"The Full Extent"

The Piltdown Forgery

J. S. Weiner 1955


[1] I A Darwinian Prediction


Men were on earth while climates slowly swung,

Fanning wide zones to heat and cold, and long

Subsidence turned great continents to sea,

And seas dried up, dried up interminably,

Age after age; enormous seas were dried

Amid wastes of land. And the last monsters died.

J. C. Squire: The Birds.


On 18 December 1912 Arthur Smith Woodward and Charles Dawson announced to a great and expectant scientific audience the epoch-making discovery of a remote ancestral form of man-The Dawn Man of Piltdown. The news had been made public by the Manchester Guardian about three weeks before, and the lecture room of the Geological Society at Burlington House was crowded as it has never been before or since. There was great excitement and enthusiasm which is still remembered by those who were there; for, in Piltdown man, here in England, was at last tangible, well-nigh incontrovertible proof of Man's ape-like ancestry; here was evidence, in a form long predicted, of a creature which could be regarded as a veritable confirmation of evolutionary theory.

Twenty years had elapsed since Dubois had found the fragmentary remains of the Java ape-man, but by now in 1912 its exact evolutionary significance had come to be [2] invested with some uncertainty and the recent attempt to find more material by the expensive and elaborate expedition under Mme. Selenka had proved entirely unsuccessful. Piltdown man provided a far more complete and certain story. The man from Java, whose geological age was unclear, was represented by a skull cap, two teeth, and a disputed femur. Anatomically there was a good deal of the Piltdown skull and, though the face was missing, there was most of one side of the lower jaw. The stratigraphical evidence was quite sufficient to attest the antiquity of the remains; and to support this antiquity there were the animals which had lived in the remote time of Piltdown man; there was even evidence of the tool-making abilities of Piltdown man. In every way Piltdown man provided a fuller picture of the stage of ancestry which man had reached perhaps some 500,000 years ago.

Dawson I began by explaining how it came about that he had lighted on the existence of the extremely ancient gravels of the Sussex Ouse:


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 inquiry I was astonished to learn that they were dug from a

gravel-bed on the farm, and shortly afterwards I visited the place, where two

labourers were at work digging the gravel for small repairs to the roads. As this

excavation was situated about four miles north of the limit where the occurrence of flints overlying the Wealden strata is recorded, I was much interested, and made a close [3] 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

noticed anything else. The bed is full of tabular 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 nor 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. . . .


As geologist, Dawson described the formation of these gravels, none of which had been mapped or previously recorded, giving a detailed account of the different strata from which the fossil remains of man and fauna and the tools must have come. He dealt with the question of the chronological age of the gravels and whether all the bones were of the same age, concluding that Piltdown man and some of the mammals were of the Early Ice Age, while others were probably older. They represented the remains from an earlier time (the Late Pliocene) 2 which had been washed into the gravels. The gravel itself was composed of layers corresponding to these different ages.

As archaeologist, Dawson gave an account of the salient [4] features of the flint implements. Of these there were two sorts, the 'palaeoliths' which were patently of human manufacture, of an early technique reminiscent of the 'Pre-Chellean' style and technically in accordance with the geological date of the human remains. The other flints, much more abundant, were of doubtful manufacture: they belonged to the class of 'eoliths', flints so crude that archaeologists were acutely divided on the question of their human authorship.

Then Arthur Smith Woodward presented the anatomical description of the animal and human material. Nearly all the animals were represented by fragments of teeth, and these Woodward identified, giving his reasons in detail. Contemporaneous with Piltdown man he concluded were hippopotamus, deer, beaver, and horse. More ancient than the Piltdown man were the remains of elephant, mastodon, and rhinoceros. The Piltdown skull came in for a very detailed examination. Woodward dealt with each cranial piece in turn, and explained how they had been fitted together to give the reconstruction of the complete cranium which was there on view (Plate I). It had been built up from the nine pieces of cranium and the piece of mandible already unearthed. The, striking feature of the cranium was its unusual thickness.

The fragment of lower jaw with the first and second molar teeth still in place obtained, as it deserved, the most careful and systematic description. The shape and size, the markings and ridges for the muscle attachments, the curvature and construction of the specimen, all these, [5] feature by feature, came under scrutiny and led Woodward to his main conclusion: 'While the skull is essentially human . . . the mandible appears to be that of an ape, with nothing human except the molar teeth.' Woodward emphasized in particular those features which served to link the jaw and cranium together in a skull of a single individual. The cranium, for all its human resemblances, exhibited a few simian features-and in this he found support from other distinguished anatomists, while the jaw, ape-like though it was, displayed in the wear of the molars 'a marked regular flattening such as has never been observed among apes, though it is occasionally met with in low types of men'. This unique fossil represented by apish jaw and human brain-case, he was satisfied, merited its own place in the zoological scheme. He therefore proposed its allocation to a new genus and species of man, named 'in honour of its discoverer, Eoanthropus dawsoni'.

At this long-remembered meeting of the Geological Society there was acclaim for Dawson for his part in noticing the gravel pit, for recognizing its great antiquity, and for keeping a constant watch for fossils for many years. There were some who thought that the date which he, as the geologist and archaeologist of the team, had assigned erred on the side of modernity. They urged that a still older date as far back as the Pliocene was indicated, but Dawson gave good reasons for his conservative estimate. Of the extreme antiquity of Piltdown man there was no doubt in anyone's mind. The early Ice Age seemed an entirely reasonable date of emergence for this [6] very early ancestral form, a 'paradox of man and ape' as the creature from Piltdown undoubtedly appeared to be. That his brain had advanced more rapidly than his face and jaw was precisely in accord with current ideas. 3 It was all just as many in the audience had expected. Many there had heard and been convinced by the fervent lectures of Thomas Henry Huxley on the ape-like affinities of man, and Darwin himself in The Descent of Man had painted a picture of the earliest human ancestor, the males with 'great canine teeth, which served them as formidable weapons'. 'That we should discover such a race, as Piltdown, sooner or later, has been an article of faith in the anthropologist's creed ever since Darwin's time', wrote Keith . 4 'On the anatomical side', declared another authority, 5 'the Piltdown skull realized largely the anticipation of students of human evolution.' The palaeontologist Sollas certainly expressed the prevailing view when he wrote: 6 'in Eoanthropus dawsoni we seem to have realized a creature which had already attained to human intelligence but had not yet wholly lost its ancestral jaw and fighting teeth'. It was 'a combination which had indeed long been previously anticipated as an almost necessary stage in the course of human development'.

