Piltdown in Letters

The role of the famous priest in the infamous

conspiracy is here disputed in epistolary fashion

Stephen Jay Gould

Natural History June 1981

[12] In "This View of Life" for August 1980, a case was made for the active participation of the French priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the fraud of Piltdown man. In the months following the publication of that column, Natural History received many letters expressing a wide variety of views on this subject. Presented here are three letters in defense of Teilhard, along with a response from Stephen Jay Gould. Natural History welcomes additional letters on this scientific controversy.

To the Editor:

From the moment of discovery, the Piltdown "fossils" were the center of controversy. Piltdown apparently provided a human fossil on English soil, a maker for the eoliths, and proof that the brain came first in human evolution and that an anatomically modern braincase was present at the beginning of the Ice Age. Every conclusion was important and controversial, and for many years it was not possible to discuss human evolution without considering Piltdown. Hundreds of papers were written about the discoveries, but the problem remained. Anatomically it seemed impossible to associate the skull and jaw, but the chance association of an ape's jaw and a human skull in England seemed at least as improbable. The solution came when J.S. Weiner, Kenneth Oakley, and W.L. le Cros Clark showed that everything was fake–the bones had been stained, ape's teeth filed down, and fossils added to the assemblage to determine the antiquity. The whole matter is carefully reviewed in Weiner's The Piltdown Forgery ( 1955).

Obviously, from the point of view of science, the importance of discovering the forgery was to remove the chimera, as Franz Weidenreich called it, from the list of human fossils. In my opinion, the great interest in Piltdown lies in why major scientists accepted it, not in who forged it. Uncertain conditions of discovery, lack of geological information, and virtual anatomical impossibility did not deter many scientists from giving Piltdown a key position in their theories. As Ales Hrdlicka remarked on Piltdown in The Skeletal Remains of Early Man (1930), "1t is another case where a desire to reach conclusions from insufficient and problematical material has led to a cloud of speculation and opinion." Yet many scientists did take a very strong position for or against Piltdown. To many it was the most important fossil in proving the antiquity of anatomically modern human beings, and any doubts about Piltdown were treated as an attack on a whole way of looking at human evolution. Piltdown was a center of very strong national, personal, and technical biases, and I think it is very difficult for people today (when there are so many well-preserved and -dated fossils) to realize how much emotion was invested in theories based on very little information.

Proof of the forgery finished scientific interest in Piltdown, but the very human question remained: Who had done it? This is very carefully considered in Weiner's book, and the story is much too long to repeat here. The core of the matter is that three people were personally involved in the excavations–Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward, and Teilhard de Chardin. Dawson took the originally "discovered" bones to Smith Woodward, a distinguished scientist at the British Museum. Later, Smith Woodward took part in the excavations, but it is not thought that he was involved in the forgery. His account of Piltdown is given in The Earliest Englishman (1948).

Dawson not only made most of the finds, but was present when the others – Smith Woodward and Teilhard– made discoveries. Prior to Piltdown, Dawson had been accused of plagiarism, fakes, and "undoubted deceptions." The evidence against Dawson is summarized in Wilton M. Krogman's "The Planned Planting of Piltdown: Who'? Why'?" (Human Evolution. Biosocial Perspectives, edited by S.L. Washburn and E.R. McCown, 1978), and I think that it is generally believed that he was involved in the forgery. After Dawson's death, Mrs. Dawson sent some parts of human skulls from her husband's collection to the British Museum, and it turned out that these had been stained with the same chemicals used in the forgery. I will return to the matter of [14] the evidence against Dawson, but the question has been raised of whether he could have executed the whole forgery alone. Gould believes that there was a conspiracy, that Teilhard de Chardin was at the root of it, and that the evidence he presents is so powerful that "the burden of proof must now rest with those who hold Father Teilhard blameless."

When Piltdown was proven to be a forgery, I wrote to Teilhard asking him for a note for the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (I was editor at the time). He replied at once that he could not believe that any of the people with whom he had been associated was guilty and that he was sure some other explanation would be found. I think that this is what Teilhard really believed; he had taken no part in a forgery and could not believe that the friends with whom he had been associated had either. In a letter to Oakley (cited by Gould), Teilhard refers to the discovery as spoiling "one of my brightest and earliest paleontological memories."

I think that the view that Teilhard was fooled (along with hundreds of others, it might be added) is reasonable, and I will try to demonstrate that Gould's view is almost certainly wrong. However, it is important to remember that the Piltdown events took place before World War I, long, long ago. Dawson died in 1916, Smith Woodward in 1944. There are few facts, and little chance of obtaining more hard evidence after all these years.

Gould believes that the motivation for the original fraud was a joke. Gould writes, "l assume that Piltdown was merely a delicious joke for him– at first," and continues with his fantasy of Teilhard's motivations, his desire, his envy, his trickery. Not only are there no facts whatever to support these allegations, but they appear to reflect Gould's own mental processes far more than those of Teilhard. On his reconstruction of Teilhard's motivation, Gould writes, "Here I see no great problem...." I see nothing but problems in reconstructing the events and motivations of seventy years ago. Gould has given us a picture that distorts the few facts there are, and I think that his whole view of Teilhard is false. The following reconstruction is, I believe, more reasonable than the theory of the joke.

Here are my thoughts on what happened. They are not offered as facts, only as a possibility, and only because indirect evidence is being used to attack the reputation of a person long dead who cannot set the record straight.

As Gould states, "Dawson, of course, unearthed most of the material himself." The various "discoveries" were made over a period of four years –bones were stained, teeth ground, associated fossils and tools provided. When the issue arose of what a canine tooth in such a creature would be like, a canine was "found." When added proof was needed to show that the jaw belonged with the skull, Piltdown 2 was "found."

My bias is that the whole pattern of preparation of the teeth, bones, collection of associated "fossils" and the repeated releasing of strategic specimens was the result of deliberate forgery and could not have been a joke. The only individual consistently involved with all of the discoveries over all the years was Dawson. If it is accepted that Dawson was the forger, then Teilhard was either fooled or he was a forger too.

Could the original discovery have been the joke, planted by Teilhard and found by Dawson? Even if we forget the elaborate nature of the preparation of the specimens, the staining of the first "find" and of the bones sent by Mrs. Dawson to the British Museum is the same. Further, the canine tooth may come from the original jaw. The events are not independent, so that some might have been jokes and other fakes.

If the joke theory is out because of the difficulties of secretly collecting the specimens, preparing them, and arranging for their discovery, what was the motive for the forgery? Dawson gained worldwide recognition for his finding of a fossil man. He reduced the chances of the truth being discovered (after giving the original "finds" to Smith Woodward) by having a distinguished scientist (Smith Woodward) and a friendly young priest (Teilhard) make additional discoveries.

In retrospect the motivations and methods seem clear. Teilhard enjoyed his friendship with Dawson and the excitement of the discoveries. It was an honor for him to be associated with Smith Woodward. He had nothing to gain by being a secret conspirator, and if he had been one, he risked everything–his reputation as a priest and as a scientist.

I think it reasonable to interpret the events in this way, but whatever the truth may have been, it should be noted that all the events took place before Dawson's death in 1916–no Piltdown fossils were ever found after that although searches were made.

Gould cites no direct evidence against Teilhard; his account simply puts all events in the worst possible light. He argues that the forger would not have dared to put the carefully prepared canine in the gravel pit for fear of it being lost rather than discovered. By implication one of the forgers found the canine. Nonsense. The tooth could have been put where it almost surely would have been found or easily retrieved for a second try.

On Piltdown 2, Gould makes much of the dates. Teilhard must have seen it in 1913, but the "find" was not announced until 1915. Dawson's reasons for not announcing it sooner involve Dawson's motivations, not Teilhard's. Teilhard was in the French army. To be shown a fake does not make a person a faker.

Teilhard thought that the jaw did not belong with the skull; many other scientists thought the same. The problem of the human joint and the missing condyle was pointed out immediately after the discoveries were described.

In 1915 G. Miller wrote, "Deliberate malice [emphasis mine] could hardly have been more successful than the hazards of deposition in so breaking the fossils as to give free scope to individual judgment in fitting the parts together." Note how close this is to the phrase "as if on purpose" that Gould finds so revealing. Miller cited nearly seventy references on Piltdown, and Teilhard offered no new suggestions on the relation of jaw and skull or condyle and jaw.

Gould makes much of the fact that he thinks Teilhard should have devoted more attention to Piltdown and that he did not because of his feeling of guilt. A different explanation is that Piltdown was a matter of intense controversy from the beginning. Perhaps his position with the church made Teilhard wary of becoming involved in futile, acrimonious controversy. His main interests were not at the level of debates on a single fossil but on a general philosophy of man. Teilhard had enjoyed making the discoveries and his friendship with Dawson and Smith Woodward, but he had no desire to enter into the Piltdown debate. This cannot be proved, of course, but I think Teilhard's actions are easy to [16] understand and certainly not proof of guilt.

