"The Prime Suspect"
The Piltdown Confession 1994
[ v] On a cold December day in 1908, in a village unknown outside the rural confines of Sussex in southern England, the first in a series of archeological discoveries destined to rock the foundation of science's understanding of human origins was made. The discoveries simultaneously threatened the Judeo-Christian Adam-and-Eve creation paradigm, which only fifty years earlier had been menaced by the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The removal of a small number of bone fragments and artifacts from gravel pits near the obscure hamlet of Piltdown would foment a struggle for existence for both the religious and scientific communities. It would set priest against minister against pastor, and geologist against anatomist against anthropologist. It would ignite a war- of words and more-between men of the cloth and those of the spade. The thrusts and parries would last half a century, during which time the party or parties responsible for firing the first shot would remain unidentified.
[vi] It was not until 1953 that the fraudulent nature of Piltdown Man was finally confirmed. The cranial and mandibular remains were determined to have come from two quite different creatures. In addition to finding by fluorine dating that the two parts of the head were of different age, it was demonstrated that the cranium belonged to a relatively recent human being and the jaw was an orangutan's.
The identity of the perpetrators of the Piltdown hoax- a fraud which fooled some of the best scientists for almost half a century-remained unknown. Several very informed students of the incident have proposed candidates selected from a broad lineup of suspects. All of the accusatory evidence was circumstantial, however, and none could be made to stick. Until now.
We can at long last unambiguously and without equivocation specify the perpetrators of what turned out to be the grandest of illusions in the history of science. There were three co-conspirators, one of whom-the author of this memoir-died in 1916. At his request, the manuscript (which was written in the year he died) was to be maintained in safekeeping until 2008, the centennial anniversary of the clandestine deposit of a human parietal bone fragment. I obtained the original autograph (with the permission of the author's estate) and publish it now in its entirely, accompanied by annotations. The account weaves a tale threaded by intrigue and deception, scientific brilliance and Christian dogma, personal pride and professional passion, and murder.