[7] And finally, Elliot Smith 7 declared the brain of Eoanthropus, as judged by the endocranial cast, to be the most primitive and most ape-like human brain yet discovered.

Yet there were a few, at that first meeting, who could not agree with Woodward and Dawson. David Waterston, Professor of Anatomy at King's College, one of the six privileged speakers in the general discussion, found it hard to conceive of a functional association between a jaw so similar to that of a chimpanzee and a cranium in all essentials human. 8 He found it difficult to believe that the two specimens came from the same individual. He and a few others took the view that two distinct fossil creatures had been found together in the gravel. Indeed, those who could not believe that the jaw bone belonged to the skull agreed that the jaw, like the 'Pliocene' group of mammalian fossils-mastodon, elephant and rhinoceros-had been washed into the Piltdown gravel from an earlier geological deposit, whereas the braincase belonged to the later group of Pleistocene fossils like beaver and red deer.

But Woodward's case was coherent and convincing. The creature did fulfil evolutionary expectations in his form, in his age, his tools, and in the character of the animals of the time. Woodward pointed out that the remains had been found very close together, how similar they were in colour and apparently in mineralization, how complementary they were to one another, and how

[8] they were functionally connected, as testified above all by the inescapable fact that in this jaw the teeth were essentially human. Their flat wear had never been seen in the molars of apes. It was the sort of wear to be expected from a jaw which was articulated on to a human cranium. That two different individuals were present, a fossil man, represented by a cranium without a jaw, and a fossil ape, represented by a jaw without a cranium, within a few feet of each other and so similar in colour and preservation, would be a coincidence, amazing beyond belief.

Arthur Keith, Conservator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, admitted the strength and logic of Smith Woodward's interpretation. In subsequent years he submitted the Piltdown remains to the most searching examination, adjudicating between the two camps which had formed at the very first meeting. His own criticisms at the time concerned mainly the reconstruction of the cranium and to a lesser extent of the jaw, and these reconstructions were to occupy him in protracted controversy for many years.

Keith drew attention to a crucial point: there was no eye-tooth in the jaw, for most of the chin region had been broken away. What sort of canine would such a creature possess? On this point he did not agree with Smith Woodward's opinion. But Smith Woodward was quite definite. If his interpretation was correct, the tooth when found would certainly be somewhat like that of the chimpanzee, but not projecting sensibly above the level of the other teeth, and its mode of wear would also be [9] utterly different from that of an ape. Like the wear on the molars, the canine tooth would be worn down in a way expected from a freely moving jaw such as the Piltdown man must clearly have possessed in view of its association with so human a cranium. The sort of canine he expected could be discerned in the plaster cast which was before the meeting.

It was very clear to those present how much the missing canine would help to decide the issue of the incipient humanity of the jaw.

Throughout that next long season of digging and sieving of 1913, the oft-discussed canine remained the principal objective. Little indeed came to light that season, but on Saturday 30 August, at the end of a day which again had so far proved fruitless, the young priest, Teilhard de Chardin, found the canine, close to the spot whence the lower jaw itself had been disinterred' 9 There was jubilation. The Kenwards, tenants of Barkham Manor (Dawson was the Steward) who had followed the fortunes of the search with unfailing enthusiasm, were appraised of the triumph. It was indeed a triumph. The eye-tooth was just what they had hoped for and closely fulfilled Smith Woodward's prediction of its shape, size, and above all of the nature of its wear. As Dawson wrote in 1915, 10 'the tooth is almost identical in form with that shown in the restored cast'. Dr. Underwood in 1913 also [10] pointed out this remarkable resemblance, in an article in which, for the first time, X-rays of all the teeth were provided. 'The tooth', wrote Dr. Underwood, 11 'is absolutely as modelled at the British Museum.'

The new facts further strengthened Woodward's position. Piltdown man could now be said with confidence to possess a dentition in a number of different respects human rather than ape-like, and in the X-ray appearance Keith 12 discovered that the roots of the molar tooth were inserted in the bone in the human and not the ape manner.

The next year's excavation at Barkham Manor yielded what Keith called 'the most amazing of all the Piltdown revelations'. Digging a few feet from the place where the Piltdown skull had first been found, the workman with Woodward and Dawson exposed a fossil slab of elephant bone which had been artificially shaped to form a clublike implement. It was found in two pieces 'about a foot below the surface, in dark vegetable soil beneath the hedge which bounds the gravel pit'. The clay encrusting the object enabled Woodward to settle its contemporaneity with Piltdown man, to whose kit of stone tools there was added this, the earliest known bone implement.

The finding of the canine convinced many of the sceptics of the rightness of Woodward's interpretation, but not Waterston, whose opinion remained unchanged till his death in 1921. The two camps persisted. Like [11] Waterston, Gerrit Miller, 13 Curator of Mammals at the United States National Museum, preferred to believe that two fossil creatures were really represented in the Piltdown remains and introduced the new name Pan vetus for what seemed to him a new fossil form of chimpanzee. His arguments were met by the zoologists of the British Museum, 14 but Miller continued in his disbelief. 15 At this period Woodward's case was very strong and it had the benefit of Keith's powerful advocacy, presented in masterly fashion in the Antiquity of Man.

In 1915 the last, and in its way the most conclusive, of the Piltdown discoveries was announced, for Dawson found the remains of yet another individual two miles away. 16 To those who had been prepared to accept the theory (however far-fetched it might appear) that at Barkham Manor somehow two different creatures had become commingled, this new discovery came as a devastating refutation, for it was hard to conceive of so astonishing a coincidence happening yet again. At the second site at Sheffield Park there were, as before, parts of the brain-case and a molar tooth quite like those previously found. From that site came also another tooth of rhinoceros of, at least, lower Pleistocene age and perhaps older.