Later, after the fake was exposed, Gould regards Teilhard's attempt to find explanation in the letters to Oakley as incomprehensible. But there is no problem if one thinks that Teilhard really believed his friends and associates of many years before were innocent. Why should he welcome the news that Dawson was a forger and that both he and Smith Woodward were dupes?

In instance after instance, an action or statement by Teilhard is taken to reflect guilt. For example, upon seeing the exhibit of the forgery at the British Museum, Teilhard is described as walking through "glumly." But an honest person seeing an exhibit that showed he had been hoaxed by a person he considered a friend might indeed feel glum.

Throughout the paper a misleading vocabulary is used–on page 14 Nixon is mentioned, and then on page 16 Teilhard is accused of "stonewalling." On page 14 Teilhard is described as hiding his real nature "behind a garb of piety." He did not "spontaneously" congratulate Oakley as "all other scientists" had. Reading this the unwary are likely to forget that the other scientists who took part in the excavations at Piltdown were dead.

There will, of course, always be uncertainty about the events and motivations of long ago. I happen to think that Teilhard was a sincere and honest human being, and that this accounts for the facts better than the idea that he was a forger. The joke theory just does not cover the facts at all.

In summary, one way of looking at the Piltdown forgery is that it started as a joke played by Teilhard de Chardin and that for the rest of his life he regretted it, but events had gone too far, and he did not have the courage to confess.

A different way of interpreting the same facts is that Piltdown was an elaborate and deliberate forgery, and that Teilhard was fooled, having trusted both Smith Woodward and Dawson. He expressed himself clearly on Piltdown, but avoided the bitter controversy as far as possible. He died a few months after the fake was discovered, still hoping that some other explanation might be found.

S.L. Washburn

Professor of Anthropology and University Professor Emeritus

University of California, Berkeley

To the Editor:

In reviewing the Piltdown forgery, Gould considers that J.S. Weiner has virtually proven that Charles Dawson was guilty of forgery, but he is looking for a coconspirator. He mentions the anatomist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith and the geologist W.J. Sollas, but he dismisses them as "farfetched and devoid of reasonable evidence." He then turns to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and after an extensive review of circumstantial evidence, he concludes that "Teilhard was an active coconspirator with Dawson at Piltdown." As to motive, Gould finds that "we must recast Piltdown . . . as a joke that went too far, not as a malicious attempt to defraud."

Other authors have speculated on possible coconspirators at Piltdown. Just before Gould, three French scientists (M. Blanc, G. Chapouthier, and A. Danchin) published a review of scientific frauds, including Piltdown. They mention Teilhard in passing but give more attention to Smith and Sollas, to both of whom they ascribe professional jealousy of Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of geology at the British Museum and principal advocate of Piltdown. They are inclined to consider Sollas as the most probable candidate, largely on the testimony of J.A. Douglas, Sollas's longtime colleague and his successor in the Chair of Geology at Oxford. In his retirement on the Isle of Wight, Douglas discussed Piltdown with R.L.E. Ford, his neighbor and an amateur paleontologist. Douglas preferred not to make his views public out of deference to the family of his predecessor, but Ford persuaded him to put them on record before his death. As he was then blind, he made a tape that was played at a symposium at Reading after his death in 1978. L.B. Halstead published parts of the transcript with a commentary in Nature. He noted that it was generally felt that the coconspirator must have been someone with considerable expertise and with animosity toward Smith Woodward. Sollas satisfied these requirements (as Teilhard did not). He was a leader of British anthropology, far above Smith Woodward (a specialist on fossil fishes) and the keeper of anthropology, W.P. Pycraft (an ornithologist). That Sollas detested Smith Woodward was well known to Douglas from personal experience, for he had attempted to mediate between them and had failed miserably. As professor of geology and paleontology at Oxford, Sollas had easy access to all of the bones used in the forgery. Further, he had bought a supply of potassium bichromate, a substance that was not in use in his laboratory at the time, but which was used to stain the Piltdown bones. Finally, Sollas and his photographer Bayzand had deliberately tricked Smith Woodward with another hoax, the Sherborne horse's head, then exposed him when he accepted it as genuine. Why not victimize Smith Woodward with a greater hoax, one for which Sollas was strongly motivated and for which he was eminently well prepared to provide both materials and expertise. On the basis of these facts and of long association with him, Douglas believed that Sollas had conceived the hoax and enlisted Dawson as a coconspirator.

Blanc et al. refer to an earlier paper by Pierre Thuillier that appeared in La Recherche. This is a review of two books that had just been published: The Piltdown Fraud, by Ronald Millar, and Pleine lumiere sur l'imposture de Piltdown, by Guy van Esbroeck. As I have not seen these books, the comments below are based on Thuillier's review. Millar found circumstantial evidence that convinced him that Smith was the culprit and that his motive was jealousy and a desire to ridicule Smith Woodward and Pycraft. Smith, an Australian anatomist, was professor of anatomy at Manchester and later at London. He too had the needed expertise and access to bones for the forgery. He mocked Dawson by telling him that the Piltdown fossils had been confirmed by similar finds at Pilton, Australia. This was pure fabrication: neither the town of Pilton nor the fossils exist. Clearly, Smith exploited Piltdown to bait his English colleagues. This infers that he knew that Piltdown was no more valid than Pilton. And how better to get that knowledge than from participation in the conspiracy? One must wonder whether Gould could have dismissed Sollas and Smith so lightly had he not been, in his own words, "too blinded by my own attraction to the hypothesis of Teilhard's complicity."

Van Esbroeck introduced yet another potential conspirator, William R. Butterfield, curator of the Hastings Museum, of which Dawson was a committee member. According to van Esbroeck, Butterfield was anxious to [18] have certain specimens that Dawson had given to the British Museum. He swore vengeance on both Dawson and Smith Woodward. According to this version, Butterfield planted the bones in an area in which Dawson was collecting, and he thus duped Dawson as well as the "experts" of the British Museum.

Gould summarizes his case against Teilhard inversely as follows: `'First, perhaps Piltdown has simply deluded another gullible victim, this time myself. Maybe I have just encountered an incredible string of coincidences. Could all of the slips in the letters have been innocent errors of an aging man; the comme par exprès merely a literary device; the failure to use his best argument a simple oversight; his conspicuous silence beyond a few fleeting and unavoidable mentions only an aspect of a complex personality that no one has fathomed; the elephant and the hippo Dawson's property . . . ?" If each clause of that long sentence were recast as a positive statement, taken together they would constitute a good summary of the case against Teilhard. Let us therefore use the sentence as the basis for a brief rebuttal.

"Could all of the slips in the letters have been innocent errors of an aging man?" Yes, easily and probably. I am ten years younger than Teilhard was when those letters were written. I am still sufficiently alert to keep a jump or two ahead of my students. Nonetheless, I sometimes find myself uncertain of the sequence of events much more recent than those of which Teilhard was writing. When an error is called to my attention, I sometimes have to reconsider and mentally recast the sequence of events several times before I am confident that I have it right. One of Teilhard's favorite words was tâtonnement ("groping"). It describes well the process seen in his letters, a mental process that is common to many of us. Gould's writing has a ring of great self-assurance, and perhaps the need for tâtonnement is not apparent to him, but I believe that it is an adequate explanation for the inconsistencies in Teilhard's letters to Kenneth Oakley. Thus, Oakley's original hypothesis was probably correct.

In his 1920 article, in which he clearly states that the Piltdown fossils are a mixture of bones of two different animals, Teilhard says, "As if on purpose [comme par exprès ], the condyle is missing!" Gould believes that Teilhard was trying, a bit too subtly, to tell his colleagues that Piltdown was a fraud and that the condyle had been deliberately broken off the mandible to make a test of articulation impossible. Gould acknowledges that comme par exprès may be just a literary device. Similarly, physicists and engineers, faced with bad results, speak of the perversity of inanimate nature, while biologists refer bad results to the "Harvard law," that under the most precisely controlled conditions an experimental organism does just as it pleases. Teilhard's writing is characterized by literary figures to an unusual degree: why not this means of expressing his disappointment that the defects of the fossils prevent a critical test? But there is also a third possibility. After his youthful and amateur enthusiasm had been dampened by the critical thinking of Marcellin Boule's laboratory, and after his paleontological acumen had there been raised to a professional level, he may have intended to suggest by comme par exprès that possibly the fossils had been deliberately altered to prevent a critical test. Suspicion does not require complicity.

