidenreich in the harshness of the questions they asked of Eoanthropus.


And so a new conjunction of the stars had come about for Piltdown Man, a new stage of knowledge and of inquiry. Now, in 1950, Kenneth Oakley asked him another point-blank question. Oakley had begun to apply the fluorine test to various important fossils: Swanscombe Man passed; Galley Hill Man failed it and resigned from the club. Oakley tested the Piltdown skull, jaw and teeth, using infinitesimal amounts of the precious fossil. The result was astonishing: only a low degree of fluorine was present in any of the remains, much less than in the other animals of the pit. Judging from the not too reliable figures, this meant a) that the skull and jaw did belong together, since they gave similar results, and b) that they would have to be moved up in date, making Piltdown Man not earlier than the Third Interglacial! Did he go with the beaver after all? (One more little point: drilling showed the inside of the canine tooth to be unexpectedly white, considering the dark, fossilized color of the surface. )

It would be hard to invent an outcome more aggravating to the whole Piltdown problem, whatever view you might take. So vexed was Oakley, in London, mulling over his results, that he exclaimed to a [252] colleague" This thing's bogus!" But the appalling spark did not take light: Oakley was aware that the tooth of a fossil hippo from Piltdown, an animal which could well have been there in the Last Interglacial, likewise showed almost no fluorine. Quite independently, it was J. S. Weiner, who had never discussed Piltdown Man with Oakley, who thought things out a little more thoroughly.

Weiner, ex-student of Dart's and Reader in Physical Anthropology in the Department of Anatomy with Le Gros Clark at Oxford, did his thinking while driving back from London to Oxford, late one evening in the summer of 1953. He was wondering about Eoanthropus, and the impossible situation which now existed, a ridiculous mixture and a ridiculous date. He looked at the two old explanations. A real creature, ape in the jaw, human in the skull, in the Last Interglacial in England? A real ape in England, at the same time–a million to one chance mixed naturally in the same little pit with a man's skull–another million to one chance? Both actually impossible. What else could conceivably have happened? Could this have been a dump–could someone have tossed a modern ape's jaw behind the hedge by accident? No, the ground-down molars and the odd canine were too striking. Well then, could it have been made and put there deliberately? Certainly a wild and extravagant idea.

Once come, however, the idea would not go away. And in fact, seen beside this one, it was the other two hypotheses which looked wilder and more extravagant. Weiner turned it over in his mind for a while and then mentioned it to Le Gros Clark. It struck the latter, naturally, as wild and extravagant; furthermore, Le Gros Clark recalled that other evidence in the jaw was against faking. In the first place, X rays had shown that the molar tooth roots were short and human in form. Secondly, although the canine might give the appearance of having been radically ground down and reduced in size, X rays had also indicated that secondary dentine had formed inside the tooth, in the pulp cavity at the center. This is the natural reaction which reinforces a tooth when the outer surface enamel wears away slowly from use. Therefore, the wear of the tooth seemed natural, not artificial.

Still, they had to think about it, and they began going over the Piltdown evidence once again. Then, just to see, Weiner took a chimpanzee jaw from the collections and filled the molar surfaces a little. He was surprised to find how easy this was, how readily any chimpanzee details were removed, leaving only the common hominoid pattern of the worn cusps, and the appearance of flat human wear. He dipped the teeth briefly in permanganate, which gave them a fine fossil appearance.

[253] He was delighted. He took the "fossil,' into Le Gros Clark's office, put it on the desk, and said with a great air of innocence: "I got this out of the collections. What do you suppose it is?" Sir Wilfrid, not an unperceptive man, perceived exactly what it was, and exclaimed: "You don't mean it!" Clearly, it was time to go to London and to visit Oakley and Eoanthropus. That moment, when these two men could persuade themselves that the hypothesis of deliberate forgery was really worth looking into, was the precise moment of the fall of Piltdown Man

Such a hypothesis, of course, meant that there would have to be real signs in the jaw and teeth of the work of a forger, signs which had never been noticed, or which had been wrongly read. All this was, as they started out, well within the realm of possibility, for several aeons. In the first place, the jaw had never been fully studied: Oakley's test for fluorine had been admittedly inadequate, and meant only to compare the F content of the mandible roughly with other bones from the site. So the men began to make a little list of things they must find if, in fact, the jaw was no part of a primitive Pleistocene man, but only the stained-up, filed-off hand-me-down of a thoroughly recent ape. They found them; the little list soon became a big one.


