Talgai and Piltdown–The Common Context 1

Ian Langham

The Artefact 1978

Dr. Langham is Lecturer in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney, N.S. W. 2006, Australia. MS received 24 November, 1978.

[181] The Talgai cranium first achieved scientific prominence during the Australian meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1914. In appearance it was a highly distinctive relic, quite unlike any other fossil human skull in that it was massively encrusted with carbonate, and possessed a number of large teeth in the upper jaw, including two enormous canines (see Plate 1). Over the years opinions of its importance as a relic of early man have fluctuated somewhat, but modern dating techniques have produced estimates for the age of the cranium ranging from a minimum of 14,000-16,000 years B.P. (Macintosh and Larnach 1976:122), to a maximum of about 20,000 years B.P. (Hendy, Rafter, and Macintosh 1972:D117). Such estimates imply that, with the honorable exception of the very ancient finds made at Lake Mungo in recent years, the Talgai cranium arguably represents the oldest skeletal relic of man so far discovered in Australia. 2 What is more, it was regarded by Macintosh (1963:251) as constituting "the most primitive Australian cranium on record" from a morphological point of view.

The remains of "Piltdown man", unearthed in a Sussex gravel pit, were unveiled to the scientific world in 1912, and were regarded by British scientists for decades thereafter as a plausible "missing link" between man and his more simian ancestors. These remains consisted of some exceedingly thick cranial fragments which were reconstructed into a brain-case of relatively modern shape, and a portion of a lower jawbone which appeared extremely ape-like (Plate 2). The two molar teeth in the mandible had flat crowns with non-aligned biting surfaces, indicating a type of wear which is never found among apes, but is sometimes exhibited by modern indigenes such as the Australian Aborigines. During the 1940's and early 50's, "Piltdown man" came to be seen as increasingly anomalous, and in 1953, dating tests established that he was, in [182] fact, fraudulent. The mandible was shown to be that of a 500 year old orangutan, and had been doctored to appear consonant with the human cranial fragments, which were of similarly recent origin. 3


Plate 1: The carbonate-encrusted Talgai cranium as it appeared to Wilson, David, and Etheridge in 1896 and again in 1914. (Photograph courtesy University of Sydney Archives.)


With the Talgai cranium we have an undoubtedly genuine fossil skull which, although not of the very first magnitude in terms of international anthropology, is of continuing value and interest for Australian prehistory. The Piltdown episode, on the other hand, is regarded by many modern prehistorians as representing an embarrassing incident which is best swept under the archaeological carpet. 4 Such an attitude betrays an utter contempt for the history of the discipline. In the mid-fifties, it was estimated that, even before the exposure of the hoax, the Piltdown remains had inspired several hundred articles, nearly as many as the total of all the articles written about all the other "missing links" put together (Weiner 1955:204). To ignore Piltdown is to ignore what was undoubtedly the mainstream of British physical anthropology for several decades following 1912. Hence my juxtaposition of Talgai and Piltdown in the one article is not done out of either a sense of perversity, or the desire to provoke controversy. It is done in the hope of yielding historical insights of real importance. The plain fact of the matter is that the nature of the reception of the Talgai cranium [183] following its unveiling in 1914 cannot be properly understood unless one realises that the archaeological climate of the day had been very much influenced by the advent of "Piltdown man". Indeed, early interest in the cranium was greatly heightened by the belief that it provided a confirmation of the "missing-link" interpretation of Piltdown. More than this, however, the Talgai cranium, although not brought to worldwide notice until 1914, had actually been unearthed in the 1880's, and it is possible that it may have functioned, not just as a "confirmation" of Piltdown, but in the actual conception of the hoax itself.

In The Piltdown Men, Ronald Millar has attempted, albeit in an impressionistic and incompletely documented fashion, to pin the Piltdown hoax on the eminent Australian anatomist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith. Having accumulated an interlocking web of circumstantial evidence, the present author finds himself agreeing with Millar about Elliot smith's involvement, and regards Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, the prominent British Museum palaeontologist, as having been a likely accomplice in the hoax. The presentation of all the evidence relating to this hypothesis is beyond the scope of the present paper, and will be developed in a forthcoming book, tentatively entitled The Piltdown Factor. What follows is of course part of the web of circumstantial evidence which, I believe, implicates Elliot Smith and Woodward. However for reasons of brevity I shall not, in the present paper, attempt to argue ab initio for the assertion that these two gentlemen were the guilty parties. Rather I shall, on this occasion, interpret the facts relating to Talgai in the light of my belief, acquired on the basis of a great deal of additional evidence, that Elliot Smith and Woodward are the most probable candidates for having perpetrated the forgery.


The Talgai cranium was discovered after heavy rains, probably in the year 1886, protruding from the side of an eroded gully adjacent to Dalrymple Creek, a tributary of the Condamine River in the Darling Downs of south-eastern Queensland. William Naish, the farm labourer who found the skull, gave it to the owner of the East Talgai station, George Clark, from whence it passed into the possession of Ernest H.K. Crawford of Greenethorpe, New South Wales. 5

Until recent years, it had always been assumed that, prior to 1914, the Talgai cranium had never been submitted for scientific evaluation, but had languished in private possession in rural Queensland and New South Wales. However in a notable paper (Macintosh 1969) based upon archives discovered in the Australian Museum by Dr. Alex Ritchie, the late Professor Macintosh brought to light a curious and totally unexpected episode in the history of the cranium. Since a major concern of the present article will be the investigation of the likely significance of this episode in relation to the Piltdown affair, it will be necessary to go over


[184] PIX





Plate 2: J. H. McGregor's 1914 restoration of "Piltdown Man". (Original photographs now held in folder entitled "Talgai skull", Edgeworth David Papers, University of Sydney Archives.)

[185] the ground covered by Macintosh in some detail.

Circa September 1896 a description of the skull was apparently given in The Walcha Witness, a New South Wales country newspaper. Upon reading this description, the Curator of the Australian Museum in Sydney, Robert Etheridge Jr., wrote to Crawford and asked him to send the skull to the Trustees of the Museum for examination (Macintosh 1969:193), whereupon Crawford replied that he had forwarded the skull to Messrs. Turner and Henderson [a Sydney firm of stationers], where it would be "on view for some time". In the same letter, Crawford also mentioned that he was currently "in communication with some friends in England on the subject of the monetary value of the skull and trust soon to hear their opinion" (ibid.). A few days later, an item appeared in a weekly review column of a Sydney newspaper, stating that Turner and Henderson had received "A curiosity in the form of a petrified skull of an aboriginal ... from one of their customers residing at Walcha". "The shape of the skull", continued the report, "a protruding jaw and a low retreating forehead indicates a nature of almost exclusively animal propensities. This unique relic of past times will be submitted to the authorities of the Museum for inspection" (ibid. :194) .

On 6th October 1896, the Trustees of the Australian Museum met to evaluate the Talgai cranium. Among the people present at the meeting were the Curator, Robert Etheridge the Secretary, S. Sinclair; J.T. Wilson, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Sydney; and T.W. Edgeworth David, Professor of Geology at the University of Sydney (ibid. :193). As Etheridge recorded, the fossil human skull having been exhibited, "It was agreed to inform the proprietor that the Trustees are ready to favourably consider the purchase of the skull, but would like to know what sum is asked for it" (ibid.).

In a letter dated 7th October 1896, Sinclair wrote to Messrs. Turner and Henderson, informing them that the Trustees are "much interested" in the fossil skull, "and think that the Australian Museum would be a most suitable place to deposit it, as it would be then accessible for public information and scientific description.. "They would be quite willing to purchase it", continued Sinclair, "if your friend would be kind enough to name a price" (ibid. ).

On 8th October 1896, Etheridge wrote directly to Crawford, stating that the Museum had asked Messrs. Turner and Henderson to ascertain the value which Crawford put upon the skull (ibid .) . In a letter written on October 11th, Crawford replied to Etheridge as follows:

... owing to the fact of my being in communication with some friends in England about the Skull, I would not like to put any value upon it until I again hear from them. I will be probably sending it home to a brother of mine who is studying medicine in London (ibid.).

[186] Following this rebuff, Sinclair wrote to Crawford on October 13th, 1896:

Your letter of 11th inst. is to hand, and I note what you say regarding the 'Fossil Human Skull'. We will be glad to hear from you again when you have decided what to do with it. If you should think of sending it out of the Colony, I would be glad if you would allow us first to take casts, photographs, and measurements, and to publish an account of it. For that purpose we would be glad to have details as to where and how it was found. The specimen having been found in Australia, it is fitting that the first description of it should be published in The Colony. I may say your specimen is of great interest to Anthropologists and Palaeontologists, but not so much so from a medical point of view (ibid.).

In a Report to the Trustees dated 30th October 1896, Etheridge expressed his regret that Crawford could not "be induced to give a definite answer re the sale of the specimen" (ibid: 194). Then, on the following day, Etheridge, who had apparently been away from Sydney, wrote again to Crawford:

I very much regret to find, on my return from the Country how little probability there is in our acquiring the 'fossil' skull sent down by you to Messrs. Turner and Henderson. The specimen should most unquestionably be deposited in some one of the Australian Museums, and not sent out of the country, as its very condition forbids it having anything but a small medical value. 0f course, its intrinsic value very much depends on whether or no a reliable history of its discovery, and the details of the latter can be furnished to you. However, I shall be glad to learn your final decision (ibid.).

On the 18th of November 1896, Crawford replied to Etheridge:

... when sending it [the fossil skull] to Messrs. Turner and Henderson, I did so with a view of obtaining (if possible) the opinion of some Professors or others interested in such subjects, as to its real value. I had been informed that it would be considered very valuable in England, hence the reason for writing to my brother in London. I am sorry to say that up to date I have not received any reliable information on the subject. Therefore I am still at a loss as to what to say concerning it. As to its history all I can say is it was found by Mr. George Clark 'of Talgai Station Queensland' between 15 and 20 years ago in a gully off Dalrymple Creek near Warwick. He was searching for a suitable place to sink for water when he came upon it laying in the bed of the gully where it had evidently been washed by a flood. I would sell it provided I got its full value, but not unless – you are welcome to take photos of it and measurements –but not castings (ibid.).

[187] As a review of my previous brief account of the discovery of the Talgai cranium will make clear, Crawford's version is inaccurate in a number of respects, the most crucial inaccuracy being the inference that the skull was not found in situ . Etheridge, who had already committed himself to the view that man had not inhabited Australia for a geologically significant period of time, 6 seized upon this inference and used it as a reason for downgrading the value of the skull. In a letter written to Crawford on 23rd November 1896, he averred:

The value of the specimen from the Geological standpoint is comparatively small from the fact that it does not possess what we call 'geological history'. Had it been found at any depth in alluvial deposits, or in a cave deposit the matter would have been very different. Its osteological value is still less from the fact of all the characters being concealed by sinter. Will you meet us this far– when you have made up your mind as to price, give the Australian Museum the first refusal (ibid.).