Teilhard emphasized that evolution was ordinarily divergent, with long, separated lines often appearing as multiple, parallel lines. This is simply adaptive radiation. Gould says that Piltdown should have been Teilhard's strongest argument for multiple, parallel lines in human evolution, and so he believes that Teilhard's failure to use it must have been caused by his guilt in the Piltdown conspiracy. But was Piltdown Teilhard's best argument, "the only available proof," as Gould says, "of multiple, parallel lineages within human evolution itself." Neanderthal man had been known since 1856, Cro-Magnon since 1868, and Galley Hill since 1888; Homo erectus had been known from Java since 1891 and was discovered in China in 1927 (by a team that included Teilhard), long before Teilhard wrote his most important works; and Heidelberg had been known since 1907. Other "parallels" discovered after Piltdown, but before Teilhard wrote the works upon which his fame rests, include Ehringsdorf (1925), Steinheim (1933), and Swanscombe (1935). One might also mention Australopithecus (1925), which has at times been assigned to the genus Homo. In the face of this array of fossils in the human lineage, could Gould cite Piltdown as "the only available proof" for Teilhard's thesis unless he were, in his own words, "too blinded by my own attraction to the hypothesis of Teilhard's complicity. "

If we agree that Teilhard had abundant fossil evidence for his theory, one must still ask why he did not use Piltdown also. The answer is evident in his paper of 1920: he dissociated himself from the usual interpretation of the Piltdown fossils, and he may have suspected forgery. At best, therefore, its use was likely to lead to confusion; at worst, to totally erroneous conclusions. Having once stated his opinion on it fully, why not move on to more profitable materials? Much the same reasoning applies to "his conspicuous silence."

I believe that Gould's best argument is Teilhard's "profound embarrassment" when Oakley showed him the exhibit on the Piltdown fraud at the British Museum, and on other occasions when Piltdown was discussed. Nonetheless, it is understandable on grounds other than complicity. Teilhard's acquaintance with Dawson and Smith Woodward came in the days when he was an enthusiastic amateur with little hope of achieving professional status in paleontology. It may have been partly their influence that directed him toward a career in paleontology. He was characteristically intensely loyal to his friends and very slow to believe evil report about anyone. Thus the idea that his much admired friend Dawson, and perhaps others of the early Piltdown investigators, had deliberately defrauded the scientific community was distasteful in the extreme. He reacted with an embarrassed avoidance of the repugnant subject.

Because of Teilhard's experience at Cairo and his connections with the network of amateur collectors, Gould believes that he was likely to have obtained the elephant and hippo bones that were planted at Piltdown. Perhaps, but it should be added that Sollas, Smith, and Butterfield also had excellent access to networks of collectors, both professional and amateur.

Before summarizing, let me discuss a few minor points in Gould's article. At the outset, he refers to Teilhard as "one of the world's most famous theologians." On the contrary, he was not a theologian at all. Of course, he had studied theology as a seminarian. [20] Similarly, all biologists study some chemistry, physics, and mathematics but that does not make us chemists, physicists, or mathematicians. It is a common mistake to equate "priest" and "theologian." Later, Gould says that Teilhard "seemed to hide passion, mystery, and good humor behind a garb of piety." This seems to suggest hypocrisy, and I believe that it is not only unjustified but that it contradicts those who worked with him most closely (for example, George B. Barbour and Helmut de Terra).

Teilhard wrote to Oakley that, as a theology student at Hastings, he had not had much free time. Gould finds this inconsistent with Teilhard's letters to his parents, in which he talked much about travels in southern England. Again, it appears that the conflict is in the interpretation rather than in the facts. Anyone who knows anything about the Jesuit seminary curriculum knows that it is an onerous one that leaves minimal spare time. Nonetheless, there is always some time for recreation. When students write home, they rarely send transcripts of class notes. They are more likely to write about recreation, hobbies, and special interests, even if these occupy only a small part of their time.

Gould says that "Leakey also mentioned Teilhard's knowledge of chemistry and the clever staining of the Piltdown bones." Was his knowledge of chemistry out of the ordinary? He did no graduate work in chemistry. The main evidence of his expertise in this field is that he taught elementary chemistry for three years at the Jesuit college in Cairo. To teach elementary chemistry in a classical college, however, does not require any unusual mastery of the subject. Most of the principals in the case, as science graduates of British universities, probably equalled or surpassed Teilhard in this respect.

Let me summarize the case as I see it. Teilhard went to England as a seminarian with a strong extracurricular interest in natural history, especially geology and paleontology, and he put as much time into his hobby as the curriculum would permit. He soon met other amateur collectors, including Dawson, a lawyer who had been collecting in Sussex for many years and who had sent enough materials to the British Museum to make, up a "Dawson collection." Teilhard was much impressed by his new friend and probably flattered that so senior and distinguished a collector should take an interest in him. When Dawson confided that he had found probable fossils of very early man, and especially when so distinguished a scientist as Smith Woodward championed the fossils, it could not fail to make a tremendous impression on a young amateur who had only dreamed of finding important fossils of early man and of receiving the confidence of scientists of the importance of Smith Woodward. In such a situation, it is hardly surprising that he was over-awed, tended to romanticize the incident, and accepted it as presented by Dawson and Smith Woodward.

Upon returning to Paris, he began his work under Boule. Here, for first time, he studied mammalian, primate, and human fossils systematically, and he learned the critical attitude toward them that was so characteristic of Boule. Here he became convinced of the incompatibility of the Piltdown jaw and cranium. At best, these now appeared as an accidental association of unrelated parts; at worst–could it have been fraud? Possibly he was suggesting this very tentatively with the phrase comme par exprès. He shrank from the repugnant possibility that any of his friends might have been involved in such an act. In any event, having once called it right ( 1920), he then put it out of mind and went on to other materials that did not raise such distressing problems.

When, forty years after the events, Oakley questioned Teilhard, it is hardly surprising that he had to grope for the answers. Far from suggesting complicity (as it might, had it concerned recent events), it merely suggests that, for all the sublimity of his thought, he was still very much a man with human limitations, even as the rest of us.

After all of this, I must concede that it is possible that Gould is right, although I do not consider it probable. If so, his hypothesis of a joke that got out of hand seems to be the best available explanation. The French love to twist the tail of the British lion, and Teilhard was a quintessential Frenchman.

But if not Teilhard, then who? Smith and Sollas are implicated far more strongly than Gould concedes. On the basis of Douglas's statement, I would consider Sollas to be the most probable coconspirator. As I have not seen van Esbroeck's book I cannot assess [21] the probability of Butterfield's complicity, but neither can I dismiss it out of hand. Finally Weiner mentions several other people who, in various ways, were associated with the Piltdown finds. Among these, I select for mention Sam Woodhead, a chemist friend of Dawson's, and Lewis Abbott, a competing collector who had a strong dislike for Dawson. Thus, a considerable number of potential coconspirators are in the field. And we must not overlook the possibility that there may have been three or more conspirators at Piltdown.

The late W.R. Brooks, founding chairman of the Department of Biology at John Hopkins, said that "suspended judgment is the greatest triumph of intellectual discipline." Until definitive evidence is available, we should aspire to that triumph in regard to the Piltdown conspiracy.

Edward O. Dodson

Department of Biology University of Ottawa

To the Editor:

Many years ago I referred in a lecture to the Piltdown forgery. Subsequently I was admonished by two angry British dentists. "An Englishman would never do such a thing, but don't forget, one tooth had been found by a French Jesuit."

In this magazine for August 1980, there appeared an article by Stephen Jay Gould trying to prove that Father Teilhard de Chardin had knowingly been involved in the Piltdown fraud. Gould is as positive in his interpretations and conclusions as he is wrong, and his article cannot be accepted without protest and correction.

It is not necessary here to repeat the story of "Piltdown man," which turned out to be a chimera, a composition of a hominid braincase and the mandible of an ape. Irritating from the beginning, this find had troubled a whole generation of earnest scientists. Teilhard, then a young and inexperienced man, had contact with Charles Dawson, the alleged discoverer, and participated on occasion in his fieldwork. This makes Teilhard part of the Piltdown story. The other person involved was Sir Arthur Smith Woodward of the British Museum, a scholar of considerable reputation.

Dawson had long been suspected to be the perpetrator of Piltdown man. But there was no proof of this. In a painstaking, thoroughly convincing way, Kenneth Oakley and J.S. Weiner [22] showed that the skeletal remains were modern and not of Lower Pleistocene age as alleged; that the bones and implements had been artificially stained to suggest fossilization; that the teeth of the mandible had been filed, and that the mammalian fossils had come from elsewhere. Every bit of "evidence" pointed to Dawson. Yet, at the end of his book Weiner hesitated to come to a definite conclusion. None of the facts presented in his book "furnishes the positive and final proof of [Dawson's] responsibility." Was this just fairness against a deceased man, or was Weiner afraid to get into trouble with the Dawson family? After all, Dawson's son was a prominent government official. More important was Sir Arthur, the grand old man who had followed the Piltdown story from the beginning and had known everybody involved. Shortly before he died, Sir Arthur stated that information furnished him by Weiner "left me no doubt that the man I had the greatest reverence for [Dawson] had deliberately misled his best friend, who stood rather outside the Piltdown discovery" (Sunday Times, January 9, 1955).

Dawson was a solicitor and a roving amateur in many ways. But did he have the intelligence to plan the complicated forgery himself? From where did he get the material? What motivated him?