[12] The news of the second Piltdown man spread rather slowly and was not fully appreciated until the First World War was over. The foremost French anthropologist, Marcellin Boule, changed his views on learning of this new development. 17 Among the Americans, who for the most part had supported the sceptical attitude of Waterston and Miller, there was a process of general conversion to Woodward's belief. A leader of American anthropological opinion, Fairfield Osborn, had stood out against Woodward with great resolution; his change of mind assumed the nature of a religious conversion. He tells in Man Rises to Parnassus 18 how he visited the British Museum after World War I in a mood of the greatest thankfulness that the bombs of the Zeppelins had spared the treasure-house of the Natural History Museum and in particular the priceless Piltdown remains. He tells of the hours he spent that Sunday morning with Woodward going over and over the material and all the arguments, and how at last, in the words of the Opening Prayer of his Yale college song, he felt he had to admit: 'Paradoxical as it may appear 0 Lord, it is nevertheless true.' Direct handling of the material convinced him that he had been too dogmatic in his two-creatures belief. Woodward had, after all, been right, and, like Keith, Osborn was happy to find himself on common ground and reconciled with Arthur Smith Woodward.

There had been a period of coolness, and indeed, [13] hostility, between Keith and Woodward. Keith admitted the fault lay partly in himself and arose from a feeling of resentment that the unique fossils had not come to him, 19 an established human anatomist, a recognized authority on the skeleton of man and apes, and the Conservator of John Hunter's great anatomical museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. Woodward had treated him with coldness, had kept the new discovery secret from him until a bare fortnight before its public announcement, and then had allowed him only a short twenty-minute visit to South Kensington to view the finds from the Piltdown gravel. Keith's differences with Smith Woodward and Elliot Smith were aroused by the (faulty) reconstruction of the brain-case which Woodward exhibited at the Geological Society meeting. This rather painful argument about the cranium probably did something to distract Keith's attention from the problem of the jaw, for he spent much time and ingenuity and made many searching tests in an endeavour to arrive at a really accurate reconstruction of the cranium, so as to get at its real shape and size. To the whole problem of Piltdown man Keith devoted much painstaking and indeed brilliant anatomical analysis, in the course of which he studied with the greatest thoroughness, to the permanent benefit of other workers, all the relics of ancient man available to him. Though intellectually convinced by Woodward's arguments and the evidence, Keith from the first felt some uneasiness. Many times he assessed the strength and weakness of the case and concluded in favour of E. dawsoni. But puzzled he remained and his ambivalent attitude to Piltdown man coloured all his pronouncements. In his work he used the plaster casts made by Mr. Barlow of the British Museum, and distributed in April and May of 1913 to the scientific men principally interested-to Elliot Smith, who was working on the brain of Piltdown man as revealed by the cast of the inside of the skull, to Duckworth at Cambridge, and through Teilhard de Chardin to Boule in Paris. Dawson received one and was able to show it to the many inquirers who now flocked to Piltdown and Uckfield, as Mr. Eade, the present chief clerk at the firm of Dawson and Hart, recollects. There it was seen at this time by Captain Guy St. Barbe, a client of the firm, and by another informant.

By 1915 the British anatomists and palaeontologists were generally of one mind and had accepted Woodward's views-though Waterston still stood out. A Royal Academy portrait 20 (P1. 3) in oils of 1915 shows us the group of men concerned with the evolutionary study of Piltdown man, who now passed into the general histories and encyclopaedias as easily the best-known of the primal ancestors of the human species. In the centre, holding the reconstructed skull, is Keith, as if to symbolize the newly won harmony of view, with Woodward on one side and Elliot Smith on the other. Woodward's assistants, the zoologist Pycraft (he had been concerned in some interesting study of the jaw and refutation of [15] Gerrit Miller) and Barlow, the skilful maker of the casts, are also of the group. The others depicted are Charles Dawson, Ray Lankester, who had been somewhat sceptical over the implements, and Dr. Underwood, who had advised on dental matters.

The season of excavation of 1916 proved completely unsuccessful. There were many helpers, but nothing was found, either human or animal. Dawson had fallen ill towards the end of 1915, and took no part, though Woodward kept in touch with him. His anaemia however led to septicaemia and his condition became steadily worse. He died on 10 September 1916.

In 1917, after correspondence with Mrs. Dawson, Smith Woodward obtained from Dawson's home, before the auctioneers' sale, the fragments known as the Barcombe Mills skull, and these he deposited in the British Museum.

During the next few years Smith Woodward opened up a number of pits in the vicinity of the original excava-tion. He also watched closely the digging of some founda-tions near the farmhouse at Barkham Manor. Except for a flint which he took to be a 'pot-boiler' at the latter site and miscellaneous bone fragments of recent animals, nothing came to light. After his retirement Woodward went to live at Hayward's Heath, near Piltdown, in order to search the original site and the fields of Site II at Sheffield Park, but with no success whatever. 21 He occasionally employed one of the local labourers to do a [16] little digging in these excursions. One such expedition, as late as 1931, yielded only a sheep's tooth.

The site of the first excavations was cleared under the auspices of the Nature Conservancy 22

in 1950 and a large new section of the gravel terrace opened up. Everything was carefully sieved and examined, 23 but the many tons of soil and gravel yielded nothing. This re-excavation made possible the exhibition of a demonstration section of the famous strata protected by a glass window. The cleared area was scheduled as a national monument.





1 Dawson, C., and Woodward, A. S., 1913, 'on the Discovery of a Palaeolithic Human Skull and Mandible in a Flint-bearing Gravel overlying the Wealden (Hastings Beds) at Piltdown (Fletching), Sussex', Quart. J. Geol. Soc., 69, pp. 117-44.

2 Now termed 'Villafranchian' from the name of the formation which geologists recommend should be used to define the earliest stage of the Lower Pleistocene, that is, the beginning of the Period of Ice Ages which began about 600,000 to 1 million years ago (see Leakey, L. S. B., 1953, Adam's Ancestors, pp. 16-9, London, Methuen).