Actually Etheridge, in reacting negatively to Crawford's inability to provide geological provenance for the skull, may have been motivated mainly by the desire to get Crawford to sell it cheaply. Certainly Etheridge should not have regarded Crawford's description of the discovery of the skull as necessarily lowering its scientific value. The general area in which the Talgai cranium was discovered had already produced many notable fossils of extinct animals. Dalrymple Creek, like the famous Kings Creek, where many bones of megafauna had been found, is a tributary of the Condamine River, and an adjacent tributary at that. In fact, the Condamine fossil area was only the second general megafaunal locality discovered by Europeans in Australia, with finds dating back to 1842 (Orchiston et al. 1977:107). Indeed the site was internationally known, the famous British anatomist Richard Owen having described fossils from it as early as 1844 (Owen 1844). What is more, it would seem that a standard way in which fossils came to light in the area was through erosion caused by floods. For example, in the mid 1840's a large number of fossil bones had been collected "after various floods in the creeks of the River had left them bare and protruding from the sides of the gullies" (Macleay 1858, quoted in Moyal 1976:205). And in 1871, Owen had been informed that, in the Condamine area, "When fossils are found in the bed of a creek or in the banks, they have no doubt been disturbed by the heavy rains which occur in this tropical climate, and have gradually drifted with the percolating water ... through the soft soil towards where the waters naturally flow – that is, towards the creeks, where they have been found ...~ (Bennett, quoted in Moyal 1976:215). Of all this, Etheridge should have been well aware. Apart from having many years of experience as a fossil hunter in Australia, he was the co-author of a monumental work on The Geology and Palaeontology of Queensland and New Guinea, which had been published in 1892. 7 Far from providing Etheridge with an excuse for downgrading the scientific worth of [188] the cranium, Crawford's inability to supply provenance should have sparked off interviews and geological investigations of the type which in 1914 (Scientific Australian September 1914:4-5) and as late as the 1960s (Macintosh 1967b), were able to accurately relocate the discovery site. It is all the more surprising then that, having been the one who initiated negotiations with Crawford, Etheridge apparently let the matter rest with his letter of November 23rd. The absence of any further correspondence on the subject in the Museum archives would seem to indicate that, despite the open-ended nature of the final sentence of the November 23rd letter, Etheridge did not indulge in any further negotiations about the Talgai cranium until 1914.

As will be detailed later in the paper, the 1914 reappearance of the Talgai cranium was notable for at least three reasons. Firstly, the preliminary scientific description of the cranium was given by none other than Edgeworth David and J.T. Wilson, both of whom wrote as though they had seen the skull for the first time in 1914. Secondly, the skull was hailed as a dramatic confirmation of the Woodward-Elliot Smith interpretation of the Piltdown remains, and came at a time when the interpretation had been under strong attack. Thirdly the actions of Elliot Smith just prior to the "surprise" unveiling of the cranium in 1914 might be interpreted as indicating foreknowledge on his part. In view of these facts, a number of questions arise. The one that I wish to consider at this stage of the paper involves possible connections between Talgai and the Piltdown hoax: Is it likely that Elliot Smith and/or Woodward found out about Talgai as a result of the 1896 episode described above? Certainly, the Talgai fossil, with its evidently human cranium and its gigantic ape-like canine teeth, might have provided a plausible model for the Piltdown fabrication.



Let us consider the various possibilities in turn. Edgeworth David certainly knew Elliot Smith and admired his work, 8 but the two men were not regular correspondents, and I have found no evidence to suggest that David would have been likely to communicate with Elliot Smith on a matter relating to human evolution.

J T. Wilson, on the other hand, did not merely know Elliot Smith and admire his work. He also carried on a voluminous correspondence which is liberally sprinkled with references to evolutionary theory in general and human anatomy in particular. It was therefore with great interest that I perused the Wilson-Elliot Smith correspondence for the relevant period in the Sydney University [189] Archives. Elliot Smith, after obtaining his medical qualifications under Wilson, and demonstrating in anatomy at the University of Sydney for several years, departed for England circa April 1896. For the next thirteen years the two men corresponded frequently and discussed many items of mutual interest. Judging from the correspondence which has survived, which would seem to represent a fairly complete set of the letters written by Elliot Smith, the main aim of these discussions was to speculate about how such items could be useful in furthering each other's careers, and in generally advancing the course of evolutionary theory in anatomy. The letters of 1896 and l897 contain no discernible references to the Talgai cranium. This of itself is very strange, as there are mentions of many other topics which one would expect to be of far less interest to the two men. That Elliot Smith realised that British scientists of the period were very desirous of obtaining data relating to the Australian Aborigines is certainly evident from the correspondence. In a letter from Cambridge dated 18th November 1896, Elliot Smith wrote:

"Among anthropologists over here there is an extreme desire to know something definite of the soft parts of the Australian aboriginal. A full account of the myology of even a single individual aboriginal would be welcomed over here. Could you get someone to do the work – your new demonstrator next year?"

Given the fact that a small group of Trustees, of which Wilson was a member, had, through their Secretary pronounced the Talgai cranium to be "of great interest to Anthropologists and Palaeontologists", and given that a contemporary newspaper report had stated that "The shape of the skull a protruding jaw and low retreating forehead indicates a nature of almost exclusively animal propensities", it seems patently incredible that Wilson would not have informed Elliot Smith about the skull. And lest it be thought that perhaps The University of Sydney Anatomy Department in general, and Wilson in particular were not overly interested in human evolution, let me make two points. The first concerns a visit to Sydney by Wilhelm Krause, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Berlin. On 9th July 1897, Krause read a paper on "The Remains of Pithecanthropus Erectus" to the University of Sydney Medical Society. In this paper, Krause compared the external configurations and cubic capacities of the skulls of the Neanderthals, the Australian Aborigines, the Anthropoid apes and Pithecanthropus [also known as 'Java Man']. The single extant tooth of Pithecanthropus was described, Krause comparing it "with the teeth of apes and of the Australian native black in point of size and contour". Finally Krause discussed "The bearing of the question upon the Darwinian theory of evolution, including the 'missing link' n . This paper was attended by a "very large" audience, which included Professor Wilson (Hermes "Medical Supplement", 13th August 1897:XX). In the course of Krause's visit to Australia he was able to obtain, through the "extreme kindness" of [among others] [190] J.T. Wilson, "at least two hundred aboriginal skulls for scientific examination". "Certain is it", wrote Krause a year later, "that no anatomist has ever had so many skulls in hand of such an interesting and quite primitive race of mankind, as the Australian Aboriginal ... Every one who has some interest in Australian scientific work and some knowledge of anatomy could and should help here. I do not speak about the masters of science in Australia [men like Wilson, presumably]; they know by themselves what may be done, without me ... gather every aboriginal skull, present it or sell it to the next museum, accurately registering everything which you may find out about the age, tribe and so on ... Last but not least, do gather aboriginal brains. There is very little known about them" (Hermes "Medical Supplement", 24th November 1989:XCV).

My second point concerns Wilson's known reaction to the Talgai cranium when reintroduced to it eighteen years later After Crawford submitted a photograph of the skull to Edgeworth David in 1914, David showed it to Wilson, who "immediately perceiving the possibilities, expressed a strong desire to have the specimen itself forwarded to Sydney" (Smith, S.A. 1918:351f). A newspaper account of Wilson and David's unveiling of the cranium to the British Association in August 1914 reported that "If the Pleistocene age of the skull can be established, it will rank in importance with the famous skulls of Neanderthal and Spey, surpassing them in interest as far as Australia is concerned, for it would represent the earliest aborigines of this continent and be an epoch-marking discovery..." (Sydney Morning Herald 22nd August 1914, p.9). And the main burden of the "preliminary communication" through which Wilson and Edgeworth David introduced the cranium to international science was apparently to establish a Pleistocene antiquity for the skull. The surviving abstract of this communication points out that "A few miles from the spot where the skull was picked up bones of many types of extinct animals of Pleistocene Age have been discovered, and as the present skull is in at least as advanced a stage of fossilization as the bones of Diprotodon, Nototherium, etc., in adjacent regions. it may provisionally be assumed that this human skull is also of Pleistocene Age". The fact that the shape of the skull has been distorted, presumably "by steady pressure due to the weight of an original thick overburden of clay, is in harmony with the evidence as to the high antiquity of the skull". The cranium "is far older than any other aboriginal skulls that have ever been obtained in Australia", Wilson and David conclude, "and it proves that in Australia man attained to geological antiquity (Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science Australia 1914:531).

These two points taken in conjunction force us to the conclusion that Wilson must have been very interested indeed in the Talgai skull when he first examined it in 1896, and strongly suggest that he would have informed Elliot Smith about it. Why then do not Elliot Smith's letters make mention of the skull? My speculative answer to this question is that Wilson did inform Elliot Smith

[191] of the existence and nature of the Talgai cranium in 1896, and that any written discussion of the matter by Elliot Smith was censored from the correspondence. Indeed, a perusal of the surviving correspondence could suggest that some sort of censorship has been practiced. Assuming that Wilson wrote to Elliot Smith about the Talgai cranium at the end of 1896, one would expect Elliot Smith to have written a number of letters on the subject from early 1897 onwards. In fact there seems to be a significant gap in Elliot Smith's letters for this very period. For the seven months March through September 1897, there are only two surviving letters from Elliot Smith. This contrasts with the preceding six months from September 1896 through February 1897, for which there are seven letters. Moreover, as will be described shortly, one of the two surviving letters from the formerly mentioned period has had its concluding section torn away. Could this indicate censorship, presumably on the part of Wilson? No doubt this line of thought will seem quite gratuitous at this point in the argument, but I hope that it will appear somewhat less gratuitous by the time this paper draws to a close, and a good deal less gratuitous by the time I complete my magnum opus on Piltdown.

What is clear from a close examination of the Elliot Smith-Wilson correspondence is that Elliot Smith made a quick and apparently hush-hush trip back to Australia circa August 1897. This trip is nowhere mentioned in the lengthy obituary of Elliot Smith authored by Wilson (1936-38), and seems to have escaped the notice of all the numerous people who wrote biographical accounts of Elliot Smith. 10 The evidence for it is a letter which Elliot Smith wrote to Wilson on August 14th 1897. Giving his address as "Ville de la Ciotat, Adelaide", Elliot Smith writes: "Here we are off Adelaide after a fairly smooth run from Melb[ourne]". Later in the letter he talks of work which he had apparently just done for Wilson in Sydney. A check of relevant Australian newspapers revealed that the "Ville de la Ciotat" was a French steamer plying a Sydney to London service via Melbourne, Adelaide, Albany, Colombo, Suez and Port Said, and that it was scheduled to leave Melbourne at 1 pm on August 14th, and to arrive in Adelaide at noon on August 16th, 1897 (Sydney Morning Herald 14th August 1897, p. l). That this trip was deliberately not publicized by the powers-that-were in the Sydney University Medical School is suggested by a perusal of Hermes, the magazine of the University of Sydney. Frequently throughout 1896, 1897 and 1898 there are mentions of Elliot Smith and how his career in England is progressing, but, despite the fact that the magazine incorporates a section entitled "Medical Notes", which includes information about the movements of past and present members of staff, Elliot Smith's first return trip to Australia remains totally unreported.

What then was the purpose of Elliot Smith's anonymous trip to Sydney? One possibility which cannot be discounted is that Elliot Smith came home because he was suffering from a psychiatric problem of some kind (an hypothesis which would help to explain the anonymity of the trip). Certainly the August 14 [192] letter contains the following passage which is quite uncharacteristic of the normally ebullient Elliot Smith:

I feel still in the same cold-blooded and mechanical mood as when I left but doubtless it will wear off soon.