It has long been suspected that there must have been a trained scientific man behind Dawson. The Piltdown mystery must have been a conspiracy. Yet who was the second man, the perpetrator, the shadow figure in the background? Two were named in this connection: Grafton Elliot Smith and Teilhard de Chardin. Ronald Millar, not convincingly, tried to put the blame on Smith. Now Gould bluntly accuses Teilhard de Chardin.

In this article Gould uses every bit of information, every uncertainty in the record, every dubious attitude of Teilhard's as evidence of his complicity. In 1953, Teilhard's recollection of what had happened before the First World War was really so uncertain that he thought of having met Dawson for the first time in 1911 while actually it had been in 1909. Had this (according to Gould) been written on purpose, or had Teilhard just "misunderstood the exact chronology"? When later on, "Teilhard's silence about Piltdown becomes inexplicable to the point of perversity (unless guilt and knowledge of fraud engendered [23] it)," then the perversity is Gould's. Might he not have thought of another explanation more in accord with Teilhard's great reputation as an honest scientist? That, conceivably, insight and experience were behind Teilhard's attitude'?

In 1929 Teilhard went to Peking just in time to become involved in the discovery of Peking man. He could study the remains prior to publication and discuss the question of human evolution and Piltdown man with Davidson Black and later with his successor, Franz Weidenreich. The latter gave an outspoken verdict about Piltdown. He, in 1932, proved the mandible to be that of an orang; Friederichs, one of his pupils, even suggested a special genus of anthropoids for that find–Boreopithecus. Already earlier G. Miller, in 1915, had thought the jaw belonged to a chimpanzee, and so did others, such as Remstrom (1916), Gregory (1916), and Lonshossek (1920).

That the Piltdown mandible belongs to an ape, and the canine he found as well, must have been a personal blow for Teilhard because he had found the canine, in August 1913, "in the rain- washed gravel spread" on the surface, while at the same time Dawson and Smith Woodward were excavating nearby. Therefore, Dawson was around, and knowing the history of the finds (Weiner) there could be no doubt that Dawson must have "planted" the tooth on purpose, ultimately to be discovered by Teilhard. It was this find by which Teilhard was inadvertently dragged into the Piltdown fraud.

Teilhard had ample knowledge of the Pleistocene fauna and naturally must have known that a Pleistocene ape could for climatological and ecological reasons not have existed in Europe. Therefore, he must have felt deceived and cheated. He loathed, no doubt, to suspect anybody and did not want to have anything to do with the case. After the forgery had been disclosed and a special exhibition had been presented by the British Museum, Teilhard did not even want to look at it. He had had enough of Piltdown. This, in contrast to Gould, is my explanation of Teilhard's changed attitude in the Piltdown case.

About the alleged stone implement, Gould writes, "I also have some doubt about Teilhard's flint, for it is the only Piltdown item indubitably found in situ. Now, if we look into Weiner's [24] book, we find, "The paleolith flint (or. E. 606), however, provided a notable exception ... this was found in situ by Teilhard de Chardin.... But that this fragment has been deliberately stained admits of no doubt." The person who had stained the bones also had stained the flint. For details one might look up Weiner's book, which actually reads like a detective story. The implement must have been placed at the site with the purpose of deceiving Teilhard and this could, in view of the former suppositions, only have been done by Dawson.

Gould's suggestion that Teilhard was presumably an ardent French patriot is noteworthy: "what a wonderful joke for a Frenchman ... what an irresistible idea to salt English soil with this preposterous combination of a human skull and an ape's jaw and see what the pros could make of it." What an incredible insinuation against an honest scholar!

Gould's article is based entirely on speculations. Could it really satisfy anybody to maintain that "Teilhard was an active collaborator" of Dawson's alleged conspiracy? "Only in this way," according to Gould, "can I make sense of the pattern in Teilhard's letters to Oakley, the 1920 article, the subsequent silence, the intense embarrassment."

Who then was the mastermind behind Dawson, and what was the motive? The oldest prehistoric man an Englishman? National pride or perhaps the reward of becoming a fellow of the Royal Society?

At long last, by an event as surprising as it was unexpected, we are able to present a reasonable explanation. The person responsible for the: fraud was Professor W. J. Sollas of Oxford. The late Professor J. A. Douglas (1884-1978), who held the Chair of Geology at Oxford and was a close friend of Sollas, had known the truth. Shortly before his death, Douglas transmitted the story by tape recording. He had a "bitter dislike of Smith Woodward, which was mutual." He wanted to make a fool of him, to ruin his scientific reputation. And this led to the Piltdown forgery. (As reported by B. Halstead in Nature, vol. 276, pages 11- 13.) It is a pity that this revelation should have been overlooked by Gould. Otherwise his concoctions would never have been printed.

As for Teilhard's alleged "guilt," it is quite evident that he was but an interested yet innocent bystander [25] of the Piltdown case, who had the misfortune to pick up the canine tooth and the flint, in situ at the site where the shameful forgery was committed.

G. H. R. von Koenigswald

Department of Paleoanthropology

Senckenberg Museum

Frankfort/Main B.D.

Stephen Jay Gould replies:

I began my first article on Piltdown (Natural History, March 1979) with the words: "Nothing is quite so fascinating as a well-aged mystery." Thus, I cannot feign a scholar's surprise and claim astonishment at either the volume or the vehemence of correspondence provoked by my case for Teilhard de Chardin as a coconspirator in the most celebrated of anthropological forgeries (Natural History, August 1980).

I was pleased by the favorable reaction of most correspondents, especially by the recognition of so many that my case was not born of malice toward Teilhard. For if I have emphasized any theme over eight years of these columns, it is the human side of science and its embeddedness in social contexts. If I am right, I do not see how Teilhard's greatness is diminished by a youthful caper that caused him continual pain thereafter. A tragedy provoked without malicious intent by one's own hand is perhaps the most poignant burden that anyone can bear. As a Jesuit priest wrote to me: "I do not know if you are right but the spirit of your argument commands respect. After all, our church maintains the institution of confession because we know that people err–even priests."

Favorable respondents write short notes or pass a friendly oral remark. Long commentaries–quite appropriately–are the domain of critics. I merely wanted to say that the three published here are not the tip of an iceberg of discontent, or, if they are, the iceberg of good cheer is at least as large if not so heavy.

In these three commentaries, Teilhard's friends and supporters react. Professor Dodson spent a sabbatical year at the Fondation Teilhard de Chardin in Paris. Professors Washburn and von Koenigswald, two of the most eminent physical anthropologists of our century, were friends and colleagues of Teilhard. Their covering letters express an anger not found– and I thank them for it–in their actual responses. I am neither sorry nor [26] surprised by these commentaries, although

I am disappointed in one sense (and secretly pleased in another) by their weakness based upon a common failure to state accurately or even to consider the major points of my case. (My pleasure, of course, derives from the survival, if not strengthening, of my hypothesis in the face of criticism from its potentially most severe and knowledgeable critics.)

A standard method of attack against complex hypotheses involves chipping away at unimportant and admittedly weak points, ignoring the strong points, and then hoping that the edifice might tumble by implication. Because I anticipated such a response, I was careful to list my arguments explicitly in the order of their strength as I saw it. I even numbered them and stated that the first two were my essential claims, and all the others subsidiary. Yet both Washburn and Dodson devote most of their responses to the subsidiary points.

The first two-thirds of Washburn's commentary is primarily an argument for Dawson's involvement in pursuit of fame. I disagree with none of this and find most of it irrelevant to my case. Washburn seems to be under the misconception that I tried either to exonerate Dawson or to paint Teilhard as the mastermind and Dawson as the tagalong. On the contrary, I clearly stated my assumption of Dawson's guilt on the first page: "J. S. Weiner's elegant case virtually precludes Dawson's innocence." On the same page I wrote that Dawson had "found" the initial bones before Teilhard arrived at Piltdown and that he must therefore have been the chief perpetrator of the hoax. The only possible relevance of the first two-thirds of Washburn's letter relates weakly to my speculations about Teilhard's motive (a theme that I regarded as the least important of my piece and therefore relegated to the last page –we can only speculate about motives, but we can present facts about involvement). Washburn argues that if Dawson was a forger and if Dawson acted maliciously for fame, then Teilhard was either innocent or also acted from malice (and not for a joke, as I speculated). But how does this follow? If we know anything about conspiracies in all their murkiness, we certainly understand that people get involved in common projects for the damnedest and most varied motives. Do any of the Kennedy assassination [27]buffs believe that Oswald, Ruby, and the masterminds undertook their deeds for common reasons?

When Washburn does reach my specific arguments, he begins with my very last point, Teilhard's "good luck" in finding the canine tooth, of which I stated: "It is the weakest point of all, hence its place at the bottom of my list."