Let us look at the canine, that tooth found in 1913 which so neatly fitted what Smith Woodward had said in 1912 it should be like. X-rayed once more by modern methods, it appeared clearly a young tooth which had been heavily ground down, since the pulp cavity was that of a much larger tooth. There was no secondary dentine under the ground areas, and in fact that grinding had carried right into the pulp chamber itself, near the tip, something which would never happen through wear on a living tooth. On the surface, under a magnifying glass, there could be seen the fine scratches left by the abrasive, whatever it was. And this tooth was actually painted!

The molar teeth in the jaw also showed fine scratches from artificial grinding. And that "flat human wear" could now be seen as entirely too flat, so that the edges of the crown were sharp, not smoothly beveled as they would be in any naturally worn tooth. Another thing: though flat, the flat surfaces of the two teeth were not in the same plane but slightly out of kilter with one another. Now the whole meaning of primitive human chewing is the rotary motion which wears all the teeth in the jaw to a smooth, common plane. This could not have taken place with the Piltdown molars; on the contrary, they show just what could happen if a forger had filed one tooth, and then shifted his grip a little before filing the other. These things, the different planes and [254] sharp edges, are easily visible to the naked eye, once they have been pointed out, and yet they had escaped forty years of inspection when nobody was looking for them. Finally, of course, the new and better X rays showed that the molar roots were long, as in apes, not short as in man after all.

Oakley attacked the chemical nature of the fragments resolutely, not tenderly as before. At once new evidence appeared. On really biting into the bone, the drill drew powder and dust from the skull parts, but the jaw gave microscopic shavings, like fresh bone, together with a burning smell. When adequate amounts of bone were tested for fluorine, the skull showed the presence of a low degree of this element, but the jaw and teeth (including the 1915 tooth) showed almost none, or only what is present in new bone. Contrariwise, a test for nitrogen, which is present in the amount of about 470 in living bone but is lost over a few thousand years, showed the jaw to have 3.9% of nitrogen and the skull to have 1.4% or less.

The color of the bones also betrayed the hand of man. They all make fine fossils on the surface. The dark color comes largely from iron oxides, which are present both in the ground and in the chemist's laboratory. This oxide color runs deep into the skull bones, but lies only close to the surface of the bone of the jaw. Another substance gives some color to the bones: bichromate of potash. In the last century, fossil bones were sometimes soaked in a solution of this, in the erroneous belief that they would be hardened; Galley Hill Man was so treated. Mr. Dawson had dipped his first pieces of Piltdown Man in chromate, before Smith Woodward told him it was pointless. Therefor, as you might suppose, chromate can be detected in the parts found in 1911 or before. It is not present in the skull parts found in 1912, when Smith Woodward was on the scene. But it is present in the jaw, also found in 1912, and in the 1915 specimens. The chromate could hardly have got into the jaw after it was found. It could not have entered while the bone was on the ground. So it must have got there before the bone was in the ground, and for purposes of pigmentation, not preservation.

With all this and more in hand, the three men announced to the press in November 1953 that the Piltdown jaw was a hoax. A grateful sigh of happiness and relief must have left the throat of every anthropologist on the globe. Punch printed a most Punch-like cartoon, complete with Du Maurier overtones: a dentist, saying to Mr. Piltdown seated in the chair, "This may hurt, but I'm afraid I'll have to remove the whole jaw." (Collapse of 600,000-year-old party.) The exasperation dilemma had been resolved; Eoanthropus was no more.

All this, of course, revolved around the mandible. The skull was [255] clearly not as recent, being slightly fossilized or mineralized. Momentarily the possibility remained that some crank had adulterated a perfectly good discovery of fossil man by inserting a bogus jaw (though how could he be sure that the real mandible might not also come to light?). But as Le Gros Clark, Oakley, and Weiner continued their several and joint investigations, Piltdown Man continued to unravel. The skull itself could not be trusted, with so many oddities about the staining; the frontal fragment found in 1915 is too likely to have been part of the original skull, and the occipital portion found with it does not match it, in nature or in fluorine content. The puzzling fact of finding the delicate nasal bones and the still more delicate turbinal, in 1913, in gravel which should by rights have pulverized them, ceases to be a puzzle in the new light, as does the missing joint of the jawbone, which a forger had to knock off. On top of all this, Le Gros Clark examined the "turbinal" fragments minutely and found that they were no turbinal bone at all, but merely some bone splinters of uncertain origin.