And the concluding section of the letter, which immediately follows this apparent description of depression, has been torn away, suggesting that Wilson, or someone who had access to his correspondence after his death, saw fit to indulge in a little judicious censorship. One problem about interpreting the passage just quoted is that Elliot Smith does not specify the place from which he left in an apparently depressed state. In context however, it seems most likely that the place in question was Sydney, in which case the depression (if that is what is was) may well have come upon him at the end of his Australian sojourn, rather than having been the precipitating cause of the visit. Against the hypothesis that it was a psychiatric problem which brought Elliot Smith back to Australia in 1897 is the fact that the August 14 letter makes it quite clear that, while in Australia, Elliot Smith was actively helping Wilson and Baldwin Spencer, Professor of Zoology at the University of Melbourne, with their work on Australian marsupials Thus, the Australian visit would seem to have been a working trip rather than one of rest and recuperation. And if it was a working trip, what are the odds that one of the major items on Elliot Smith's agenda would have been to discuss the Talgai cranium with Wilson? Indeed, it must surely be possible that the passage censored from the August 14 letter referred to the cranium, and was excised by Wilson because he wanted to make quite sure that their knowledge of the cranium at this early stage was kept secret.

If the above line of argument strikes the reader as depending too heavily upon lack of evidence, rather than upon evidence of a positive kind, there is a second set of more positive facts which suggest that the likely perpetrators of the Piltdown hoax might have had prior knowledge of the Talgai cranium. In the Crawford letters which have already been quoted, Crawford mentions three times that he has written to England in an attempt to ascertain the value of the skull. In his letter of 2nd October 1896 he wrote simply that he was "in communication with some friends in England on the subject and trust soon to hear their opinion" In his letter of 11th October, he added that he would probably be sending the skull "home to a brother of mine who is studying medicine in London". And in his letter of 18th November he states that he has been informed that "it would be considered very valuable in England, hence the reason for writing to my brother in London". These references are, of course, not at all specific, and provide almost zero evidence for the contention that Woodward and/or Elliot Smith, for example, might have found out about the skull from this source. However after the reappearance of the Talgai cranium in 1914, Crawford was more specific. In a letter which he wrote to Edgeworth David on April 1st, Crawford enclosed a photograph of the skull and stated that "Having been [193] told that the skull was of considerable value I sent a similar photo to England to ascertain what it was worth. I received a reply to the effect that the skull was evidently that of an animal and consequently of no value. I can assure you that it is not an animal's skull, but is that of a very low type of human being." 11 Attached to Crawford's letter is what is evidently the original photograph referred to in the text. Written on the back of this sepia-toned photograph in Crawford's hand is "No.1. Petrified Skull found near Warwick Queensland. Now the property of E.H.K. Crawford 'Deyrah' Greenethorpe, N.S. Wales". In a second letter to David dated 23rd July 1914, Crawford added: "Some years ago I was informed by a gentleman who was supposed to be an authority on such subjects that this specimen was of considerable value ... (ibid.). Finally, in a later letter to David written circa the 5th of September 1914, Crawford included the following information:

For years I have known that the skull I sent you was of considerable value not only to curio collectors, but even more so to a scientist, who alone could place a true value upon it and it was for that reason that some years ago I sent a photograph of it to the British Museum and recently to you, for I had decided to sell it, PROVIDED I received a tempting offer for it ... (ibid.).

Putting these three letters together with each other, and with the letters from 1896, three major points emerge:

(1) "Some years ago" (prior to November 18, 1896?) Crawford had been informed by a reputed authority that the Talgai cranium was valuable.

(2) "Some years ago" (circa early October 1896?) Crawford sent a photograph of the cranium to the British Museum.

(3) The British Museum replied (at some time after November 18th 1896?) that the skull was obviously non-human and consequently worthless. 12

The conjunction of points (2) and (3) strikes me as absolutely incredible. Although the surviving photograph is small (3" x 25") and not well-focussed, [It is too poor in quality to reproduce here - Ed.] there can be absolutely no doubt that it represents what science now knows as the Talgai cranium. Nor, one would think, could there be any doubt that it represents the skull of a human being, and not that of an animal. Indeed, even if it were to be interpreted as the skull of an ape, the British Museum should have been extremely interested in a fossil ape skull found in Queensland, of all places! Certainly when Wilson was shown the very same photograph in 1914, his reaction was, as I have already mentioned, quite unequivocal. "Immediately perceiving the possibilities" of the skull, he "expressed a strong desire to have the specimen itself forwarded to Sydney". Surely if the poor [194] focussing of the photograph left the British Museum people in any doubt as to what it depicted, they could easily have written back to Crawford requesting a clearer photograph.

And who, in the British Museum at that time would have had the motivation to arrive at such an incredible decision, and the authority to make it stick? I cannot claim to be privy to all the motivations and machinations of the British Museum hierarchy during this period, but one obvious candidate springs to mind– Arthur Smith Woodward, Assistant Keeper between 1892 and 1901, and Keeper of the Department of Geology from 1901 onwards, a man who by 1896 had already received the Lyell Medal from the Geological Society, and established himself as Britain's leading palaeontologist, with well over 200 published items to his credit (Cooper 1945-48). Could Woodward, after consultation with Elliot Smith perhaps, have decided to defer the scientific unveiling of the Talgai cranium until a more opportune moment arose?

Alternatively, Woodward may well have found out about the existence and nature of the Talgai cranium through Robert Etheridge Jr. Woodward and Etheridge had been colleagues in the British Museum between 1882 and 1887. That the two men kept in touch after 1887 is evidenced by an article on an Australian fossil fish which they jointly published in the early 1890s (Etheridge and Woodward 1891). Indeed, when Etheridge died in 1920, Woodward wrote his obituary for the journal Nature (Woodward 1920). Two points about their collaborative article may be worth noting. One is that the fossil fish had been found in "The Rolling Downs Formation of Central Queensland" (the Talgai cranium having been unearthed in the Darling Downs of South-Eastern Queensland). The second is that Woodward had previously written articles on a specimen of the very same genus of fossil fish (Belonostomus ), which had been discovered (as the Piltdown relics were later to be) in Sussex (Cooper 1945-48:91f).

Summing up this admittedly speculative section on possible connections between the 1896 examination of Talgai and the likely perpetrators of Piltdown, we may say that, while it seems doubtful that Edgeworth David would have informed Elliot Smith about Talgai, the likelihood that Wilson would have done so seems high. Moreover, there is a distinct possibility that Woodward may have learned of the cranium independently, either through Crawford's enquiry to the British Museum or via Etheridge. With these possibilities in mind, let us now examine the "official" scientific unveiling of the cranium in 1914.



On April 1st 1914 Crawford wrote to Edgeworth David and enclosed his indistinct photograph of the Talgai skull. "Knowing that you are an authority and interested in such matters", wrote Crawford, [195] "I am taking the liberty of thus addressing you and trust that you will kindly favour me with your opinion as to whether such a skull is of any value" (op. cit., note 11). The letter makes no mention of the 1896 episode, and one can only speculate as to whether Crawford knew that he was addressing one of the scientists who had evaluated the cranium at that time. As has already been mentioned, David then showed the photograph to Wilson who, "immediately perceiving" the potential importance of the skull, expressed a strong wish that the specimen itself should be sent to Sydney.

We shall return to Crawford, David and Wilson in a moment, but let us first consider some episodes which belong chronologically at roughly this place, and which involve Elliot Smith.

The Sydney Morning Herald for 3rd July 1914 included a lengthy interview With Elliot Smith on the occasion of his arrival in Sydney more than a month early 13 for the Australian meeting of the British Association. "Even since he passed through the Universities of Sydney and Cambridge", reported the interviewer, Professor Elliot Smith "has been racking his own brain and the brains of other people, living and dead, to find out how old this human race is. And he has come to the conclusion that the evidence only takes us back 50,000 years". "Some say a million", said Elliot Smith to the Herald reporter, "but I think that is preposterous. It is only guessing. The skull discovered by Mr. Charles Dawson in a bed of flint at Piltdown in Sussex, a couple of years ago, is the oldest we know of, and geologists tell us it is at least 50,000 years old. That is the minimum. It may be older, but we do not know".

Elliot Smith then launches into a detailed exposition of the circumstances under which Dawson came upon the first Piltdown fragments, and brought them to the attention of Woodward. Following the discovery of further pieces of cranium and of a jawbone by Dawson and Woodward, a reconstruction of "Piltdown man" had been made. However since that time, nothing further of any consequence had been discovered in the Piltdown gravel pit, even though investigations are still proceeding. "Indeed", the article continues, "the day before he left England Dr. Elliot Smith and an assistant went to Piltdown and did some digging, but the only thing they turned up was the tooth of a rhinoceros ...".

"The jaw of the Piltdown skull", Elliot Smith told the interviewer, "is far and away the most primitive of any jaw ever found, though in some respects the jaw of what is known as the 'pithecanthropus erectus', discovered in Java some years ago, is much more degraded. It is doubtful if the latter can really be connected up with the primitive line of human descent, the line which led to modern man ... The interest in the Piltdown skull is that it represents a type that has advanced a considerable way along the lines which eventually led to the modern type of man, and yet in the jaw there is retained the most [196] ape-like condition that has ever been found in any human remains ... As far as the brain is concerned, the Piltdown man is definitely human ... and yet, if you consider the jaw –well if that jaw had been found without any teeth, or if it had been found separate from the skull, no one would have hesitated to call it an ape's jaw. It is, however, inconceivable that two of these curious, primitive ape-like beings, each leaving complementary parts, should be destroyed side by side at the same time".

In response to a question about the kind of life which the Piltdown race might have led, Elliot Smith replied: "I suppose ... the life they led was very much like that of the Tasmanians, who are now extinct. So far as equipment was concerned, the Tasmanians ... were certainly the lowest race on earth. They were more isolated than other races, and retained up to modern times an equipment not very much greater than that of a man of the Piltdown stage". At this point, Elliot Smith produced a rough piece of flint found in the Piltdown excavations, and observed that it had presumably served as some kind of implement. "I think the Australian blacks are now the lowest type of human being we can find, especially in the south", Elliot Smith went on. "Many of those in the north are more cultured than the southern blacks, as a result of contact with the people of other parts of the world".

Elliot Smith then recalled that, several months before he had first learned of the Piltdown finds, he had delivered an address to the British Association in Dundee, in which he had put forward the theory that "in the ancestors of man the brain reached its human status before the features of the face. My argument was, briefly, that the feature which essentially distinguishes man from the apes is his mental characteristics ... in other words that man reached his human estate by virtue of his development of the brain, and that afterwards his features became refined as a result of his definite selection. As his esthetic taste became elevated, he exercised a higher mental discrimination in selecting his female partner". It is hardly surprising then that, when "Piltdown man" appeared shortly after this speech was made, Elliot Smith was to hail him as the transitional form linking modern man with his more simian progenitors. How obvious it was that the expanded brain of "Piltdown man" had facilitated aesthetic preferences in mating, thereby creating selection pressures which were to refine away the ugly, ape-like jaw and teeth of his breed.

To the-evidence of this July 2nd interview, let us add that of a roughly contemporaneous article on Elliot Smith in Hermes, the magazine of the University of Sydney. This article, which was obviously based upon an interview with the visiting Elliot Smith, says in part:

Round him ... controversy is often raging. The latest is over the Piltdown skull. It was found by a solicitor so, [197] perhaps, rather litigiously introduced to the modern world. In its own day it probably knew ferocious knocks, for it is the nearest ever found to a relic of the "missing link". So at least says Smith Woodward, of the British Museum, and on his independent examination, so says Elliot Smith. The skull is the skull of a man – a very inferior primitive man. But the jaw is that of an ape, by nearest analogy. And the opposition, headed by Professor Keith, cannot away with that monkey jaw. A fiercer conflict has been waged with it than with the historic jawbone that did such slaughter in the hand of Samson. In the thickest of the fight was ever the benignant head of Elliot Smith. (Hermes XX (2), August 1914:56).