Dodson proceeds in much the same way. For example, he attempts to demolish what he takes to be one of my strong points in almost the very words I used in labeling it a weak point. To the argument that Teilhard might have supplied African elephant and Maltese hippo teeth to the "associated fauna" at Piltdown, Dodson writes: "Perhaps, but it should be added that Sollas, Smith, and Butterfield also had excellent access to networks of collectors, both professional and amateur." I wrote, labeling the point as my next to weakest: "I regard this argument as suggestive, but not compelling. Dawson too was plugged into a network of amateur exchange." Dodson then spends a paragraph attacking Leakey's point that Teilhard taught high school chemistry in Egypt and may therefore have known how to stain the bones. But I regarded this argument as so by-the-by that I didn't include it in my list at all.

When the three commentators do consider my two major points, they either state them incorrectly, or so incompletely that my arguments are unfairly represented and converted to straw men. Let me then rehearse the two foundations of my case and comment upon the attempted rebuttals:

1. Teilhard wrote a series of letters to Kenneth Oakley in 1953. In the first, he slipped (fatally, I believe) in stating that Dawson had shown him the site of the second Piltdown find and explained to him that he "had found the isolated molar and the small piece of skull in the heaps of rubble and pebbles raked at the surface of the field." This is impossible because Dawson "found" the bones in 1915 and Teilhard was sent to the front in December, 1914. If Teilhard saw the Piltdown 2 material, he probably helped Dawson to manufacture it before he left. Oakley caught the inconsistency immediately and pressed Teilhard. Teilhard's subsequent letters contain what I take to be a studied retreat surrounded with a set of other misstatements or half statements, all forming a pattern, carefully constructed, in my opinion, to suggest innocence and avert suspicion. In my article, I placed primary emphasis upon the pattern of misstatement. I acknowledged that each individual point could be given an exonerating interpretation, but that my case resided in the common pattern of all misstatements–"each insignificant (or subject to other interpretations) by itself, but forming in their ensemble a subtle attempt to direct suspicion away from himself."

Washburn devotes but one short paragraph to this essence of my case, says nothing about my claim for pattern, and dismisses my central point about the Piltdown 2 specimens by stating: "To be shown a fake does not make a person a faker." I agree, but I explicitly discussed this possibility and gave my argument against it. I framed Washburn's claim as follows: "Dawson showed the specimens to an innocent Teilhard in 1913, but withheld them from Smith Woodward [28] until 1915." I then responded to this potential interpretation:

Dawson would not blow his cover in such a crude way. For Dawson took Smith Woodward to the second site on several prospecting trips in 1914, always finding nothing. Now Teilhard and Smith Woodward were also fairly close. Dawson had introduced them in 1909 by sending to London some important mammal specimens (having nothing to do with Piltdown) that Teilhard had collected. Smith Woodward was delighted with Teilhard's work and praised him lavishly in a publication. He accepted Teilhard as the only other member of their initial collecting trips at Piltdown. Moreover, Teilhard was a house guest of the Smith Woodwards when he visited London in September 1913, following his discovery of the canine. If Dawson had shown Teilhard the Piltdown 2 finds in 1913, then led Smith Woodward extensively astray during several field trips in 1914, and if an innocent Teilhard had told Smith Woodward about the specimens (and I can't imagine why he would have held back), then Dawson would have been exposed.

Dodson also grants my central point but a single paragraph, says nothing at all about the inconsistency in dates for Piltdown 2, and argues only that the series of slips should be seen as a tâtonnement, or "groping," on Teilhard's part. Dodson merely asserts this interpretation without mentioning the details of a single slip and without even acknowledging my central claim that all the slips have a common theme and thus cannot represent, in my view, a groping to remember the truth.

Von Koenigswald, also treating my central point in one paragraph, ignores the chronological problems of Piltdown 2. (Thus, only one commentator in three even deigns to mention my single strongest argument.) He uses one of Teilhard's subsidiary slips (misstating the year he met Dawson) as evidence of his general forgetfulness, again not acknowledging my claim that all the errors form a pattern, whereas general failure of memory should not yield order. By the way, Professor von Koenigswald is mistaken in stating that Teilhard was "inadvertently dragged into the Piltdown fraud" when he discovered the canine in 1913. Teilhard accompanied Dawson and Smith Woodward during their very first excavation together in 1912. In fact, Smith Woodward had requested that Dawson include no locals in the work, and Dawson had permitted only Teilhard to accompany them, declaring to Smith Woodward that the young priest was "quite safe."

2. Teilhard's silence. Teilhard wrote one short article on Piltdown for a popular journal in 1920, correctly stated that the skull and jaw belonged to two separate creatures, and then proceeded to avoid the subject for the rest of his career. It is the profundity of his silence that I find so startling. Through twenty volumes of collected works, I can find only half a dozen incidental references, either an item in a list, a dot on a graph, or a mention in a footnote–never so much as a single sentence. Yet, as I argued, the Piltdown skull (which, if he was innocent, should have remained a genuine human fossil in his eyes, even if he attributed the jaw to an ape) represented his best argument for a central claim in his evolutionary philosophy–multiple, parallel lineages striving upward toward the domination of matter by spirit. Why did he not use it? He wrote volumes on the legitimate Peking man and at least four review articles on human evolution in general. These articles treat dubious and fragmentary remains, of which Teilhard had no personal knowledge, in detail. Why did he leave Piltdown out if he believed the skull to be genuine?

Since writing my article, I have learned of another small point that makes the silence even more puzzling. When Peking man was discovered, its cranium was reconstructed incorrectly to yield a capacity lying, like Piltdown's, in the modern human range. This unleashed a volume of commentary about the relationship between Piltdown and Peking. Now Teilhard was in China and was contributing (as a geologist) to the original Peking finds. He was the only one there with personal knowledge of Piltdown. Yet, so far as I can tell, he said nothing at all. His own mentor, Marcellin Boule, published a paper comparing the Peking and Piltdown craniums. It included long quotations from Teilhard about the geology of the Peking site, but not a word from him about the craniums.

Washburn again gives this second major claim but a single paragraph, presenting two implausible alternative suggestions to explain Teilhard's silence. First, he conjectures that Teilhard's precarious position with the church may have led him to avoid the controversy. But if Teilhard was playing it safe, why did he write, and circulate extensively in samizdat, the many volumes that the church truly regarded as heretical and enjoined him from publishing–the posthumously printed works that made him a cult figure after his death? Second, Washburn conjectures that Teilhard simply wasn't interested in Piltdown and debates about single fossils, but in a "general philosophy of man." But this makes no sense for two reasons. As I stated above, Piltdown was Teilhard's best empirical argument for this "general philosophy," and he never used it. And if he had so little interest in single fossils, why did he write volumes about Peking man and many review articles about the empirical data of human paleontology– including all the other dubious and problematical fossils. Teilhard was not a man who avoided controversy.

Dodson at least gives my point some space and consideration. He mentions a suite of other human fossils to counter my claim that Piltdown was Teilhard's strongest argument for multiple, parallel lineages. But all these other fossils are consistent with a unilinear phylogeny of Pithecanthropus- Neanderthal-modern humans, and many of Teilhard's contemporaries arranged them in just such a scheme (others considered Neanderthal as a side branch). Piltdown was the one clear demonstration of multiple lineages, for Piltdown, with its modern skull (literally, as we now know), was the contemporary of big-jawed, beetle-browed Neanderthal.

Dodson's alternative explanation for Teilhard's silence is reasonable and I considered it in my article–that Teilhard knew Piltdown was a fake but did not participate in the forgery himself. I agree that Teilhard's extraordinary silence only demonstrates his knowledge or strong suspicion of forgery, not his participation in it. But this is why my case is multifaceted. The silence indicates his knowledge of fraud; had I found this alone, I would not have implicated him directly. It is my other finding–the pattern of slips and later evasions in the letters to Oakley–that seems to me best explained as Teilhard's attempt to cover up an actual involvement. For if he were innocent and only suspicious, why the telling slip in the dating of Piltdown 2 and why a pattern of errors and evasions that seems designed to divert a consideration of his own possible role?

According to von Koenigswald, [30] Teilhard became convinced that Piltdown was two creatures when he came to know Davidson Black and Franz Weidenreich in China, and that this discovery was such a "personal blow" for Teilhard that he loathed the subject of Piltdown ever after. But von Koenigswald's chronology is wrong. Teilhard's 1920 article–published long before he went to China–correctly chose the two-creature hypothesis for the skull and jaw. Of all Piltdown's early discoverers and champions, Teilhard had the least cause for embarrassment. He had never published an enthusiastic comment on the discovery. His only article on Piltdown called it as right as he could without crying fraud (two creatures, mixed together in the same deposit), and he had shut up thereafter.

Washburn apparently prefers the "official" story of Dawson acting alone, my own preference until I found the Oakley letters. Von Koenigswald's attitude is curious. After castigating me in no uncertain terms for my unscholarly willingness to point the finger of blame, he states with more definiteness than I ever imposed upon Teilhard that "the person responsible for the fraud was Professor W. J. Sollas." He then falsely states that I overlooked this proposal and asserts that, had I known of it, my "concoctions would never have been printed." But if Professor von Koenigswald would care to read the first column of my article, he will see that I mentioned the Sollas accusation and dismissed it. True, I did not discuss the point in depth, but my article was long enough and I had already presented a lengthy rebuttal of the Sollas case in my first Piltdown piece (Natural History, March 1979).