3 Elliot Smith, G., 1912, Address to Section H, British Association, Dundee.

4 Keith, A., 1925, The Antiquity of Man, 2nd ed., P. 667, London, Williams and Norgate.

5 Duckworth, W. L. R, in Discussion to Dawson and Woodward, 1913) Op. cit., p. 149.

6 Sollas, W. J., 1924, Ancient Hunters, 3rd ed., London, Macmillan.

7 Elliot Smith, G., Appendix to Dawson and Woodward, 1913, op. cit., p. 147.

8 Waterson, D., in Discussion to Dawson and Woodward, 1913, op. cit. p.. 150.

9 Woodward, A. S., 1915, Guide to the Fossil Remains of Man, British Museum (Natural History), p. 20.

10 Dawson, C, 19 15, 'The Piltdown Skull', The Hastings and East Sussex Naturalist, 2, p. 182.

11 Underwood, A. S., 19 13, 'The Piltdown Skull', Brit. J. Dent. Sci., 56, pp. 650-2.

12 Keith, A., op. cit., p. 684.

13 Miller, G. S., 1918, 'The jaw of Piltdown Man', Sniihs. Misc. Coll., 65, pp. 1-31.

14 Woodward, A. S., 1917, 'Fourth note on the Piltdown gravel with evidence of a second skull of Eoanthropus dawsoni', Quart. J. Geol. Soc., 73, p. 9.

15 Miller, G. S., 1918, 'The Piltdown jaw, Amer. J.. Phys. Anthrop., 1, pp. 25-52.

16 Woodward, A. S., op. cit., pp. 1-7.

17 Boule, M., 1923, Les Hommes Fossiles. 2nd ed., pp. 158-76, Paris, Masson et Cie.

18 Osbom, H. F., 1927, Man Rises to Parwassus, pp. 45-74, London, Oxford Univ. Press.

19 Keith, A., 1950, An Autobiography, pp. 324-5, London, Watts.

20 Painted by John Cooke, R.A., and presented to the Geological Society in 1924, by Dr. C. T. Trechmann, F.G.S.

21 Woodward, A. S, 1948, The Earliest Englishman, pp. 12-13, London, Watts.



2. The gravel pit at Barkham Manor, Piltdown, Fletching, Sussex. The lowest layer is

the Tunbridge Wells sands and above it are the gravel deposits in which the specimens were found.



3. Personalities Concerned with the Piltdown Discovery

Back Row: Mr. F. O. Barlow, Prof. G. Elliot Smith, Mr. C. Dawson and Dr. Arthur Smith

Woodward. Front Row: Dr. A. S. Underwood, Prof. Arthur Keith, Mr. W. P. Pycraft and

Sir Ray Lankester.

(From the Portrait painted by John Cooke, R. A. in 1915)



[69] 6 The Full Extent


Then the perilous path was planted

And a river and a spring

On every cliff and tomb,

And on the bleached bones

Red clay brought forth.

Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell


Almost any single one of the techniques employed in the investigations suffices to reveal the elaborateness of the deception which was perpetrated at Piltdown. The anatomical examination, the tests for fluorine and nitrogen bear particularly good witness to this; even the radio-activity results taken alone, led the physicists to remark on the 'great range of activity shown by specimens from this one little site' ; 'it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the different bones in the Piltdown assem-blage have had very different geological and chemical histories'.

We have merely to take account of the stained condition of the whole assemblage, to realize the thoroughness of the fraud. From the Vandyke brown colour of the unnaturally abraded canine we infer with certainty that it was deliberately 'planted'. The superficiality of the iron impregnation, combined with the chromium, tells as much as regards the orang jaw. And it is this iron-staining which finally shows that the rest, human [70] and animal) was without doubt, all 'planted'. The iron-staining has two peculiar features. It seems probable that ferric ammonium sulphate (iron alum) was the salt employed. This salt is slightly acid. The peculiarity of this salt (and, indeed, of any acid sulphate) is that in bone which contains little organic matter such as the cranium of Piltdown I, or Piltdown II, the beaver bones and hippo teeth, it brings about a detectable change in the crystal structure of the bone. In the apatite in which the calcium of the bone is held, the phosphate is replaced by sulphate to form gypsum. This change is quite unnatural, for neither gypsum nor sufficient sulphate occur in the gravels at Piltdown to bring it about. So the iron-sulphate-staining is an integral part of the forger's necessary technique. He also used chromium compounds to aid the iron-staining probably because he thought it would assist the production of iron oxide. Chromium compounds are oxidizing.

The basic strategy underlying the Piltdown series of forgeries now seems reasonably clear. Two main elements in the plan taken together explain nearly all the features of the affair quite satisfactorily.

In the first place there is the consistent intention to establish beyond anyone's questioning the

occurrence of a Pliocene or Red Crag layer in the Sussex Downs. The finding of such a layer would be no real surprise to many. It would accord with the expectations long held by the 'Ightham Circle" 1 and other Pleistocene palaeontologists, who had persistently searched the Weald and the Downs [72] for just such a Pliocene deposit. The Piltdown gravel yielded up exactly what was sought. In it, recognizable to all, were the teeth of rhinoceros and mammoth speci-mens indistinguishable in every way from that of the Red Crag. They are genuine enough. They have not been stained either with iron sulphate or chromium. But their chemical composition (as well as their morphology) is identical with other Red Crag specimens so as to leave little doubt that East Anglia is their real place of origin. These objects with their rich red mahogany colour provide the pattern for all the other 'finds' intended to bolster up this Pliocene horizon. Accordingly, the 'planifrons' elephant tooth which comes from nowhere in Europe has been given an appropriate iron colour and contains chromium; the hippo teeth, again extraneous, have been given a very natural reddish gravel colour by the iron sulphate and chromium method, and the fauna of the 'later' layers has also been treated.