Summing up the significance of these indications of Elliot Smith's preoccupations following his arrival in Sydney, and prior to the 'surprise' unveiling of the Talgai cranium, we should note four things: The first is that Elliot Smith obviously had Piltdown and its implications for human evolutionary theory very much on his mind. The second is that he was significantly concerned with the conjunction in 'Piltdown man' of an apparently human cranium and an apparently ape-like mandible. The third is that he readily drew parallels between Piltdown and the Australian and Tasmanian Aborigines. And the fourth point is that Elliot Smith wanted to claim foresight for having put forward a theory in pre-Piltdown days which predicted that the 'missing link' would be likely to have a modern brain, allied to more simian facial features.

Taken by themselves or out of context, there is nothing terribly surprising about any of these points. Piltdown man was a preoccupation of many evolutionary biologists and anthropologists of the day; the conjunction of Piltdown's simian jaw and human cranium had already given rise to much debate; the Australian and Tasmanian Aborigines were widely regarded as two of the most "primitive" races in existence; and any scientist who indulges in theoretical speculation is likely to find reasons for believing that one of his hypotheses has been confirmed. However, taken together, and in the context of the way in which the Talgai cranium was soon to be interpreted, it seems to me that the July 2nd interview in particular might well indicate that Elliot Smith had prior knowledge both of the imminence of the unveiling, and of the nature of the skull itself. And the plausibility of this hypothesis gains considerably from a consideration of Elliot Smith's overall strategy and frame of mind in relation to the 1914 British Association meeting.

In many ways Elliot Smith's homecoming resembled the return of a conquering hero. Here he was, having made the big leagues overseas, returning for a triumphal performance in the company of some of the world's most distinguished scientists. What a perfect opportunity to simultaneously impress his Sydney mentors, debate with eminent colleagues, and sway the Australian public with his home-grown but internationally matured erudition and [198] insight. From Elliot Smith's point of view, the meeting had two dramatic highlights. One was of course David and Wilson's unveiling of the Talgai cranium, and we shall learn in a few pages how swiftly the Talgai cranium, and we shall learn in a few pages how swiftly Elliot Smith capitalized on that event. The other dramatic highlight was bound up with Elliot Smith's attempted contribution to cultural anthropology–his notion of "hyperdiffusionism", according to which virtually everything of cultural value in indigenous societies was to he explained as having "diffused", either by trade or by actual migrations, from the allegedly primal source in Ancient Egypt. The particular event which took place at the 1914 meeting was subsequently described as the "cornerstone" of Elliot Smith's hyperdiffusionistic edifice (Dawson 1938:66). It involved the mummified remains of a Melanesian, and is worth recounting at some length.

While visiting the Museum of his old Medical School at the University of Sydney in July 1914, Elliot Smith took the opportunity of examining one of the exhibits, a mummy from the Torres Straits. A detailed account of what followed has been provided by D.M.S. Watson, a palaeontologist from University College London who was present at the moment of relevation.

As neither the Museum Director nor I had much knowledge of how they were made, Elliot Smith told us that the methods were entirely unlike those known in Egypt: and that, if I remember rightly, the Torres Straits mummies were smoked-dried, whilst the essential process in Egyptian mummification was a long steeping of the body in a solution of natron, a naturally-occurring sodium carbonate.

The mummy we examined was the body of an adult man, shrunken but well preserved, lashed down at full length to a ladder-like framework of poles.

As soon as we took it out of the museum case, Elliot Smith pointed out to us that all the finger- and toe-nails were carefully tied on with a binding of thread, and with obvious excitement told us that this was a custom found in Egyptian mummies of a definite date, and that it there had the definite function of keeping the nails attached during the long soaking.

He said immediately that he could not imagine that this would be necessary in the case of the Torres Straits mummies, the process there being such that it was unlikely to result in the loss of the nails.

He then, very characteristically, told us that in Egyptian mummies of the period to which he had referred it was the custom to remove the brain and viscera, the latter usually through a slit cut in the left flank. An immediate examination showed that both operations had been performed on the Torres Straits mummy. There was a hole in the [199] occiput through which the brain had been removed, and a slit cut through the body-wall of the flank.

Elliot Smith pointed out that these removals [i.e. the brain and the viscera] would have facilitated the preservation of the body of the Torres Straits man as they did those of the Egyptians, but he called attention to the curious fact that the abdominal viscera had been removed through an artificial incision in the perineum, a difficult operation, and not as might have been expected by a large incision in the mid-line [of the ventral surface of the body].

He then told us of later developments of mummification in Egypt, especially of the fact that in order to restore the semblance of life to the mummy it became the practice to stuff it superficially, often with mud introduced below the skin through a series of short slits cut in definite positions, for example on the shoulders and above the knees and in other places he described to us. The Torres Straits mummy proved to have cuts through the skin in all, or at any rate in a large number, of the places where the stuffing incisions had been made by the Egyptian mummifiers some twenty-five centuries before, but these slits in the Torres Straits mummy were functionless: no attempt whatever had been made to pad out the body. They were merely clean cuts through the skin of no functional significance.

The whole examination was most dramatic: the immediate discovery on the Torres Straits mummy of custom after custom of the Egyptian mummifiers, as they were described to us by Elliot Smith, made a vivid impression on my mind, and the whole picture remains in my memory.

It was, I think, at lunch after the morning's work, but perhaps later in the day, that Elliot Smith developed to me his interpretation of the facts we had seen. He pointed out that the preservation of a human body was so long, difficult and gruesome a process that no people would undertake it unless they were driven by precise and definite religious beliefs which made it necessary to preserve a man's body in the form it had in life in order that his soul should have a habitation. Furthermore, the idea that it was possible to preserve a body permanently could only have arisen from the observation of the accidental preservation of bodies by desiccation through burial in hot dry sand; and that as a matter of historical record the earliest known mummies are Egyptian, that in Egypt predynastic men, buried in shallow graves in the sand, without coffins, were in fact well preserved; and that the basis of Egyptian religion lies in the power of the soul to reinhabit its body and to survive only as long as it can do so. As none of the conditions which led to the discovery of mummification by the Egyptians exists in Torres Straits, it is evident that the art of mummification could not have arisen there but must have been introduced either by a [200] migration of the actual people who inhabit that region or by some spread of culture. (Quoted in Dawson 1938:63-5).

Having reached these extraordinary conclusions, Elliot Smith tried them out, firstly in the concluding lecture of a series of public lectures on 'Ancient Egypt' which he delivered at the University of Sydney towards the end of July (Sydney Morning Herald, 31st July 1914), and secondly in a sectional paper which he read in Melbourne on August 14th (Smith, G.E., 1929:25ff).

Perhaps because of the sudden and dramatic way in which Elliot: Smith produced these apparent flashes of insight, the majority of his listeners seem to have accepted his relevations as unpremeditated and spontaneous. However, knowing a little of the background, one must have serious reservations. The Torres Strait mummy had been in the collections of the Macleay museum at the University of Sydney since 1888 (Pretty 1969:26), the same year that Elliot Smith first enrolled as an undergraduate. In those days the University was far from being the sprawling, populous place which it is today, and it seems incredible that Elliot Smith could have spent over eight years, first as a student and subsequently on the staff of the Medical School, without becoming acquainted with the starkly grotesque mummy which is one of the Museum's prize exhibits. Indeed, Professor J.V.S. Megaw tells us that "many years previously" to the studies of Egyptian mummification which Elliot Smith carried out in Cairo during the first decade of the twentieth century, the Australian anatomist had observed the Torres Straits mummy in the Macleay Museum (Megaw:1973). And, in the previously discussed newspaper interview which Elliot Smith granted immediately after his arrival in Sydney on July 2nd 1914, he chose to illustrate his theory of hyperdiffusionism with the observation that mummification, after originating in Egypt and spreading in a long arc through India, Ceylon, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula, had eventually penetrated (presumably via the Torres Straits) as far as Northern Australia". So once again, Elliot Smith's pronouncements may well be taken as indicating foreknowledge of an event which he should have known nothing about.

Moreover, there is some evidence which could indicate that, prior to his return to Australia in July 1914, Elliot Smith used a colleague to check that the Torres Straits mummy was as he remembered it in its old place in the Macleay Museum. The Museum's visitors book, now held in the University of Sydney Archives, indicates that on February 3rd 1914, a Dr. Hamlyn Harris of Brisbane visited the Macleay Museum and examined the mummy. Since in 1912 Harris had published several accounts of similar mummies from the Queensland Museum, it seems likely that Elliot Smith, who by 1912 was acknowledged as the world authority on mummification, would have been in touch with Harris on this matter. Assuming this to be true, might Elliot Smith have used such a contact as a pretext for asking Hamlyn Harris to check out the Macleay Museum mummy prior to the July 1914 relevations?

[201] Certainly two additional facts relating to this matter are suggestive. The first is that, despite making a special trip to the Macleay Museum to see the mummy, Harris seems not to have subsequently published anything about it, and not even to have left any notes on the topic (Pretty 1969:26). The other is that, in a letter which advises of his impending visit, Harris gives as his contact in Sydney "the Curator, Australian Museum" (i.e. Robert Etheridge Jr., correspondence and former colleague of Arthur Smith Woodward). Quite possibly I am drawing an unwarrantedly sinister inferences about what could have been nothing more than the cooperation of scientific colleagues and the workings of 'normal science', but I find it difficult to believe that Elliot Smith's 1914 epiphanies regarding the Macleay Museum mummy were anything [other] than a pre-meditated and stage-managed performance. Certainly if Elliot Smith really believed the mummy to be as consequential for worldwide theories of culture as he claimed it was, it seems extremely odd that he never published a serious scientific description of the specimen (ibid:. 27). In fact, in his subsequent diffusionistic works, Elliot Smith seems to have been far more interested in using the mummy as propaganda, than in producing a detailed and objective account of it. All in all, Elliot Smith's actions regarding the Macleay mummy are consistent with the hypothesis that he set out, in a cynical and premeditated fashion, to exploit it for his own intellectual and vocational ends. And if such motivations are admitted in this instance, what light does this cast upon his behaviour in respect of Talgai? But we have spent long enough in the murky regions of Elliot Smith's motivations. Let us now return to our account of Wilson and David's unveiling of the skull, and of the circumstances surrounding it.

Although he had received Crawford's request for an opinion about the worth of the Talgai cranium at the beginning of April, and although Wilson had apparently reacted with immediate and considerable interest, David did not reply to Crawford's letter for over three and a half months. In a letter to Crawford dated July 21st 1914, David apologized for the delay, saying that he had "been rushed with work owing to the visit of the British Association". "It is impossible to tell the value of this find without seeing the actual thing itself", opined David. "If you care to send it to me I would have it examined and described for you". 14

On the 23rd of July Crawford replied, stating that he had forwarded the skull by rail, and requesting a valuation. Four days later David wrote back with the news that he and Wilson had given the skull a brief examination, and had formed the opinion that it possessed scientific value. Having emphasized that Australian scientific institutions have limited funds, David asked Crawford to name a fair price. And, in his final paragraph, David requested information about the provenance of the skull:

[202] "Will you kindly also let me know when and where, and under what conditions you found the specimens [sic]; especially in regard to the depth below the surface, and if there were any other bones or fragments of bones in the neighbourhood or in association with it" (ibid.).