The Sollas case seems so farfetched to me (and to all others I have contacted who know the details of Piltdown intimately) that I still cannot understand why it attracted so much publicity. It was this incredulity that inspired my first piece. (That article, by the way, did not focus on whodunit, but on the subject correctly identified by Washburn as far more important for the history of science in general –why did major scientists ever accept Piltdown.) The Sollas case rests entirely on a tape recording made by J. A. Douglas, the 93-year-old emeritus professor of geology at Oxford (Sollas's successor), just before he died. The professor's case, based on some fifty-year-old suspicions, is idiosyncratic and conjectural. He simply states that Sollas hated Smith Woodward, that Sollas had potential access to bones for the forgery (as did anyone in a major museum and many amateur collectors as well), and that he remembers the arrival of a package of potassium bichromate addressed to Sollas. (This chemical stained the Piltdown bones, but it also had a variety of legitimate uses.) No evidence links Sollas with Dawson or ever places him at Piltdown.

Dodson offers the entire smorgasbord of other possibilities. He also mentions Sollas and the even more unlikely prospect of Grafton Elliot Smith. Ronald Millar's implication of Smith died a quick and well-deserved death after he published it in 1972. Millar grasped at some straws, established no link to Dawson and no evidence for any tie with the Piltdown site. In fact, Smith was the most severely duped and used of all Piltdown's champions. He staked his career on the belief that increase in brain size was a trigger for all subsequent human evolution. A human skull attached to an ape's jaw might have been designed to feed this prejudice, and Smith fell for Piltdown with an ardor unmatched by any other supporter. And lest anyone imagine that he constructed Piltdown to advance his idée fixe, Smith was far too subtle a scientist to imagine that he could get away with such a hoax permanently (since any future discovery would destroy him and his thesis forever) and too excellent an anatomist to do such a poor job of forging.

Dodson, to my amazement, even dredges up Butterfield, although my surprise is lessened by Dodson's admission that he hasn't read the accusation itself. The Butterfield story even makes the Sollas case rich by comparison. It is based on nothing more, ironically, than a letter from Teilhard to his parents stating that Butterfield was angry with Dawson for not donating some fossil specimens to his local museum.

Anyone with even the slightest peripheral relationship to Piltdown has been accused by someone or other. People half a world away, people who never knew Dawson, people who never visited Piltdown have been implicated. Teilhard has largely escaped public scrutiny (although he provoked a great deal of private suspicion). But Teilhard was at the site continually. He met Dawson three years before Smith Woodward even heard of the finds. Teilhard and Dawson became friends and prospected together extensively. Why not look close to home, when such a good case is at hand.

In short, none of the three commentators has raised a single substantive point against my thesis. To my knowledge, only one substantive claim has been advanced by anyone, either in public or in private. One of Teilhard's biographers, Mary Lukas, has charged that Oakley and I and all who ever read the Oakley letters have uniformly misinterpreted them. She claims that Teilhard was referring, not to the second Piltdown site–the one Dawson uncovered in 1915–but to a second pit at the first site. But this cannot be because each of three times that Teilhard mentions this second find, he refers to it explicitly as the place "where the two small fragments of skull and the isolated molar were supposedly found in the rubble." Only one place yielded two skull fragments and a molar: the second site, "discovered" by Dawson in 1915.

One final comment, almost as a point of personal privilege: Both Washburn and von Koenigswald (and others in private) have accused me of a particularly distasteful form of nastiness in attempting to tarnish the reputation of a man no longer able to defend himself. Washburn talks of the "reputation of a person long dead who cannot set the record straight." Von Koenigswald, in his covering letter, speaks of my "cheap insult of a dead hero who cannot defend himself." Now, had I suspected Teilhard when he still lived and purposely kept silent awaiting his death, the charges would be well founded. But I was thirteen years old when Teilhard died, and I had never heard of him. The subject of history might as well fold up its tent if it must follow the old motto for eulogies–de mortuis nihil nisi bonum ("say only good of the dead"). Most people who ever lived are dead.

The operative sentence of my original article follows, and I see no reason to alter it: "My case is, to be sure, circumstantial (as is the case against Dawson or anyone else), but I believe that the burden of proof must now rest with those who would hold Father Teilhard blameless."


[227[ A Reply to Critics

Hen's Teeth and Horses' Toes

I can't feign either sad scholarly surprise or the wounded indignation of a friendly critic branded as a dishonest miscreant. 1 knew what would happen when I published the preceding essay. 1 have not been so certain of swift retribution since 1 hit that glorious game-winning triple one sunny afternoon in 1950 (on my stickball court, home runs cleared the opposite building, but triples went through the third story windows). If hell has no greater fury than a woman scorned, then true believers know no greater disillusion than a God humanized. Teilhard was an international cult figure during the late 1950s and 1960s. His star burns less brightly today, fickleness being the norm in matters of fashion, but a core of devotees still waves his banner and stands ready to crush underfoot any suggestion that Tellhard's behavior may have been less worthy (or more human) than the most rarefied notion of ethereal saintliness. Nothing 1 say will call off their dogs of war, but may 1 reiterate for others more disposed to listen: honest to God, 1 am not out to destroy Teilhard. 1 think that he was a complex and fascinating man–far more inspiring as a real human than as the piece of celestial cardboard touted by his devotees. Also, though it is obviously not for me to say, I really do forgive him if he did what 1 suspect.

He was young; he did not act for profit, either monetary or personal; he suffered; he maintained steadfast and admirable loyalty to all involved; he made no excuses.

[228] Having thus unburdened, I shall proceed, in formulating this reply, to ignore most of the personal and vituperative commentary directed at me. I shall also withhold comment upon the larger volume of supportive and friendly letters except to say, "Thanks so much for understanding what I tried to do."

The serious negative commentary came in two waves. For six to nine months after my article appeared in August 1980, 1 received replies that provided no new information, but gave different interpretations (upholding Teilhard's innocence) to the same data 1 presented–usually with arguments that I had anticipated and (at least to my own satisfaction) countered in the original article. The three most interesting pieces in this mode–by Professors Dodson, Washburn, and von Koenigswald–were published along with my response in Natural History for June 1981. 1 have not reprinted them here, both because I do not wish to burden this volume with too much of my own private passion in this matter, and because I do not feel that either the comments or my response added anything substantive to the debate. But people with a special interest in the subject, particularly those who do not share my opinion, should consult this exchange and not take my word for it.

In the second wave, rebuttals based on new information finally began to appear. I shall discuss here every substantive point that has come to my attention. I believe that the intense scrutiny devoted to my case has so far failed to weaken it–though readers must judge for themselves whether this claim merely reflects my own blind egoism, or a judicious account of the situation.


As one of my two strong points, I argued that Teilhard made a crucial slip in dates when he claimed that Dawson had pointed to the site where he had already discovered the remains of Piltdown 2. But, in the "official" chronology, this [229] second find occurred in 1915, while Teilhard was mustered into the French army in 1914 and never saw Dawson again. I discussed three "innocent" interpretations of this slip in my original article, and gave my reasons for preferring a fourth reading–that Teilhard knew about Piltdown 2 because he had either planned or discussed this future episode with Dawson before he left.

Mary Lukas, a biographer of Teilhard and my most persistent critic, offered a first substantive rebuttal in immediate reaction to my article. She charged that Kenneth Oakley and I and all who ever read the Oakley letters had uniformly misinterpreted them. She claimed that Teilhard was referring not to the second Piltdown site–the one that supposedly yielded fossils in 1915–-but to a second pit at the first site (which could have been excavated by 1913). But this cannot be because each of three times that Teilhard mentions this second find, he refers to it explicitly as the place "where the two small fragments of skull and the isolated molar were supposedly found in the rubble." Only one place yielded two skull fragments and a molar: the second site, "discovered" by Dawson in 1915. Since Lukas has since written several pieces attacking my hypothesis, but has never raised this charge again, 1 assume that she now recognizes its invalidity.

Ms. Lukas's major article appeared in the Jesuit journal, America, for May 23, 1981. It is primarily a detailed–and quite correct–argument for a different substantive point. In short, she spends most of her article demonstrating that Dawson probably took Teilhard to the site of Piltdown 2 in 1913. She characterizes my case in the following words:

Since in his letter to Oakley Teilhard seemed to demonstrate that he had prior knowledge of Dawson's plans by admitting he had seen the second Piltdown site before anyone else claimed to have seen it, Teilhard, Mr. Gould continued, must have been guilty with Dawson at Piltdown.

[230] Having thus portrayed my case, and then demonstrating that Dawson did show the second site to Teilhard, Lukas concludes her rebuttal:

Teilhard could well have seen Site 2, the plough field of Sheffield Park, just at the time he would later tell Oakley he thought he had: in the summer of 1913.