The 'human' remains have thus emerged from a gravel bed containing the 'Pliocene' looking animal bones and it is highly probable that the plan was to secure this dating for the jaw and cranium-the long-awaited, often-heralded Pliocene Man. 2 For those archaeologists who set store by them there were provided the abundant so-called 'eoliths' to testify to the Pliocene date of their supposed maker. Some enthusiasts of the 'eolith' theory had it both ways, for Piltdown Man could be invoked [73] to prove the Pliocene date of the eoliths. 3 Whether the intention was to endow Piltdown Man with a kit con-taining eoliths and the fraudulent and suitably stained palaeoliths as well, we cannot say. In the event, the apparent position of the flint tools above the deepest layer, combined with the presence of fossil fauna such as beaver and deer, led to the general conclusion that Piltdown man, though a Dawn Man, was somewhat younger than Elephas or Rhinoceros. Yet, so convincing is the colour. and the apparent mineralization that some authorities could continue to argue with some justice that the human remains were quite likely attributable to the lowest layer. As we have noted already, even differences in 'rolling' could not be urged against this view. Wood-ward was quite inclined to this even after 1926, and he thought that the bone implement fashioned from what he considered to be a Pliocene elephant, served as strong evidence as it seemed to have come from the lowest level of all in the gravels.

Whether he was pre-Pleistocene or not, Piltdown man still retained in the scientific world his antiquity as an early Pleistocene man equipped with appropriate tools of the period. The forger's intention may have gone slightly astray in not attaining the most ancient heritage possible for his brain-child, but the experts' verdict served well enough for forty years. As we now know, there is nothing at all to sustain the antiquity of the gravels, and we can dismiss the fauna as an assortment of importations from at least three different sources.

[74] The second main theme running through the whole affair is of course the 'build-up' of the man-ape combination. The cranial pieces arrived first accompanied by their 'certificates' of antiquity, the hippo teeth and pieces of 'Stegodon' (Elephas ) molar. All those delivered to Smith Woodward in London were chromium-and iron-stained. Then, closely associated with further pieces of cranium, came the famous jaw, along with further pieces of datable 'Red Crag' remains. The rhinoceros needed no staining; and though the cranial pieces had now no chromium, as had the 'Stegodon', all had the tell-tale sulphate. The canine, we know, consolidated the disputed position of the newly-recognized Eoanthropus, and the position was secured when Piltdown II arrived, again artificially stained with sulphate and chromium.

The significance of the finds at the second Piltdown site should be clearly understood. The occipital fragment undoubtedly comes from a second individual, but it does not belong to the frontal bone with which it was obtained. The occipital fragment is not remarkable in thickness nor in other morphological features, but its neat rectangular outline strongly suggests that it has been trimmed to that shape, as does also the rectangular shape of the frontal. The frontal bone is in texture and thickness very similar to the bones of the find of Piltdown I. Anatomically, as Keith and others recognized years ago, it can well fit into a missing part of the first skull. It is true that the Piltdown skull can be matched among some recent crania, but such skulls are undoubtedly rare, so that to find two different skulls in the same condition would be very [75] unlikely. Indeed, it is quite possible that the peculiar thickening of the Piltdown I and the frontal of Piltdown II is the result of some pathological process. This was the view, 4 of the late Professor S. G. Shattock, Pathologist of the Royal College of Surgeons, and an authority on bone pathology. Chemically, it is in fact part of the first skull. The feature in the composition of the bones least likely to be affected by the iron sulphate and chromate treatment (which Piltdown II, like Piltdown I, has received) is the fluorine-phosphate ratio. In this the frontal of II agrees with the bones of skull I and not with the occipital which accompanied it. It is a piece retained by the forger for many years. The second Piltdown Man, purports to be a complete duplication of the first ape-man combination, by alignment of the isolated molar tooth with the cranial pieces, and furnished with the necessary Pliocene dating specimen-a piece of Red Crag rhinoceros tooth.

The great success of the Piltdown hoax came from the clear conception on the part of the perpetrator that a man-ape of the right age appearing in the hitherto unknown gravel had a good chance of deceiving the palaeontological world. He planned and worked to admirable effect to provide a man-ape at Barkham Manor which would stand up to recurrent criticism, and to furnish him with an antique milieu adequately stocked with the appropriate animal fauna and the man-ape's

[76] tools. He was able to stage a second, if paler, version at Sheffield Park.

The cleverness of the hoaxer needs no stressing. It can be illustrated by the matter of the grains of sand packed in the pulp cavity of the eye tooth. Seen in an X-ray (as they were first in 1913) there are nineteen of these grains, most of them opaque. The largest grain plugs the opening to the cavity, and the whole gives a strong impression of fossilization. But careful consideration reveals a different story. The grains are loose, they rattle and are not consolidated, as might perhaps be expected. Some were extracted and proved to be pellets of limonitic iron-stone such as occur in the sand fraction of the Piltdown gravel. But very striking is the virtual absence of the fine sandy material below 1 millimetre in diameter which is found in a frequency of 30 per cent. in the sand at Piltdown. If the filling had been natural, as by silting in, this finer material would have been present. We have found it easy to fill and plug our own 'faked canine' in just the same way.

Well-executed and resourceful as the whole plan now appears, the existence of serious initial weaknesses should not be overlooked. Perfection is not easily attained even in this curious technology. The canine tooth, perhaps the boldest of the products, is probably at the same time the weakest. The use of bituminous Vandyke brown rather than an iron salt, so unlike the colouring used on the other objects, was a fatal flaw. But in all fairness it should be admitted that the use of this paint was probably forced on to the forger, for the staining of fresh teeth by [77] means of iron with or without chromium is, in our experience, by no means easy. To get a good fossil appearance, there was probably no other recourse but the paint. This tooth declares the work of the forger again in the unnatural condition in which the occlusal surface has been left as the result of its excessive abrasion. The canal has been opened up at one point and become blocked by the paint.

The unnecessary use of a chromium compound to assist the iron-staining of one of the flint tools must surely be judged a glaring miscalculation or oversight. The fabricated bone implement too seems a more than ordinary risk to have taken, for its complete unexpectedness and uniqueness were bound to attract rather special scrutiny. It was fortunate for the forger that Reginald Smith, who voiced an unmistakable scepticism, did not himself proceed to do what he suggested-namely, to discover by experiment whether fossil bone could possibly be whittled by any kind of flint tool.

Piltdown II seems also in retrospect rather hazardous. The obvious contrast of the occipital fragment to the frontal accompanying it, and its equally obvious resemblance to the pieces of frontal from the original site, did not escape some observers early on. One has the impression that the very severe criticism by Waterston and Miller of Woodward's Eoanthropus coming so soon must have driven the hoaxer to provide at Sheffield Park this weaker imitation of Barkham Manor, just as the canine was produced to satisfy critics at an earlier stage.