Replying in a letter dated 2nd August, Crawford gave a version of the discovery of the skull which, like the one which apparently caused Etheridge to lose interest in 1896, held out little hope that the skull's geological provenance could ever be clearly established:

This skull was picked up by a stockman some thirty years ago after a flood, in the bed of a creek, on Talgai Station, near Hendon, Queensland. There were no other bones near it, the creek runs for miles through black soil plains, I think it must have been washed down a considerable distance (op. cit., note 11).

Replying on August 15th, David averred that it was indeed unfortunate that the skull had not been found in situ, as dating it would now be impossible. Nonetheless, "it is, to judge by its state, pretty old", being "probably the oldest aboriginal skull yet found in Australia". What is more, from the anatomical point of view it is "distinctly interesting". With regard to the value of the skull, "Professor Wilson and I have carefully considered the matter ... and consider that it would be worth about twenty- five pounds, and would be prepared to purchase it from yourself for that amount, and in his account which he hopes to write later of the skull Professor Wilson would of course associate your name with its discovery" (op. cit., note 14).

Crawford having apparently replied that he regarded twenty-five pounds as a totally inadequate offer, David responded that the real scientific value of the skull could not be finally estimated until various tests had been completed and the skull had been exhibited to the British Association. Once this had been done, its true monetary value would be known, and "we will set about raising funds to purchase it for Australia" (ibid.).

The official unveiling to the Anthropology Section of the British Association finally took place on August 21st, and was universally accorded to be a stunning success. The September issue of The Scientific Australian observed that the happening was described as the 'big event' of the British Association's meeting in Sydney. As the Sydney part of the meeting included nearly two hundred papers and addresses, some of them delivered by world-famous scientists like Lord Rutherford, Sir Oliver Lodge and Professor William Bateson, this was certainly not faint praise. And in 1915, an item in the prestigious British journal Nature pronounced the unveiling to be "Perhaps the most remarkable incident of the meeting of the British Association in Australia" (Nature 96 (2393), 9th September 1915). Recalling the event a decade later, Edgeworth David was to write

The Talgai skull was exhibited ... to some of the leading anthropologists of the world, such as Professor von Luschan of Berlin, Professor Grafton EIliot Smith of University College London [sic], Professors Haddon [sic] and Sollas, respectively of Cambridge and Oxford, Sir Baldwin Spencer of MeIbourne, Professor J T. Wilson of Sydney, Henry Balfour, Director of the Pitt Rivers Anthropological Museum at Oxford, and several others. All were agreed that the skull exhibited so many very primitive characteristics that it could not possibly have belonged to any modern types of aborigines (Sydney Morning Herald 4th March 1925:12).

A perusal of accounts of the unveiling makes two things clear. The first is that the event came as a surprise to the great majority of the people present. The second is that Wilson and David at no time let on that they had seen the skull prior to 1914. Consider for example the following report from a contemporary newspaper:

A surprise was sprung on the Anthropological Section this morning, when Professor Wilson and Professor David produced an aboriginal skull far more ancient than any so far found in Australia ... It came into scientific hands only a few days ago, and was the source of considerable interest to the anthropologists of the Congress (The Argus 22nd August 1914:17).

As I have already indicated, the main burden of the "preliminary communication" through which Wilson and David unveiled the skull seems to have been to minimize the difficulties relating to the establishment of provenance, and to argue for the geological antiquity of the fossil. But the circumstance which really helped Wilson and David to carry the day was the Piltdownian ethos in which the communication was expounded.

Since the launching of "Piltdown man" in December 1912, the alleged missing link from Sussex had become the most talked-about phenomenon in British anthropology. In fact, out of the total of twenty-eight contributions presented to the Anthropological Section at the 1914 British Association meeting, no less than ten were devoted to topics which were directly relevant to the Piltdown discovery. 15 Even more revealing is the fact that, for those ten papers, eight of the authors involved were normally operative in fields outside physical anthropology. 16 Nor were the references to Piltdown confined to the Anthropological Section. In an evening discourse on "Ancient Hunters", W.J. Sollas, Professor of Geology at Oxford, traced the development of man backwards as far as the Piltdown skull, which he described as representative of the oldest known man (The Argus 12th August 1944). As far as Sollas was concerned, however, Piltdown evidently did nothing to support the idea that man had been on earth since time immemorial. Emphasizing that recent research had dispelled "exaggerated notions as to the antiquity of known remains of the human race", Sollas discussed [204] "the correlation of the palaeolithic races of Europe with existing hunting tribes, e.g. Australian, Bushman, Eskimo – and the early development and rapid progress of the human race in the arts" (Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science Australia 1914:698f). Indeed, it seems fair to say that physical anthropology in the Piltdown style was the topic of the moment at the 1914 British Association meeting.

In such a Piltdownian context, the finding of a highly mineralized skull with a brain-casing of human form and a pair of gigantic canines in the upper jaw was little short of sensational. In a lecture delivered in the Sydney Town Hall on the same day as the David and Wilson performance, Elliot Smith drew the obvious moral. Some authorities had refused to believe that the human brain pan and huge canine tooth found at Piltdown came from the same skull. Now, declared Elliot Smith, "the finding of the Talgai skull, with its great dog teeth", had "finally settled that doubt" about the Piltdown remains. (Scientific Australian September 1914:5). The Talgai cranium constituted the first Pleistocene remains to have been found in Australia, he observed, and represented the real Proto-Australian. Its discovery would no doubt "make this meeting of the British Association famous in the history of anthropology", a remark which the patriotic audience greeted with applause (Sydney Morning Herald 22nd August 1914:9).

On August 26th, Robert Etheridge Jr., who had evidently read newspaper reports of the unveiling, wrote to Wilson. "Can you tell me", he asked, "if it be intended to have the Queensland Skull I heard and read about molded for the production of replicas? In such an event I hope the Australian Museum will not be forgotten". l7 So here we have the strange case of someone on whose initiative a fossil skull had previously been evaluated, writing to someone who had been one of the original evaluators, failing to mention the previous evaluation, but nonetheless (on the basis of a re-evaluation by the second person) regarding the skull as so important that he would like a replica made to put in a major museum. What was going on here? Do we have a conspiracy of silence, a web of deceit, or a mirage of amnesia? As I shall subsequently argue, in the case of Etheridge, it really looks as though he had genuinely forgotten about the 1896 evaluation.

In a letter dated August 27th, David wrote again to Crawford, giving him several estimates as to the value of the skull, and informing him that, while the British Association was meeting in Brisbane during the final days of August, David proposed to visit Talgai and "see for myself what chances there are that the skull has come from a formation containing bones of extinct animals" (op. cit., note 14). This David subsequently did, and was fortunate enough to be guided to the spot by an aged and rheumaticky William Naish, the very same farm labourer who had made the find almost thirty years before. 18 With this assistance David was able to convince himself that he had discovered the [205] original locus of the skull to "within a few yards". Moreover, he was able to identify, beneath a layer of black soil, "the formation of red-brown clay, interspersed with nodular formations of carbonate of lime", in the upper portion of which the cranium had been found embedded. This was taken as implying that the skull was roughly contemporaneous with the bones of extinct marsupial megafauna, which had been found not too many miles distant from Talgai "in precisely similar formations". However, taking into account the circumstances of the discovery, the exact level at which the skull had been located could not be inferred with absolute certainty (Smith, S.A. 1918:352).

In a letter dated 29th August 1914, which was received by David immediately after his return from Queensland on the evening of September 2nd, Crawford let go a bombshell. He had read a newspaper report of the unveiling of the cranium, and had noted with displeasure that the information given regarding the circumstances of obtaining the specimen for exhibition was "most misleading" (The report, which appeared in The Daily Telegraph on August 22nd, alleged in one place that the skull had been discovered by David and Wilson, and in another place that David and Wilson had obtained it direct from a stockman). Crawford therefore requested that David should carefully pack up the skull and deliver it to a Mr. A. Minnett, a Sydney friend and business associate, whom Crawford had separately instructed to "take possession" on his behalf (op. cit., note 11).

This request produced a flurry of activity. On the 3rd and 4th of September, Mr. Louis Schaeffer, Chief Laboratory Assistant and Photographer in Wilson's Anatomy Department, made a series of twelve glass negatives of the cranium (Macintosh 1969:190f). In a lengthy epistle written on September 3rd, David apologized to Crawford for the misleading newspaper report, and stated that he had rung up a Daily Telegraph reporter and asked him to publish a correction. Regarding the antiquity of the skull, David had this to say:

My recent examination in Queensland has somewhat strengthened the probability, but only slightly, that the skull has been derived from a formation which, at Kings Creek, contains bones of extinct animals. I may add that there are many geologists who examined the skull who utterly disbelieve in its being very old, and they maintain that its state of petrifaction, in a soil where there was much lime, could easily have been brought about in a few hundreds of years or a thousand years or so. On the other hand together with Professor Wilson and Professor Elliot Smith I have maintained that the skull probably has considerable geological antiquity, not necessarily or probably as great as that of many of the skulls which have been found in Europe, but still considerable as far as our knowledge of the antiquity of man in Australia is concerned.

And, by way of justifying his previous offer of twenty-five pounds for the skull, David included a hand-written opinion from Professor Sollas of Oxford, whom he described as "the best known of English anthropologists". Dated September 3rd, this effusion of Sollas is worth quoting in its entirety.

As I have been asked to express an opinion of the value of the Talgai skull I would point out that its value like that of all prehistoric skulls depends (l) on its anatomical characters and (2) on an accurate knowledge of the period to which it belongs.

As regards (2) the Talgai skull is not dated with any certainty; indeed the opinion of all the geologists who conversed with me after the discussion before the British Association was that no proof whatsoever has been adduced of its antiquity. Next as to (l). The skull is that of an Australian Aborigine and shows no such peculiar features as distinguish the well known Mousterian skulls of Europe. Interesting characters may or may not lie concealed within the stony matrix (indeed some seem to be displayed by the dentition); but so far as we know at present the skull is mainly of local interest and would not excite the cupidity of anthropologists outside of Australia. I should be prepared to offer say twenty-five pounds for it on behalf of the University Museum at Oxford. (op. cit., note 11) 19

In the apparent desire to get the most from the cranium before handing it over to Minnett, David then decided to comply with Etheridge's request to allow the Australian Museum to make a replica. In a letter to Schaeffer written on Monday September 7th, David stated that, on Saturday night last, Wilson had requested David to instruct Schaeffer to send the skull immediately to Etheridge, with a view to Etheridge making a cast. Moulds were then produced at the Australian Museum between the 7th and 13th of September (Macintosh 1969:191).

The Edgeworth David correspondence files in the University of Sydney Archives contain a terse memorandum from the Curator of the Australian Museum which may well be relevant to the above events. Dated September 15th 1914, and addressed to Professor T.W.E. David, it reads

I think this will about 'cook the goose' of the Enterprising Auctioneer. He can only get it out of the country by smuggling. R. E.

Since Crawford had formerly been an auctioneer in Queensland, and since this information consistently appeared on the printed stationery which Crawford had used in his letters to David, there can be little doubt as to the identity of the "Enterprising Auctioneer". Etheridge may have been referring only to the fact that the Australian Museum had finished making its cast, but the [207] second sentence is puzzling, suggesting that some legal manoeuver was involved as well, in order to prevent Crawford from selling the cranium overseas. This suggestion is confirmed by a letter dated October 21st 1914, in which David informs Crawford's Sydney contact Minnett that, if Crawford were to offer the skull for sale outside Australia this procedure would "as you know ... be absolutely illegal" (op. cit., note 14).