I trust that careful readers of the original essay will realize that Lukas completely misrepresents me, and that 1 have never doubted that Dawson showed Teilhard the site of Piltdown 2 in 1913. I said so explicitly in my original article: "Teilhard did visit the second site with Dawson in 1913, but they did not find anything. Dawson 'discovered' the skull bones at Piltdown 2 in January 1915, and the tooth not until July 1915."

It is a clear matter of public record that Dawson showed the second site to several people before 1915, not only to Teilhard in 1913, but also to Smith Woodward several times in 1914 (as also mentioned in my article). But these trips led to no fossil discoveries. The bones of Piltdown 2 were "officially" unearthed in 1915, after Teilhard left England to join the French army. Yet Teilhard claimed knowledge of the finds before his departure. Lukas has spent a great deal of effort demonstrating something that everyone knows and admits–and that has no relevance to the case.

If these two claims worried me not at all, a third raised in April 1981 initially seemed far more serious. Indeed, I was quite willing to recant this part of my argument (and thus seriously compromise the entire case), if the claim could be substantiated as made. In short, Dr. J. S. Weiner, one of the original Piltdown debunkers and author of a fine book setting out the case for Dawson's complicity (The Piltdown Forgery, Oxford University Press, 1955), presented a lecture at Georgetown University as part of a celebration for the centenary of Teilhard's birth. He brought with him a previously unpublished letter from Dawson to Smith Woodward dated July 3, 1913. Reports of the lecture (I was not invited and did not attend) held that the letter spoke of [231] fossil finds–not merely fruitless visits–at the second site in 1913. In fact, the 1913 letter supposedly reported the discovery of a skull fragment that later became part of the Piltdown 2 material. Now, if Dawson actually "found" material at Piltdown 2 in 1913, he might well have mentioned it to Teilhard (why not, since he had already written to Smith Woodward), and my case would evaporate. (1 could not, after all, charge Teilhard for his claim that he had seen all three items of Piltdown 2, when Dawson had told him of the skull fragment alone. A clear memory of some fossil material from Piltdown 2 could easily be conflated, forty years later, with the entire later find.)

Thus, I approached the archives of the British Museum (where the original letter resides) in February 1982 with a strong sense of trepidation and humility. But I soon found that the July 3 letter does not speak about the material of Piltdown 2 at all; the smoking gun turned out to be a red herring. The letter reads:

My dear Woodward

I have picked up the frontal part of a human skull this evening on a

plough field covered with flint gravel. It is a new place, a long way

from Piltdown, and the gravel lies 50 feet below level of Piltdown, and about 40 to 50 feet above the present river base. It is not a thick skull but it may be a descendant of Eoanthropus. The brow ridge is slight at the edge, but full and prominent over the nose. It was coming on dark and raining when 1 left the place but 1 have marked the spot. . . . [Dawson's italics]

Now the material of Piltdown 2 does include two fragments of skull, one a frontal-and one is considerably thinner than the distinctive and remarkably thickened skull pieces of Piltdown 1. But the thin fragment of Piltdown 2 is an occipital, not a frontal (that is, a piece of the back, not the front, of the skull). (It is also cleverly cut to imitate the thinnest portion of the Piltdown 1 skull, and therefore not to arouse suspicion for its differences.) The frontal frag[232]ment of Piltdown 2 is as thick as the skull material from Piltdown 1–indeed (in retrospect) it is part of the same skull used to construct the original forgery. Thus, the thin frontal fragment described by Dawson in 1913 is not part of the Piltdown 2 material. In fact, Dawson himself recognized the differences in his 1913 letter and speculated that the thin frontal fragment might be a "descendant of Eoanthropus " (Eoanthropus was the official taxonomic designation of Piltdown man).

This resolution pleased me because the tale of the 1913 letter never made much sense. If Dawson had actually found a skull piece of Piltdown 2 in 1913, then why did he re-report it in his first explicit letter about Piltdown 2 on January 9, 1915? I recognize, of course, that this resolution leaves us with another interesting mystery–namely, what ever happened to the thin frontal fragment described in the 1913 letter? For it is never mentioned again so far as 1 know, and it forms no part of the Piltdown lode. I have no idea, and know no source of potential evidence. I would conjecture, however, that Dawson showed it to Smith Woodward, and that they judged it to be just what Dawson had suggested–a descendant of Piltdown, in fact a fragment from a modern skull–and therefore paid no further attention to it. Perhaps, for once, Smith Woodward didn't fall, and Dawson chose not to press his luck.

I do, of course, recognize that one could still construct, from the 1913 letter correctly interpreted, a scenario for Teilhard's exoneration: Dawson told Teilhard about the 1913 fragment; Teilhard knew at the time that it had nothing to do with a second site coeval with Piltdown 1; he also knew that it did not come from the site of Piltdown 2 that he had visited with Dawson in 1913; he forgot all this later, remembered that something else had been found somewhere in 1913, and confused this information with the later find of Piltdown 2. But this degree of special pleading makes a weak and conjectural case. It is surely no stronger than the simpler and related claim that I discussed and rejected in the original article–that Teilhard saw only the [233] site of Piltdown 2, but misremembered forty years later and thought that Dawson had told him about the fossils as well.


Under the classical rubric of "opportunity," several critics familiar with Jesuit life have charged that Teilhard was so restricted by the rules of his seminary that he could not have spent sufficient private time with Dawson to hatch and execute such a plot.

Karl Schmitz-Moorman, editor of the excellent facsimile edition of Teilhard's technical works, raised two arguments on this theme (Teilhard Newsletter, vol. 14, July, 1981; Ms. Lukas reiterates them in a related article in the same issue, as did Thomas M. King, S.J. of Georgetown University in a private communication to me). First, Schmitz-Moorman argues, strict Jesuit rules kept Teilhard virtually confined to quarters or chaperoned by other Jesuits when outside–in other words, no opportunity for private plotting:

Teilhard was always under supervision when he was working in the field during the seminary years. The same was true for his life inside the seminary. Doors could be opened at any time and superiors could step in to see how the students were getting on. Rules were very strict. [p. 31]

Second, Schmitz-Moorman reminds us that Teilhard was not a frequent visitor to the actual site of Piltdown 1: "When Teilhard left England in the summer of 1912 to begin his studies in Paris, he had been only once to Piltdown" (p. 3). He also excavated there with Dawson and Smith Woodward twice during August, 1913. Ore Place, Teilhard's seminary, was located some forty miles from Piltdown 1.

I must reject the premise of the second argument and the claim of the first. "In order to have taken part in the Piltdown hoax," Schmitz-Moorman argues, "Teilhard would have had to make many visits to Uckfield in East Sussex- (p. [234] 3)–the site of Piltdown 1. But why? Must all conspirators pull the trigger itself I have never charged Teilhard with putting the actual bits in the ground; I have always assumed that Dawson played this role. There were so many other things to do–getting, breaking, and doctoring specimens just for starters.,

Schmitz-Moorman's first argument reminds me of Casey Stengel's immortal distinction between general categories and specific cases. (When asked why he blew the Mets's first draft choice on a particularly inept catcher, Stengel remarked: "If you don't have a catcher, you're likely to have a lot of passed balls.") Same problem (in reverse) with Schmitz-Moorman. I do not doubt his generality about life in Jesuit seminaries. But the specific record for Ore Place indicates that Teilhard had more than enough freedom to work with Dawson. First of all, his own letters (see bibliography) speak of a frequency and range of excursions far in excess of what the general rules would allow. Second, the standard biography of Teilhard (Teilhard de Chardin by Claude Cuénot, p. 12) states:

Thanks to the liberal attitude of the Rector at Hastings, Teilhard was allowed to go more frequently on scientific walks and excursions, finding specimens to offer to the British Museum or the Museum at Hastings. He had now advanced beyond the amateur class, and was manifesting a clear bent towards the paleontology of the vertebrates.


Peter Costello, an independent researcher in Dublin and author of a forthcoming book about Piltdown, found previously unpublished letters from Teilhard to Dawson in the archives of the British Museum (Natural History). Costello (1981, see bibliography) published one of the letters, suggesting that its tone provided a refutation of my hypothesis. [235] I quote the entire letter and Costello's interpretation. Teilhard wrote to Dawson on July 10, 1912:

Dear Mr. Dawson,

I am sorry to tell you that it is impossible for me to go to Lewes, next week, because 1 have to start from Hastings on Tuesday! I hope, nevertheless, that we will again dig together the Uckfield's gravel: next year, 1 am likely to study Natural History in France, and to spend my holidays in England. If so, 1 will surely do my best to see you. Until 1 give you my definitive address, you can write to me at: 'Château de Sarcenat, par Oreines, Puy-de-Dôme.'

I am very thankful to you for your kindness towards me during this last four years. Lewes will certainly be one of my best remembrances of England, and you may be sure that 1 shall often pray God to bless the Castle Lodge [Dawson's residence].