Admiration of the cleverness of the whole design must [78] therefore be tempered by a realization of the good luck which saved the forger from immediate exposure on several occasions. An escape even more striking than those already mentioned was the failure of the investigators to secure from the Uckfield Public Analyst a chemical examination of the mandible for comparison with that which he had already carried out on the cranium. In the latter he had reported a complete absence of organic matter. We know that the jaw contains as much organic matter as fresh bone, so that the analyst could not have failed to find a very striking discrepancy between the mandible and the cranium. Had he done so, the exact circumstances leading to the sensational rejection of the

Moulin Quignon jaw in 1863 by Busk and Prestwich would have been re-enacted. It was the high nitrogen content of that bone which convinced the English investigators that the jaw (and with it an isolated human tooth) were forgeries which, along with a number of palaeoliths, had been foisted by the workmen at Abbeville on Boucher de Perthes.



1 See later, pp. 96 and 104.

2 Reid Moir's Foxhall Man, among others, had been claimed as a representative of 'Pliocene Man' but the indications were against it as everything pointed to a natural burial.

3 For example, by H. Morris (see later, p. 160).

4 Shattock, S. G., 1913, 'Morbid Thickening of the Calvaria; and the Reconstruction of Bone once Abnormal: a Pathological Basis for the Study of the Thickening observed in Certain Pleistocene Crania', Report XVIIA, Intemat. Med. Cong., Sect. III (General Pathology), pp. 3-46..



[94[ 8 Some Others


Teilhard de Chardin was by no means the first helper in the search. Very probably the first person to hear of Dawson's original find, the piece handed to him by the labourer, was his friend of many years' standing, Mr. Sam Woodhead, a schoolmaster at Uckfield, who combined his teaching duties with the post of Public Analyst. Woodhead had carried out the analysis of the natural gas reported by Dawson to the Geological Society in 1898. He shared the first excitement of the finds at Piltdown, and went back to Barkham Manor with Dawson a few days after the first find to look for more fragments, but, as Dawson has told us, 1 their search was fruitless. Woodhead maintained his connection with the investigation, and it was he who carried out a chemical analysis of the skull 2 at some time before 1912. He remained at Uckfield till 1916, the year of Dawson's death. He was a man of considerable attainments, becoming a Doctor of Science and a Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry. He became Public Analyst for Brighton and Hove, and in 1916 went to live at Barcombe, the scene of Dawson's third discovery of human remains. He was among those who attended Dawson's funeral in Lewes in 1916. Woodhead often spoke of his early [95] connections with the famous event to his wife and son 3 and to others, such as Mr. Essex, another teacher, at Uckfield. Mr. A. J. Smith of Leamington remembers in a conversation in about 1915 that, in telling of the event, Woodhead chuckled about his 'truancy' from school that day when he helped Mr. Dawson in the pit, as he did on subsequent occasions. These visits in 1908 are well remembered by Mrs. Sam Woodhead.

During the years from 1908 to 1911 Dawson showed one or more of the thick pieces of cranium to others among his friends and colleagues. Mr. Ernest Clarke 4 was given the privilege of a private view of the fragments when he and his wife were dining with the Dawsons in Lewes, at some time in the summer of 1911 or early in 1912. He was taken down to the cellar and remembers that there were 'several, probably more than two, pieces of skull bone'. The Clarkes understood that Smith Woodward was soon to take an active interest in the material as it promised to be of rare importance. Mr. H. J. Sargent, now Curator of the Bexhill Museum, recalls a chance meeting with Charles Dawson in Hastings in 1911 and seeing a piece of thick, brownish bone unwrapped from a piece of newspaper. Dawson said he was going to take it to the British Museum. In Hastings Dawson had a number of close friends and, after joining the local Natural History Society in 1907, he used to spend many Saturday afternoons in the Museum. He was on the Committee of the Museum, where he assisted [96] with the organizing of loan exhibitions and where he deposited various antiquities on loan. A particular friend (and a frequent visitor to his home at Lewes) was the Curator, Mr. C. S. Butterfield. To him also Dawson showed the interesting object from Piltdown. 5 Butterfield claimed afterwards that he was he who advised Dawson to let the British Museum examine the remains. Also on the Museum committee and still very active at that time was that remarkable amateur geologist of St. Leonards-on-Sea, the jeweller Lewis Abbott.

Abbot's interest in this new discovery was intense. It expresses for us, vividly, the enthusiastic and also immediate acceptance which the Piltdown assemblage could evoke from many palaeontologists in those years. The Pliocene geology of the Weald and of Sussex had been Abbott's special study for many years. He was one of the Ightham circle which, in the 1890s, surrounded old Benjamin Harrison, the grocer and archaeologist of Ightham. 6 The curious formation of the Weald, the geology of the Downs, and the burning question of the human workmanship of eoliths were the common enthusiasms of the circle. Harrison's eoliths, like Reid Moir's Red Crag tools, persuaded most of the Ightham circle that Pliocene man (that is, man before the Ice Age) had existed and would be found. Abbott always maintained that the Pliocene formation would be recognized in the Weald. He claimed to have set Dawson to look out [97] for this early gravel formation. He claimed, indeed, to have pointed the way to all the major discoveries in the south-east corner of Britain.