In fact, the haste in making a cast seems to have been unnecessary. For, in a letter written on September 5th, Crawford reveals that he had been palliated by David's apology over the matter of the inaccurate news report, and that for the time being he is quite happy to leave the cranium in David's hands for further examination. As is revealed by a handwritten annotation on the back of this letter, however, David, who must have been very busy at the time the letter was received, had no time even to read it over, and left someone (presumably his secretary) with instructions to "kindly make excuses" to Crawford (op. cit.. note 11).

In a letter written to Crawford on September 18th, Minnett advised that, following a discussion with Dr. S.A. Smith of the Sydney University Department of Anatomy, Smith's brother Professor G. Elliot Smith had produced a valuation of the Talgai skull. Expressed in the form of a letter to Minnett, this valuation reads as follows:

Professor David has consulted me as to the proper price which should be paid for the ancient skull found in the Darling Downs. During the last few years I have had occasion to make myself familiar with all the transactions which have been conducted in Europe and America for the purchase of ancient human remains; and I have no hesitation in saying that the sum of one hundred pounds would be a generous estimate of the market value of the specimen in question. Taking into consideration the history of the Darling Downs specimen, I very much doubt whether anyone on the other side of the world would be willing to give so large a sum for a specimen which was not seen in situ by a scientific observer (op. cit., note 17).

Following this more generous valuation, Crawford was inspired to offer the skull for sale at one hundred and fifty pounds, a figure which was quickly accepted by David and Wilson, although not without a certain amount of protest (David to Minnett, 21st October 1914, op, cit., note 14). The task of raising this sum of money was then assumed by Elliot Smith, who persuaded a wealthy Sydney politician, the Hon. Joynton Smith, to purchase the cranium and present it to the University of Sydney (Macintosh 1974:18 and Nature 96(2393) September 9th 1915). In a newspaper report prior to the formal presentation, David opined that the skull "is one of the most important of the historical finds in any part of the world, and certainly the most [208] interesting anthropological discovery yet made in Australia" (The Sun, June 15th 1915). Then, at a public meeting held on 18th June 1915 in conjunction with the presentation, David and S.A. Smith unleashed a fulsome range of superlatives. With what we might describe, in the light of his previous negotiation!) with Crawford, as a certain amount of unconscious irony, David described the skull as "worth its weight in gold". Then, with a fine disregard for the literal meanings of words, he added that "The University of Sydney and men of science throughout the world were under a deep debt of gratitude to Mr. Joynton Smith for purchasing the skull, which was undoubtedly a priceless specimen" (paraphrased in Nature 96 (2393), September 9th 1915). S.A. Smith proclaimed that one of the canine teeth of the Talgai fossil was "the largest human tooth so far discovered". Moreover, the "extremely primitive" anatomical characteristics of the cranium were such as to render it worthy of being ranked with what in 1915 were widely regarded as the only plausible candidates for missing link status– viz. "the prehistoric Heidelberg jaw and the Piltdown skull" (ibid.)

On July 5th 1915, Etheridge wrote a letter to David which may throw some light on the problem of whether, during the events surrounding the 1914 unveiling, the two men were aware that they had previously evaluated the cranium in 1896. Under the heading "Talgai Skull", Etheridge writes

I send some documents for your perusal, which please return when done with. I found these when over-hauling the old papers of 1896, and although the occurrence took place within my Curatorship, the whole affair had slipped my memory; evidently Mr. Crawford did not obtain the 'opinion of some Professors' (see his last letter). The whole affair is curious! So that you may fully understand the matter, I have placed in position the outward portion of the correspondence.

On the following day, David replied:

Very many thanks for sending me the interesting correspondence with E.H.K. Crawford, which I now return. He never let on to me that he had placed the skull under offer to the Australian Museum. I see that then as now he opened his mouth wide. 20

Two things seem clear from this fascinating exchange. One is that Etheridge, despite having been the one who initiated the 1896 negotiations with Crawford, had quite forgotten the affair until accidentally coming across the correspondence with Crawford in the Museum archives. As a perusal of Etheridge's bibliography (Records of the Australian Museum XV, Sydney 1926:27:5-27) makes quite clear, such amnesia is hardly surprising. During his career Etheridge had written a myriad of articles on various fossils from all over Australia, and must have entered into negotiations with hundreds of amateur fossil collectors, naturalists and other people who had possession of potentially interesting specimens. What is more, Etheridge [209] appears to have held firm theoretical views which would have increased the likelihood of his forgetting about an apparently ancient human fossil from Australia. As we have already noted, he was committed to the belief that man had not inhabited Australia for a geologically significant period of time. Beliefs such as this, in the context of the Darwin-inspired debates which racked the life-sciences during the late 19th century, were likely to be held (or denied) with a considerable investment of emotion.

The second point is that, having uncovered the 1896 correspondence Etheridge seems to have realised the strange light it threw upon the behaviour of Professors David and Wilson in 1914, when both of them wrote and acted as though they had never seen the Talgai cranium until a few weeks before the unveiling. This is indicated both by Etheridge's reference to Crawford's having "evidently" failed to obtain the "opinion of some Professors", and by his immediately following statement that "The whole affair is curious". In fact, it could even be that Etheridge, in as tactful a fashion as possible, was actually inviting David to admit that he and Wilson had had prior knowledge of the skull.

The third point concerns David's reply. Its briefness and vagueness may well indicate deliberate evasion. Surely if David was being truly frank to someone who had been a longstanding scientific colleague, 21 he would have explicitly confirmed or denied that he remembered the 1896 episode. Instead we simply get a reference to the correspondence as "interesting", the implication that it was Crawford who had been less than frank, and a humorous jibe at Crawford's persistently mercenary tendencies.

Let us consider the possibilities here. Could David have genuinely forgotten, as Etheridge seems to have done? Certainly David had been a busy man between 1896 and 1914. In fact, soon after the 1896 evaluation he had become embroiled in what was probably the most momentous event of his distinguished scientific career. Earlier in 1896 the Royal Society of London had outfitted an expedition to Funafuti Atoll, in the Ellice Group, to test rival theories on the origin of coral reefs. Led by W.J. Sollas, this expedition had failed in its main objective of boring the atoll to a depth of 500 or 600 feet (Hermes October 28, 1897:3). David had then organized an Australian expedition which succeeded not only in drilling more than 1000 feet into the atoll, but also in effecting a subsidiary boring under the waters of the lagoon (Woodward and Watts 1938:270). The results of David's expedition were widely interpreted as refuting Sollas' theory of the origin of coral reefs and confirming Charles Darwin's theory of secular subsidence, to which David also subscribed. Upon his return home to the University of Sydney in October 1897, David was accorded a hero's welcome (Hermes October 28, 1897:5). Personally I doubt that, however exhausting, time-consuming or emotionally stimulating David's Funafuti expedition was, it would have completely erased [210] his memory of the 1896 evaluation of the Talgai cranium. Surely what causes a normal person to forget a particular event is not the subsequent occurrence of an entirely disparate event, albeit a very taxing one. Rather it is the subsequent or prior occurrence of numerous other events of a similar nature to the first one. Somehow it seems that Etheridge's job situation rather than David's, would have tended to promote amnesia in regard to the 1896 viewing of the Talgai skull. And what is more, unlike Etheridge, David does not seem to have held any preconceptions about man's lack of geological antiquity in Australia.

When we come to consider J.T. Wilson, the possibility that he would have forgotten the 1896 event seems even more remote than in the case of David. Not only did he have a job in which the evaluation of fossils would have been few and far between. Not only did he lack a prior commitment to a conservative estimate of human antiquity in Australia. In addition, Wilson espoused a theoretical position, deriving from his evolutionary interpretation of anatomy, which should have inscribed the special features of the Talgai cranium indelibly in his memory. And if he did decide the cranium was important in 1896, if he did fail to act upon this opinion, and if he did fail even to recognize the very same fossil when called upon to describe it in 1914, where is the "Wilsonian thoroughness" with which, according to the writer of his definitive obituary, he executed his duties as a Trustee of the Australian Museum? (Hill 1948-49:650).

Even if it were to be allowed that neither David nor Wilson gave the Talgai skull a second thought between 1896 and 1914, it seems inconceivable that they could have done what they did in 1914 without one of them remarking to the other that he remembered having seen the cranium before. As Macintosh has aptly remarked:

The Talgai cranium in its encrusted state looked like no other fossil human cranium on record. If David and Wilson did see it in 1896, I am certain they would have recognized it in 1914 ... (Macintosh 1969:195).

To men of David and Wilson's training and interests, the skull should have been absolutely unforgettable. Thus I conclude that in the way they unveiled it in 1914, David and Wilson were guilty, at the very least, of lack of candour.

The First World War having broken out at the beginning of the British Association meeting, Wilson and David were both swiftly drawn into military activity. In fact, in his previously mentioned letter to Minnett of October 21st 1914, David makes it clear that Wilson was already heavily involved in the work with the Censor's Office which was to culminate in his appointment as Chairman of the New South Wales Branch of Commonwealth War Propaganda, a post for which, as an obituarer tells us, "his patriotism and fervour pre-eminently fitted him" (Hill 1948-49: 650). David, by contrast, went overseas on active service, a contingency which prevented him from writing up in detail his notes [211] on the geology of the Talgai site. Of necessity therefore, the opportunity of presenting the definitive account of the cranium passed into other hands, the mantle falling upon Elliot Smith's younger brother. S.A. Smith. In a number of letters written around the turn of the century, Elliot Smith had asked Wilson to keep a watchful eye on his junior sibling, who possessed, according to Elliot Smith, a notable tendency to laziness. 22 From 1900 onwards, S.A. Smith had been successively appointed Prosector, Demonstrator, Chief Demonstrator and Lecturer, and then, following Wilson's involvement with military activities, Acting-Professor in charge of Wilson's teaching duties. At the same time, Wilson also handed over to him the task, potentially loaded with academic kudos, of producing the official description of the Talgai cranium. In so doing, Wilson was seen as acting "generously" (Hill 1948-49:651), presumably because Smith "had no training in geology, archival or field research", and had not been involved in the negotiations with Crawford (Macintosh 1965:48). Smith eventually published his description in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society for 1918, and although there would seem to be grounds for alleging that he performed the task in a somewhat slap-dash fashion, 23 the fact of him having been entrusted with such a plum job was evidently a source of considerable satisfaction to Elliot Smith. More than this, however, Elliot Smith must have been delighted that his brother's account of the Talgai skull provided an apparently classical confirmation of the Woodward-Elliot Smith interpretation of the Piltdown relics. In two figures comparing the Talgai dentition with that of Piltdown and of a modern Australian Aboriginal, Smith did his best to show that the form of the Talgai teeth was intermediary to that of the teeth in the other two skulls. And in concluding his description, Smith depicts the Talgai cranium as sharing with the Piltdown skull the very characteristic which had led to the latter being regarded as a likely candidate for "missing link" status – viz. the conjunction of a relatively modern brain-case with a jaw which exhibits certain simian traits:

This fossil human skull [Talgai] ... presents ... the general picture of a cranium similar in all respects to the Australian of today, ... in the palate and teeth of which are to be found ... certain characters more ape-like than have been observed in any living or extinct race, except that of Eoanthropus [Piltdown man] (Smith, S.A. 1918:382).