Yours sincerely,

P. Teilhard

Costello concludes (1981, pp. 58-59):

I suggest that this farewell letter, so touching in its expression of thanks, demonstrates (as do the others in the series), that the relationship between Dawson and Teilhard was one of mentor and pupil and that no conspiracy existed between them.

I do not see how this letter speaks either for or against my case. If one has been seeing too many old-style gangster movies and develops a peculiarly cardboard view of conspiracies, then 1 suppose that each participant might have to be slimy, unregenerate, utterly unkind, and devoid of any admirable quality. But 1 rather suspect that conspirators are not so far from a cross section among all of us. I do not see why they should not show loyalty to each other, pay thanks [236] for kindnesses rendered, and even show deference to large differences in age and experience. Must conspirators be equals? Have no "mentor and pupil" ever plotted together? Shall we exonerate Teilhard because he and Dawson weren't on a first-name basis in formal, just post-Edwardian England? The letter is touching and it does reflect Teilhard in an admirable light. People are complex, with faults and virtues aplenty. I have always argued that Teilhard's virtues outweighed the major fault I have tried to identify.

Costello implies (in the statement quoted above) that his evidence is multiple and that "others in the series" confirm the tone of his quoted letter. Perhaps 1 did not search assiduously enough in the British Museum archives, but 1 could find only one other letter from Teilhard to Dawson, a short and uninformative piece of June 21, 1912, simply telling Dawson of his imminent departure and urging a visit to select fossils from Teilhard's collection for the British Museum. In other words, 1 think that Costello has quoted everything he has.

But 1 also made some discoveries of my own about the relationship between Dawson and Teilhard as reflected in letters of the British Museum archives. If the archives contain a paucity of Teilhard's letters, they are rich in Dawson's – and these letters belie Costello's chief claim that Dawson and Teilhard had only a passing and formal acquaintance. The high density of references to Teilhard in Dawson's letters (mostly to Smith Woodward) points both to a strong relationship between the two men and, especially, to a particular solicitude on Dawson's part towards Teilhard.

Consider, for example, a series of letters from Dawson to Smith Woodward in 1915, after Teilhard had left for the front. On March 9, Dawson writes: "I enclose a P.C. from Teilhard at the French front. He, no doubt, would be glad of any little bits of literature which you can send him." On April 3, he states: "Teilhard has now been moved to near the back of the English line in Flanders. He says he is all right 'body and mind'." And on July 3, in the same letter that reported the "discovery" of the Piltdown 2 molar, Dawson announced: "Teilhard wrote yesterday–he is quite well [237] and in a quiet spot at present." (Unfortunately, no one has uncovered any of this correspondence between Dawson and Teilhard. I, for one, would dearly love to know what it contained). I submit that this degree of contact indicates a level of friendship and mutual concern far greater than that allowed by my critics. Limited contact is as crucial to their case as this demonstrated bond is to mine.

The prewar correspondence of Dawson and Smith Woodward shows a similar pattern. Six letters between October 1909 and October 1911 mention Teilhard and his work in collecting fossils. The pace picks up following Dawson's first notice of the Piltdown skull to Smith Woodward on February 14, 1912. Six more letters mention Teilhard between then and November 21, 1912.

I believe, on this point and others, that all my critics have used a peculiar style of argument amounting to an a priori refusal to consider my case seriously–that is, Costello, Lukas, and Schmitz-Moorman all argue that I must be wrong because the written record provides no direct evidence for conspiracy. Costello wrote to me (September 4, 1981): "Nowhere can one read anything that suggests they were plotting together." Lukas writes (1981 in bibliography, p. 426): "According to his letters, both published and unpublished, to family and friends, Teilhard's relationship to Dawson was anything but close." And further on: "Before the Piltdown adventure began Teilhard and Dawson seem to have met only four times."

But surely, if any principle regulates conspiracy, we may state that plotters do not generally write extensive, contemporary accounts of their deeds (later confessions for profit or expiation notwithstanding). If Teilhard and Dawson were plotting, their machinations would certainly not have appeared in letters to parents and friends, or in preserved letters to each other. To identify conspiracy, one must search for implicit pattern behind the stated record, not for explicit contemporary confessions.

Thus, in conclusion, I believe that no strong arguments have been raised against my case and that, in one area, I have bolstered my account by recognizing the extent of [238] Dawson's concern for Teilhard as expressed in his letters to Smith Woodward. Moreover, for all the criticism of my first strong point (the letters to Oakley), my detractors have been conspicuously silent about my second strong argument (Teilhard's pattern of silence concerning Piltdown in his extensive publications on human evolution). The more 1 think about this, the more it becomes, in Alice's immortal words, "curiouser and curiouser."

Since writing the original article, another small point, making Teilhard's silence even more puzzling, has come to my attention. When Peking man was discovered, its cranium was reconstructed incorrectly to yield a capacity lying, like Piltdown's, in the modern human range. This unleashed a flurry of commentary about the relationship between Piltdown and Peking. Now Teilhard was in China where he was contributing (as a geologist) to the original Peking finds. He was the only one there with personal knowledge of Piltdown. Yet, so far as 1 can tell, he said nothing at all. His own mentor, Marcellin Boule, published a paper comparing the Peking and Piltdown crania. It included long quotations from Teilhard about the geology of the Peking site, but not a word from him about the crania.

Again I repeat, if Teilhard considered the Piltdown material to be genuine, the skull 1 provided his strongest direct evidence for the postulate that he held most dear and that motivated all his work on man's spiritual evolution–multiple parallel lineages ascending toward the domination of spirit over matter. And he never mentioned Piltdown beyond a half-dozen quick, unavoidable, and almost embarrassed references. Why?

Lest readers think that all speculation on Piltdown has gone against Tellhard's involvement of late, I add that Dr. L. Harrison Matthews, one of the grand old men of British zoology (see essay 11) and a personal acquaintance of nearly [239]

everyone involved in the original case, has published his novel-length reconstruction in the New Scientist (see bibliography). He sees the necessity of Teilhard's involvement, but develops a highly complicated scenario in which Dawson begins the hoax alone, Teilhard then recognizes what Dawson is doing and, to let Dawson know and warn him off any future hoaxing, Teilhard manufactures, plants, and finds the canine himself. The war then intervenes, Dawson dies, and Teilhard is backed into a corner of silence. I welcome this basic insight that Teilhard cannot be excluded, but regard his case as too complex in that most difficult of ways–to be right, each of two dozen unsubstantiated events must break exactly in Harrison Matthews's' way. I continue to urge the simpler view–that Teilhard worked with Dawson at least from 1912 until he left for the front.

In his last public comment on Piltdown, Kenneth Oakley, who died on November 2, 1981, wrote a letter to the New Scientist (published posthumously on November 12, 1981) stating his disagreement with Harrison Matthews. I do not know what opinion he held of my case at the time of his death. After my original article, he wrote, by invitation, a letter to The Times (London) stating that, in the absence of definite proof, Teilhard should be given the benefit of the doubt. (Were I a judge, and this a legal proceeding with standards so necessarily different from historical inquiry, I would have to concur. Of my original article, one close friend remarked that I had established the grounds for an indictment, but not for a conviction.) I have also seen statements from a private letter in which Oakley, arguing from the 1913 letter of Dawson to Smith Woodward, rejects my first claim based on the letters between Teilhard and Oakley, but explicitly does not state a belief in Teilhard's innocence. (I have already indicated why I think the 1913 letter is irrelevant to my case.) It is a matter of record among several of Oakley's close friends that he long maintained private suspicions of Teilhard's active involvement in at least some aspect of the case.

I bring this up because some critics have charged me with dishonesty in imputing a more favorable view to Oakley [240] than he actually held. 1 can only state that I sent a copy of the original article to Oakley before it was published, asking directly if I had represented him accurately and if he approved my attribution. He wrote to me (on June 6, 1980): "I read straight through your paper without finding anything (of any importance) which I would wish you to alter."

As a final comment, I must express mixed feelings two years after the original article. I am delighted to find my hypothesis strong and undiminished (admittedly in my biassed view) by a series of searching and intensely negative commentaries. On the other hand, I confess that I held secret hopes, nurtured perhaps by my own overly heroic view of life. I hoped that( some old man would come down off a mountain or out of a monastery bearing a yellowed document of confession from Teilhard. Or that some trusted friend would open a bank vault and make public the "letter to be read either at the 100th anniversary of my death or when someone figures out my involvement in Piltdown." Nothing like this has happened. No good arguments have been raised against me, but I must admit that nothing of great consequence has turned up in my favor either. I began the first essay that I wrote on Piltdown (reprinted in The Panda's Thumb ) before I was much interested in Teilhard's role, with the words: "Nothing is quite so fascinating as a well-aged mystery." And so Piltdown remains, though I might add that nothing would be quite so satisfying as a definitive resolution.


1 Even if he decided that the jaw belonged to an ape and had been mixed by accident into the two Piltdown sites, the skull remained a genuine human fossil–thick and therefore "primitive," but of modern human capacity. This is the dual solution that he favored in his 1920 article.


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Defending DAWSON