Abbott was a Londoner who as a jeweller's apprentice became infected with the Huxleyan vision of evolutionary biology. A self-taught man, an amateur like practically everyone in the Ightham circle, he earned his living both as a jeweller and as lecturer on gems in the newly-opened Regent Street Polytechnic. In the early 1890s he made a reputation with his Pleistocene finds 7 in the fissures near Ightham. These Shode fissures yielded over 100 Pleistocene species; previously only thirty-seven of such vertebrates had been known. For this he was given part of the Lyell Award of the Geological Society. He lived for a time at Sevenoaks to be near his palaeontological sites, but soon gave up his London post with Bensons. In the 1890s he took a jeweller's shop at 8 Grand Parade, Hastings, and from there conducted his multi-farious geological and prehistorical pursuits, to the complete detriment of his business. He was the finder of the Hastings Midden Heaps, and possessed a great collection of flints, animal bones, and some human and ape remains A little dark, black-bearded man, he was regarded almost as the oracle on everything that pertained to the geology of south-east England. His pronouncements were oracular indeed, and always of new discoveries, 'new races', and of 'new things in flints' which 'the world will have to rediscover them all', if they did not listen to him, as he wrote to [98] his executor, Edward Yates, the antiquarian, of Hampton. Abbott's business difficulties were well-known and his friends had to come to his aid more than once. Jewellery and palaeontology were inconsequently commingled at 8 Grand Parade. Abbott was a highly skilled watch- and clock-maker and worker in precious jewels. He offered for sale gems of any and every sort, including his own special 'proxy diamonds, guaranteed to natural gems the closest yet produced'.

He advertised 'New Lantern and Stereoscopic Slides' illustrating prehistoric anthropology in every branch, 'Plateauliths, Palaeoliths, Mezzoliths, Neoliths', and all the unique specimens of Pleistocene vertebrates and the relics from the Hastings Kitchen Midden discovered by himself. At 8 Grand Parade in the 'Museum of Gems' there were on view examples of 'every gem known to have been used at any time for jewellery-matchless opals, phenomenal clear topazes, beautiful chrysoberyls, ideal cat's eyes, star rubies, gems of the Ocean, Diamonds from other worlds. . . .'

The jeweller's, now long gone, must have been submerged in a combined museum and old curiosity-shop stacked with flints and eoliths in great numbers, palaeontological specimens, animal and. human remains, the many things obtained from the Fairlight Middens, the Sevenoaks barrow (which from Professor Graham Clark's scrutiny' must rank as one of the most confused excavations ever carried out), the Pleistocene mammalia from [99] the foundations dug for the Admiralty Arch; there were Roman bronze statuettes, Roman pottery and tiles, Saxon spears, knives, fibulae and vases, medieval jars-as we may judge from the curious collection which Lewis Abbott put on show to illustrate 'Prehistoric Races' at the Hastings Museum Exhibition in 1909. 9 At this exhibition Dawson showed some iron work and wrote explanatory notes on the Sussex iron industry.

One of Abbott's exhibits, Item 6, calls for special mention:


Item 6. Human Teeth. Some worn down by gritty foods, some jaws show abnormal

dentition. In one case the last molar is more than twice the size of the first-an essentially

pre-human character; another case shows shortening of the jaw at the expense of the number

of teeth. A normal jaw is shown for comparison.


This molar 'twice the size of the. first' and its lodgement in the jaw would take any anatomists' immediate attention, for, I venture to say, it is unheard of in a normal adult jaw-unless Abbott was quite unable to distinguish between permanent and milk molars in a child's jaw!

Abbott's Pliocene and Pleistocene collections are to be found in many museums in the country, but of his stock of human bones nothing has so far been traced.

In his day the views of Lewis Abbott carried weight. Over the matter of the Piltdown eoliths, 10 Dawson at first expressed himself with some circumspection, making it clear that this was a vexed subject, but one on which [100] Lewis Abbott would in due course help to throw light, as he had considerable collections and experience of eoliths. Abbott was a firm believer in the human manufacture of eoliths. Abbott's reputation on matters palaeontological and archaeological stood so high that when Dawson and Woodward made their finds of flint implements, it was Abbott whom Dawson sought out to consult about their authenticity and joyfully reported the verdict in a letter of June 1912 to Woodward : 'Abbott is in no doubt. They are man, and man all over.' On the geology of Piltdown, Abbott was equally positive, and Keith, as we have seen, quoted Abbott's verdict as to the Pliocene age of the lowest stratum in the gravels in support of his own preference for a date earlier than Dawson's.

On this matter of the gravels, Abbott took the opportunity of pressing his views in a newspaper article 11 in the February immediately after the first Piltdown meeting of 18 December 1912, and again in an open-air discourse to the Geologists' Association when they picnicked at the famous spot in July 1913, an occasion when Keith noted in his diary: 'Abbott was everywhere in evidence.' Abbott went further; he claimed a place in the great discovery. He insisted in the article of 1 February that it was he who had brought to the notice of his 'Colleague on the Museum Committee' the gravel spreads of the Weald as likely places to look for the remains of fossil man, that when he had aroused Dawson's interest, thorough investigation soon produced the 'spoil which he [101] brought tome from time to time'. Abbott) like Woodhead, Sargent, Butterfield, and Sam Clark, had also been shown the first Piltdown fragment soon after its discovery, and he was impressed, he writes, with its 'superlative importance'.

In this article of 1 February 1913 in the Hastings Observer, Abbott dogmatizes at some length on the anat-omy of Eoanthropus, declares the skull to be 'a mixture of the human, the gorilloid and chimpanzoid' and expounds the essentially human features of the 'chimpanzoid' jaw. Though many of the comparisons he makes are questionable, it is clear that he was quite familiar at that early date with the character of the Piltdown jaw. Some of what he wrote he could no doubt have learnt from attendance at the December meeting, 12 and also from the uncorrected proof of Dawson and Woodward's abstract distributed on 18 December to the Fellows of the Geological Society. .Dawson and Woodward's detailed paper did not appear till March in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, and Dawson's own version was printed in the Hastings Naturalist on 25 March. The only reconstruction of E. dawsoni available at that time was the one exhibited at the meeting. Other casts were not reproduced till April or May of 1913. Thus neither of these 'official' accounts was available to Abbott for his article of 1 February, nor could he have obtained from attendance at the meeting some of the information he gives on 1 February. He must therefore have had some opportunity of [102] handling the actual jaw or its cast in 1912. This is not really so surprising, as we know that he was called into consultation over the flints in June 1912 when Dawson went down to see him. His version of the circumstances of the discovery, given on 1 February, differs materially from the account he would have heard on 18 December and is in important essentials similar to Dawson's account in the Hastings Naturalist of March 19 13. There is thus much to suggest that Abbott was in close touch with Dawson, and Mr. Yates, Abbott's executor, confirms this was so.