Smith then gives a broad hint about the nature of the evolutionary mechanism which allegedly converted the "missing link" into modern man. As one might have expected, he here seems to be following his older brother in believing that the expansion of the human brain facilitated the operation of aesthetic preferences in the selection of a mate, which resulted in the gradual refinement of simian facial characteristics:

... from the comparison of this fossil with modern and Piltdown men and Anthropoid apes, there is brought [212] forward further evidence to support the belief held by many anthropologists that ... the assumption of a definitely human type of brain was the primary and fundamental factor by which man was enabled to differentiate himself from the more unenterprising descendants of the common ancestral form. In the fossil from Talgai, one may discern a form of skull in which the cranium has long since become of the definitely human type, but in which the face still preserves the last definite trace of the lower, more brute-like characters (ibid .).

Back in England, the Talgai exposition had not gone unnoticed. And of course, the Piltdown spectacles were used to view the find. In 1915, Charles Dawson, the Sussex solicitor and amateur fossil collector who had been responsible for finding most of the early Piltdown fragments, pointed out that the pattern of wear on one of Talgai's upper canine teeth indicated that it must have interlocked with the corresponding lower canine, as is the case in apes (Millar 1974:149-50). Actually however, this may well have represented wishful thinking on the part of Dawson, since a few years later Eugene Dubois, the discoverer of Java Man, argued that a facet on one of the Talgai canines had resulted, not from it interlocking with a tooth on the lower jaw, but from contact with a neighbouring upper tooth (Macintosh 1965:48). But, whatever the truth of this matter, Dawson went on to add an intriguing tidbit. Elliot Smith had told him that the skull was found nearest to a place which was "by curious coincidence called Pilton, so to avoid confusion it was decided to call it the Darling Downs skull" (Millar 1974:150). There is indeed a small town called Pilton some 16 miles from the Talgai site, but the towns of Pratten, Hendon, Allors, Clifton and Nobby are all closer than Pilton, and the large town of Warwick is almost exactly the same distance from the site as is Pilton (Macintosh 1967b: Figure 10). Hence this would seem to constitute another example of the fixation on Piltdown which marked this period for British prehistory in general, and for Elliot Smith in particular. 24

Indeed, following his return to England, Elliot Smith himself played a crucial role in pointing up the significance of Talgai in relation to Piltdown. In February 1915, we find him showing lantern slides of the Talgai cranium to the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (Millar 1974:149). Later in the same year we find that he has lent his slides to Woodward, who is using them to argue, as Dawson was also to do, that the form of the upper canine teeth in the Talgai specimen suggests that they must have interlocked with the canines in the lower jaw, "like those of an ape, and precisely like those of Piltdown man" (ibid .). As the Australian Museum archives indicate, in September 1916 the Museum was preparing to send a cast of the Talgai cranium to Elliot Smith in Manchester ((Macintosh 1969:192) And, finally, in December 1916 we find Elliot Smith reading his [213] brother's Piltdown-oriented account of the Talgai cranium to the Royal Society (Smith, S.A. 1918:351).

Whether or not Elliot Smith had anything to do with it, a further occurrence which should be noted at this point was the discovery, early in 1915, of the fragments of a second "Piltdown man". Said to have been found by Charles Dawson in a field some two miles distant from the original site, these fragments consisted of two pieces of apparently fossilized skull, plus a molar tooth which was very similar to one of the teeth in the Piltdown jawbone. When this evidence was eventually made public in February 1917, six months after Dawson's death, the doubters who had suggested that the original Piltdown bones had come from two separate animals were decisively silenced. To find matching relics of a man and an ape in close proximity was conceivable if it had happened only once. But the finding of a similar conjunction of relics at an additional site rendered the coincidence theory utterly implausible. In actual fact, coincidence certainly did not play a role, but this was not because the tooth and skull fragments came from the same animal. On the contrary, as we now know, the tooth was from a modern ape, and one of the cranial fragments probably came from the same human skull which had been used to fabricate the first "Piltdown man". In other words the second set of Piltdown remains were as bogus as the first, and were probably the result of a further plant which the hoaxer(s) engineered as a means of circumventing criticism of the original relics. What is of interest from our point of view is the similarity between the implications of the Talgai find, and the implications of the discovery of "Piltdown man, Mark II". In both cases, the association of tooth and cranium was taken as assuaging the major doubt about the original relics. The close temporal proximity between the public exhibition of the Talgai specimen in August 18l4, and the discovery of the second Piltdown man a few months later is suggestive, to say the least. Could it have been that the hoaxer(s), having noted that the unveiling of a skull-tooth association from distant Queensland had removed some of the scepticism about "Piltdown man", decided to produce an additional association which would be regarded as even more convincing because it came from a site much closer to the original gravel pit?


As the late Professor Macintosh observed of the superbly detailed research which he himself pursued into the many problems surrounding the Talgai cranium:

... the detective work that has been involved rivals in interest the most complicated police investigations on record; false trails, destroyed evidence, conflicting testimony and data, have confronted one in every facet of the investigation ... (Macintosh 1967b:113).

[214] Although perhaps some would consider that the present paper raises more questions than it answers, one hopes that it has at least sketched out the rudiments of a possible explanation for some of the many enigmas of Talgai. My contention is that the rudiments of such an explanation lie in the fact that the indisputably genuine Talgai fossil was intimately entwined with the undeniably fraudulent "Piltdown man". Just how intimately is a question which future archival research may hopefully answer, but in the meantime, some tentative hypotheses may be in order. The evidence presented in this paper suggests the following conclusions about the way in which Talgai was or might have been entangled with Piltdown. Some of these conclusions are stated less forthrightly than others, because the evidence for them is judged to be less compelling.

(1) Following the 1896 evaluation of the Talgai skull at the Australian Museum, it seems probable that Elliot Smith learned of its existence from Wilson. Moreover, it is likely that one of the major purposes of Elliot Smith's unpublicized return visit to Australia circa August 1897 was to discuss with Wilson the significance of the skull, and its possible utility in advancing either or both of their careers. I suggest that what they jointly decided was to let the skull remain in obscurity until a more opportune time arose for bringing it to the notice of the international scientific community. The absence of any direct references to the cranium in Elliot Smith's surviving letters to Wilson is explained in terms of censorship, probably by Wilson himself, and possibly in response to Etheridge's implication to David in July 1915 that, if "some Professors" had evaluated the cranium in 1896, then there was something "curious" about the way in which it had re-appeared in 1914.

The difficulty with this hypothesis, and it is a difficulty which should not be minimized, is that it depends largely upon evidence of a negative kind. The only positive evidence r have adduced to support it is circumstantial. Obviously the plausibility of this hypothesis is going to depend heavily upon the strength of my yet-to-be-expounded general case for regarding Elliot Smith as one of the Piltdown forgers.

(2) The absurdity of the British Museum's response to the photograph of the Talgai cranium which Crawford sent to that institution "some years" prior to 1914 suggests that some museum official with authority in matters palaeontological had ulterior motives for allowing the fossil to remain in obscurity for a time. It was suggested that the official in question [215] may well have been Woodward, who, possibly in consultation with Elliot Smith, decided to reserve the unveiling of the Talgai cranium for a date which would be more opportune in relation to the unfolding of the Piltdown adventure. And, even if future research were to reveal that Woodward did not learn of the existence of the Talgai specimen through Crawford's enquiry to the British Museum, the possibility would remain that he might have heard about it through his former colleague Etheridge, with whom he had co-authored a paper on another fossil from the Queensland Downs.

(3) Assuming that there is some truth in the first and/or the second of the above conclusions, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Talgai cranium might have served as a kind of prototype oŁ Piltdown man. After all, three inferences in particular would have been likely as a result of even a casual inspection of the Talgai cranium by a trained observer. The first is that the fossil, because it is so heavily encrusted with carbonate, is presumably very ancient. The second is that the shape of the brain-casing, inasmuch as it can be discerned beneath the encrustation, seems reasonably modern. The third is that, because the palate is oblong in shape, and possesses some very large teeth, including and especially two huge canines, the dentition of the cranium might be regarded as distinctly more simian than that of modern men.

Now consider three of the major features of the Piltdown fabrication. Firstly a number of different techniques are known to have been used in the attempt to make the fragments appear ancient. For example, the fragments were stained in various ways, and the partially fossilized ones were chemically treated in an attempt to mineralize the bone (Oakley 1976:12). Secondly the cranium used had a brain-casing of fundamentally modern shape. Thirdly the jaw chosen was in fact that of an ape. It may be coincidental, but the aims of the Piltdown fabricator(s) seem(s) to have been to create a relic which reproduced the more obvious features of the Talgai skull.

At this point it may also be relevant to note that, to help give the impression that the human cranium belonged with the simian jaw, the forger(s) made use of three characteristics which are especially associated with Australian Aboriginal osteology–extreme thickness of skull, flat wear of teeth, and non-alignment of the planes of the biting surfaces. This latter feature is sufficiently identified with the Australian Aborigines that anatomists commonly [216] refer to it as the "Australian roll". 25 So, quite apart from Talgai, there is a case for regarding Piltdown as constructed on an Australian model. And, although one would not have to be an Australian to be familiar with the special anatomical characteristics of Aboriginal skulls, it may not be irrelevant to note that, of all the possible suspects for the perpetration of the hoax, the only one who received his anatomical education in Australia was Elliot Smith.

(4) Elliot Smith's early arrival for the British Association meeting, the nature of his statements immediately after arrival, his general strategy for the meeting (as illustrated by the incident of the Torres Straits mummy), and the contents of the public address on "Primitive Man" which he delivered a few hours after David and Wilson's "surprise" unveiling of the Talgai skull, together suggest that Elliot Smith had foreknowledge of the skull's existence, and of its possible utility in "confirming" his interpretation of the Piltdown remains.

(5) It is possible that Elliot Smith, perhaps through Wilson (or more improbably, that Woodward, perhaps through Etheridge) may have put Crawford up to sending David the photograph of the skull in April 1914, in what should have been (and but for David's procrastination, would have been) ample time for it to be exhaustively evaluated and included in the program of the British Association meeting.

The main difficulty with this hypothesis is that Crawford's correspondence with David contains nothing to suggest that anyone had put him up to writing. Crawford sounds from his letters as though he is acting purely on his own initiative. His justification for writing to David, that he knows David to be "an authority and interested in such matters", is something which, considering David's eminence as a geologist, a layman might well have gleaned from newspapers of the period.

Of course it is possible that, if someone did put Crawford up to initiating communications with David, they may simultaneously have persuaded Crawford not to let David know about the tip-off. And if one thing seems clear about Crawford, it is that he would have been responsive to persuasions of a financial kind. It may therefore not be totally irrelevant to note that it was directly due to Elliot Smith that Crawford was paid a substantial amount for the cranium – firstly because Elliot Smith's valuation of the skull at one hundred pounds [217] was much more generous than anyone else's, and secondly because it was through Elliot Smith that the final payment of one hundred and fifty pounds was raised.

(6) Although in 1914 David and Wilson said nothing publically about their 1896 experience, they could hardly have forgotten the incident completely. It is hypothesized that the reason they kept quiet about their earlier knowledge of the cranium was to enhance the dramatic effect of the unveiling, something which would have suited their own individual purposes in addition to those of the Piltdown hoaxer(s).