Turning to the tools, the hunters found things which really should have been noticed long before. The strange elephant-bone pick had cut marks, where it had been fashioned to a point, which could never have been made on a tough fresh bone with a stone tool but only, as a little experimenting showed, with a steel knife or hatchet on a bone already fossilized. Another fraud. And the stone "tools," seemingly having the dark patina which comes from lying in the soil for hundreds of thousands of years, were found instead to be superficially colored with the same iron salts as the bone. Except one: this was colored with bichromate of potash! Now there was a time, as I said, when it was thought that chromate would harden bone. But nobody has ever imagined a reason for applying it to flint. Nobody, that is, except a forger.

The animal bones, at last, turned out to be the craziest aspect of the whole fossil pudding. They had always been a strange-looking lot, mixing early mastodon and late beaver, and featuring Elephas planifrons more at home around the Mediterranean–but at least they had a general Pleistocene flavor. Oakley reanalyzed the fossils. He found many of them liberally dosed with the same pigments, chromate included, as the skull and the tools. And, getting the cooperation .of atomic-energy scientists, he tried another new chemical test, one for the accumulation of radioactive uranium salts, something like the fluorine test. Here he found every grade, from very slight up to one fragment so radioactive that he made it take its own picture by setting it on a photographic film. The radioactivity was especially high in the teeth of E. planifrons, higher by far than anything he [256] find for any fossils from the British Isles, or even Europe. At last he found some fossils which would rattle a Geiger counter at the same rate. They were from a site in Tunisia. Here the uranium salts are particularly abundant. And here Elephas planifrons is particularly abundant as well.

Evidently, the planifrons fragments originally came from this very place, probably through a dealer or dealers. And evidently the pit at Piltdown was nothing but a salted mine from top to bottom. The man who salted it could have bought all the materials from dealers of one sort or another: animal fossils, the jaw of what almost certainly was a female orang utan, and the skull from an ancient tomb, perhaps even Neolithic, of a sufferer from Paget's disease, which causes a thickening of the bones of the cranial vault. What kind of man did all this? Obviously, someone who knew a good deal about geology, paleontology, and anatomy. He knew very well what to use and what not to use. The jaw was a perfect job, since he had to remove the joint, and all the teeth except the molars: and he could only dare to introduce a canine tooth after Smith Woodward had stated publicly, in so many words, what it should be like.

Why did he do it? Out of plain deviltry? This is a lot of trouble for a silent laugh. Was he an "anti-Darwinist"? Hardly anyone who knew as much as he did does not sound like an anti-evolutionist. Did he do it simply to attract attention to himself? Quite possibly. Even the saintly Darwin says that as a little boy he was given to inventing deliberate falsehoods for the sake of causing excitement. But this Darwin was a little boy. Conceivably Piltdown Man was meant originally as a joke to be confessed to, but a joke which ran so far ahead of the joker that he could not bring himself to confess. Indeed, the discovery of the "turbinal" bone in 1913, so outlandish on the face of it, almost looks as though the forger were trying to wake everyone to the absurdity of it all, without standing forth himself. But no: he followed this up at once with the canine tooth, the most labored item in the whole scheme.

Who did it? Nobody knows. Keith and Father Teilhard, both now dead, were in 1953 the last surviving actors of the drama, and they could only express blank astonishment at the news. Weiner went down to Sussex in the spring of 1954, to see what he could turn up, and recounted his findings, and the whole story, in a delightful book, The: Piltdown Forgery.

Never mind the name. The real moral of the story has nothing to do with the ethics of a man. Rather, it points to the progress of science. Some of my colleagues feel that the whole affair was a tragic waste of time. I do not agree, although it was indeed an injury to [257] Smith Woodward, who spent many of his later years in fruitless further search. Under totally false colors, Piltdown Man created great interest in ancient man and problems related to him. He was largely responsible for Kelth's important work, The Antiquity of Man, and was a constant spur to thinking, which is not wasted time even if a lot of the answers are wrong.

More than that. The Piltdown business was carried out as a fraud. But if it had been done as a test, to measure the reality of the advances in knowledge of fossil man, it could not have been better devised. The anthropologists were fooled by Eoanthropus for a long time, since they accepted the apparent evidence of nature, and were playing according to the rules. Because of this, it eventually became clear that Eoanthropus himself was not playing the rules.

And because of the outcome, we can see the soundness of most of the rest of our knowledge, and the importance of certain principles. The falsity of Piltdown Man does not cast a shadow on Swanscombe Man, for example; quite the reverse. And we can see how significant is our understanding of the australopithecines, since this was such a factor in forcing the exposure of Piltdown. At the same time, we are reminded of the supreme importance of having exact information about dates, whether from careful geology, or from tests like the F test, or from reliable animal associations.