So important did Abbott 13 feel his contribution to be that he wrote personally to Woodward a few weeks before the December meeting of 1912 to point out with some vehemence that Dawson would not have made the discovery but for his inspiration and instruction.

Abbott always maintained a keen interest in the affair. As already recorded he took an active part in the excursion of the Geologists' Association to Barkham Manor on 12 July 1913, organized by Dawson. He regarded it as an historic occasion, writing to Yates to find out what notice had been taken of it by the 'national picture-papers' and in the local press (Yates had a relative at Uckfield). He urged Yates to ensure a wide distribution of the photo (P1. 8) which Yates had taken. 'I expect Keith, Corner and others next Sunday to hear more about what I told them at Piltdown', but of this sequel to the excursion no information is available.

In 1914 we do not hear of him in connection with [103] Piltdown, but in 1915 he took strong exception to the attack on the 'eolith' theory made by Dawson at the Royal Anthropological Institute in February' and wrote 'abusive letters' 14 to Dawson. 15

It is likely but not certain that he knew of the finding of the second lot of Piltdown fragments in 1915. In a letter he wrote from a sick-bed to Yates in February 1917 he exclaims: 'Oh I did you see that those other fragments of a second Piltdown skull were described last Wednesday by Smith Woodward at the Geological?'

In later years he still alluded to his own part. He told a number of visitors on one occasion 16 almost certainly in June 1929, that Dawson at first thought the Piltdown skull was of the nature of an iron-stained concretion but that he, Abbott, had persuaded him that it was a genuine fossil bone. To Mr. Edmunds, 17 mapping the Lewes area in 1924, he imparted the information that he had worked with Mr. Dawson on the Piltdown skull, that it had been in his possession six months before Woodward saw it, and that they had soaked it in bichromate to harden it.

In 1915 the war brought a huge camp of Canadians 18, and, with their free-spending, things looked up for Abbott, but it did not last. From 192O onwards he was [104] constantly beset with money troubles, and he had several times to appeal to Yates. A subscription in 1921 organized through Butterfield helped him, and another was raised ten years later by some Fellows of the Royal Society. Keith went down to present the money, but found Abbott in extremis. Abbott died in 1933 aged eighty, and Keith wrote an obituary for The Times.

Lewis Abbott is remembered still for the fiery, bombastic, inspiring, and weird character he was. It is said that he would never divulge the source of many of his finds, would let no one handle his exhibits, and was possessive of his 'rights' over the Fairlight and neighbouring sites; today his stock has fallen-the kitchen middens do not at all conform to his exuberant description and they are no more than the medieval castle's refuse; the round barrow and mesolithic mixture at Sevenoaks defies understanding; the 'Red Crag' of Sussex existed only in his imagination-his section of 'boulder clay' just outside Hastings has proved to be nothing more than a layer of beach pebbles and part of an old road.

Abbott's whole attitude to the Piltdown discoveries testifies eloquently to the accomplishment of the Piltdown hoaxer in bringing to realization a set of ideas and theories already entertained, in lesser or greater degree, by others. We know that in old Benjamin Harrison's circle there was always talk of the possibility of finding a late Pliocene deposit in the Weald or on the Kentish Plateau. We know of searchings which were made in the last decade of the century of the water partings in the Weald near Ightham and the ridges between the combes [105] of the North Downs for traces of gravels deposited by pre-existing streams. Old Ben and his friends (of whom F. J. Bennett was a particularly keen searcher) had many a walk to likely spots, but they were never successful.

Once excavations got under way at Barkham Manor, there were some visitors, even in 1912 before the public announcement. Keenly interested spectators were Mr. Kenward, tenant of Barkham Manor, who had granted permission for the work, and his daughter, Mabel Kenward. Before she went away on war work in 1914, Miss Kenward and her friends kept in touch with the exciting doings at the pit. Besides the principal workers and Hargreaves the labourer, we know now of no other excavator. 19 A not infrequent visitor appears to have been Mr. Edgar Willett, a friend of Dawson's who gave much help in the search for the further extension of the graveIs. 20 Abbott was there at various times. 21 One visitor who came back two or three times in 1912 was none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Perhaps the Piltdown discoveries provided him with some inspiration, for at this time he was busily writing his The Lost World. Dawson found his visits most gratifying and wrote to Woodward in 1912: 'Conan Doyle has written and seems excited about the skull. He has kindly offered to drive me in his motor anywhere.' ....





1 1913, op. cit., p. 76.

2 Dawson and Woodward, 1913.

3 Dr. L. S. F. Woodhead, M.B.E.

4 Mr. Ernest Clarke died aged eighty-one in January 1954.

5 Letter from the Rev. S, G. Brade-Birks, 19 February 1954.

6 The biography of this remarkable amateur has been written by his son, Sir Edward Harrison: Harrrison of Ighiham, 1928

7 Abbott, W. J. Lewis, 1894, 'The Ossiferous Fissures in the Valley of the Shode near Ightham, Kent', Quart. Journ. of Geol. Soc., 50, pp. 171-87.

8 Clark, J. G. D., 1932, The Mesolithic Age in Britain, 223 pp., Cambridge.

9 Catalogue of an Exhibition; of Local Antiquities, Corporation Museum, Hastings, 1909.

10 Dawson and Woodward, 1913, op. cit., p. 122.

11 Prehistoric Man. The Newly Discovered Link in His Evolution', 1913, Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, 1 February 1913.

12 There is no certainty about his attendance. The surviving register does not bear his signature for that meeting, but there may have been another register.

13 Letters dated 24 November 1912 and 15 December 1912.

14 'Sussex Ouse Valley Cultures', read at Royal Anthropological Institute 23 February 1915 ; not published.

15 Letter of Dawson to Woodward, 9 March 1915.

16 Information from J. Jackson in letter from Dr. W. D. Lang to Mr. W. N. Edwards, 30 November 1953.

17 Personal information.

18 Including Grey Owl (Archie Belaney), who was born at Hastings.

19 A Miss (or Mrs.) Simpson is said to have helped, but no verification has been obtained.

20 Dawson and Woodward, 1913, op. cit., p. 151.

21 According to Captain St. Barbe and Mr. R. Essex, but Professor Teilhard de Chardin is doubtful.



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