It should be noted that I am not suggesting that either David or Wilson knew, or even remotely suspected, that "Piltdown man" was fraudulent, or that anyone may have been manipulating them in regard to Talgai. If indeed circa 1897 Elliot Smith did request Wilson to keep quiet about the Australian Museum evaluation, I am sure that the request would have gone something like: "Let's keep this specimen under wraps for a while. It might come in very handy on some future occasion". Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. There need not have been any suggestion of real impropriety, just a (seeming) gentleman's agreement between an ambitious young Professor and his even more ambitious young student to defer the official proclamation of the fossil.

(7) When the Talgai cranium was unveiled to the world of international science in 1914, it was in an atmosphere pregnant with the Piltdown controversy. For this reason, the preliminary presentation, reception, and official description of the cranium were all coloured by a Piltdownian ethos which, largely because of the presence of Elliot Smith at the British Association meeting, and the involvement of his Antipodean colleagues in the acquisition and description of the specimen, ensured that it was interpreted in accordance with the Woodward-Elliot Smith analysis of the Piltdown fragments.

This conclusion I regard as beyond dispute.

(8) The nature of the Talgai fossil may well have suggested to the Piltdown hoaxer(s) the concoction of the second "Piltdown man", which, even more than the Talgai specimen, was construed as enhancing the reasonableness of juxtaposing a human braincase with a simian-style jaw.

[218] Whilst I could hardly pretend that my presentation of the data from which these somewhat conspiratorial conclusions have been drawn is truly objective, the attempt has been made to give a tolerably complete description of what happened during the 1896 and 1914 episodes involving the Talgai cranium. Consequently it is hoped that readers who wish to place a different interpretation on the facts will find themselves able to do so. What is required, for my speculative conclusions to be either substantiated or disproved, is further archival research to definitively establish the identity of the Piltdown forger(s). 26



1. I would like to record my gratitude to the following people who have helped me with this paper: my student, Mr. Philip Swan; Mr. Ren Parsons, Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney; Associate Professor Richard Wright and Mr. David Smith, Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney Dr. Randall Albury, School of History and Philosophy of Science, University of New South Wales; Dr. Noel Weekes, Department of History, University of Sydney; the late Professor N.W.G. Macintosh, formerly of the Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney; and especially Mrs. A. Macintosh, who has been extremely generous in allowing me use the original research materials upon which her husband based his definitive studies of the Talgai cranium.

2. For example, Macintosh and Larnach (1976:122), having given the minimum antiquity of Talgai as 14,000 to 16,000 years cite the following dates for other Australian finds. The Keilor cranium is dated at 12,900 years B.P. The Mossgiel skeleton may be inferred to be approximately 11,000 years B.P. The Kow Swamp population is apparently 9000-10,000 years B.P. Only the Cohuna cranium might, on the basis of comparisons of F.N.U. content, be regarded as possibly older than Talgai.

3. A readable, popular account of the Piltdown affair is provided by Millar (1974). A technically impressive (although historically uneven) account, written by one of the scientists responsible for the unmasking of the hoax is provided by Weiner (1955).

4. It is notable that many contemporary books on human evolution either do not mention the Piltdown affair at all, or else treat it dismissively.

5. My very brief summary of the facts relating to the discovery of the Talgai cranium is based upon the research of Macintosh (1965:47f; 1967a:95-7) and Gill (1979). Professor Macintosh's amazingly detailed reconstruction of the circumstances of Edgeworth David's visit to the site in 1914, and the presumptive location of the place where the cranium was picked up circa 1886, are contained in Macintosh (1967b).

[219] 6. Etheridge's 1890 article "Has Man A Geological History in Australia?" begins as follows:

"Are there any geological traces of man on this Continent, whereby ... the antiquity of the present race ... can be traced? The answer given by those most competent to judge is –No!"
And while of course it is one thing to deny that man has a geological history in Australia, and quite another to deny that he has a geological history anywhere in the world, it may be worth noting that, in a modern, anti-evolutionist pamphlet which I happened across recently, someone described as "Dr. Etheridge F.R.S., Palaeontologist, British Museum" is quoted as having written:

"In all this great museum there is not a particle of evidence of the transmutation of species. Nine-tenths of all the talk of evolutionists is sheer nonsense, not founded on observation and wholly unsupported by facts. This museum is full of the utter falsity of their views. There is no such thing as fossil man."

This quotation is, unfortunately, undated and undocumented. Although Robert Etheridge Jnr. was a palaeontologist in the Geology Department of the British Museum from 1874 to 1887, he was not a fellow of the Royal Society. His father, on the other hand, Robert Etheridge Snr., who was a palaeontologist in the British Museum from 1881 to 1891, was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Thus it would seem that the quotation should be attributed to him, rather than to the Etheridge who figures in our story. Even so, the belief expressed in the quotation may not have been without influence in determining the views of Robert Etheridge Jnr. on the question of human antiquity.

7. Etheridge's co-author was Robert Logan Jack. The index to the book contains eleven references to Talgai (the place, not the cranium). On p. 605, it is stated "No fossils are recorded as being found in Dalrymple Creek".

8. See for example David's tribute to Elliot Smith in the Jubilee number of Hermes 1902:104.

9. Following Wilson's death, the custody of his correspondence seems to have been entrusted to his son, Dr. Douglas Wilson (Hill 1948-49:657).

10. Abbie's detailed oration on Elliot Smith mentions that, in 1902, Elliot Smith paid his "first" return visit to Australia, and spent a month in Sydney (Abbie 1959:113).

11. The originals of Crawford's letters and of some associated material are in folders formerly belonging to the late Professor Macintosh, and now held in the Shellshear Museum, Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney.

12. Attempts by a colleague to find Crawford's original letter and photograph (and hopefully a copy of the British Museum's [220] reply) in the British Museum archives, have so far met with no success.

13. The official date of commencement for the British Association meeting was July 28th, but the great bulk of the official party did not arrive until the second week in August, when activities commenced in Adelaide. The earliness of Elliot Smith's arrival was presumably motivated, at least in part, firstly by the presence of relatives in Sydney, and secondly by the fact that he had agreed to give a series of four public lectures on Ancient Egypt for the Sydney University Extension Board, the first of which was delivered on July 21st.

14. Photocopies of the letters received by Crawford are in one of the folders formerly belonging to the late Professor Macintosh, and now held in the Shellshear Museum, Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney. A note in the folder would seem to indicate that the originals are the property of a Mr. Ken Crawford, who apparently lent them to the geologist Edmund Gill.

15. Viz. papers by Low on Scottish cists; Kenyon and Mahony on Aboriginal stone implements; Balfour on Stone Age Culture; Marett on excavations of a Palaeolithic cave; Elliot Smith on the brain of primitive man; Symington on cerebral reconstruction; David and Wilson on the Talgai skull; S.A. Smith on Solomon Island skulls; Wilson on the structure of the Australian Aboriginal skull; and Flashman on Aboriginal brains.

16. Viz. Low, Marett, Elliot Smith, Symington, David, Wilson, S.A. Smith and Flashman.

17. Copy in folder formerly owned by the late Professor Macintosh, and now held in the Shellshear Museum, Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney.

18. For a wealth of information about David's visit and the probable location of the site, see Macintosh (1967b).

19. It is interesting to compare this evaluation of the Talgai cranium with the one which Sollas gave in the Preface to the 1915 edition of his book on Ancient Hunters:

"Of direct evidence in proof of the antiquity of man in Australia there has hitherto been a remarkable deficiency ... Very welcome therefore is the discovery, announced too late for discussion in the text, which was brought before the meeting of the British Association in Sydney by Professors Edgeworth David, and J.T. Wilson, when they described a human skull, found along with extinct mammalia [sic ], from the Pleistocene deposits of the Darling Downs. For full particulars we must await the detailed account now in course of preparation; here it may suffice to say that judging by the face along this skull must have belonged to the same race as the existing aborigines; but the teeth point to a stage much more [221] primitive; apart from some peculiar simian characters presented by the canines there is a diastema in the dentition of the upper jaw which strongly recalls that of the Piltdown skull. This discovery, should it be confirmed, will not only carry the existence of the Australian aborigines back into the remote Pleistocene epoch but will at the same time afford important evidence of evolution in place (xi, xii).

20. This exchange between Etheridge and David is partially quoted by Macintosh (1969:192). Macintosh gives the year of Etheridge's letter as "1916", but a check of Macintosh's research folders in the Shellshear Museum, Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney, revealed that it was actually 1915. These folders contain photocopies of the letters, the originals being held in the archives of the Australian Museum.

21. Edgeworth David and Etheridge had co-authored a number of articles in the late 1880's and the 1890's, one of which describes an excavation which has been judged to be "not only a pioneering adaptation in Australia of the principles of geological stratigraphy to the problems of prehistory, but a landmark in field archaeology by any standards" (Megaw 1967:285).

22. See, for example, Elliot Smith's letters dated 25th April 1898, 5th February 1899 and 19th April 1900, in the J.T. Wilson Papers, University of Sydney Archives, Microfilm Reel 1.

23. For example, Smith nominates the year of discovery as 1884, and states that in this year there were exceptionally heavy rains in the district. The figure of 1884 Smith evidently obtained by the simplistic procedure of extrapolating back William Naish's 1914 statement that he had found the skull "about 30 years previously", following a severe flood. In fact, as Macintosh showed by consulting meteorological and pastoral records, the years 1880-1885 represented a period of appalling, continent-wide drought, the nearest year in which extended torrential rains occurred in the area being 1886 (Macintosh 1967a:95).

A further example of Smith's sloppiness is his statement that Crawford submitted a photograph of the cranium to Edgeworth David in "May 1914", the actual month being April 1914.

Most seriously of all there is Smith's discussion of the crown of an incisor tooth which had been broken from the cranium. Smith states that, since the tooth was heavily encrusted, measurements made over the crust could be too large. However, because "this tooth was not included in the purchase of the skull" (and therefore presumably was retained by Crawford after 1914), Smith claimed that he was not in a position to clean off the crust and obtain [222] more certain measurements. In fact, as letters in Professor Macintosh's folders reveal, the incisor was not retained by Crawford, but belonged to the Department of Anatomy (Macintosh to N.K. Crawford, 23rd January 1964 and 15th July 1968). Since the size and shape of the incisor were quite crucial in the anatomical evaluation of the Talgai dentition, this particular inaccuracy of fact is difficult to excuse.

24. Millar (1974:233) makes the false claim that there is no such place as Pilton "in the whole of Australia", and attempts to use this as part of his otherwise moderately impressive case for the assertion that Elliot Smith was the Piltdown forger.

25. I owe this point to Philip Swan and Ken Parsons. Some sources, notably Millar (1974:Plate 12 caption) and Howells (1967:301) have claimed that the non-alignment of the planes of the biting surfaces of the two molar teeth in the Piltdown jawbone represents a blunder on the part of the hoaxer(s). It was not. In this instance, as in most others, the expertise of the hoaxer(s) cannot be questioned.

26. On October 31st 1978, when I had virtually completed this article, a news item appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald alleging that the Piltdown forgery had been pinned upon William Sollas, the former Professor of Geology at Oxford. A more detailed account which subsequently appeared in Nature (276, 2nd November 1978:11-3) made it clear that the evidence against Sollas is extremely circumstantial, and that the problem of who perpetrated the hoax is still very much an open question. Readers whose interest has been stimulated by these recent allegations will probably find the present article quite informative, firstly because Sollas figures fairly prominently in the Talgai/Piltdown story, and secondly because Sollas is known to have been a longstanding colleague and confidant of Elliot Smith.


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