Old bones crack riddle of Piltdown Man
Michael Hornsy and Tim Jones
London Times 23 May 1996
TELL-TALE initials on an old canvas travelling trunk found under the roof of
the Natural History Museum could finally have solved the riddle of Piltdown
Man, the most notorious scientific fraud of the century.
A collection of carved and stained old bones inside the trunk is said to prove
beyond doubt the identity of the perpetrator of the hoax.
Brian Gardiner, Professor of Palaeontology at King's College, London, today
names him as Martin Alistair Campbell Hinton, a former curator of zoology at
the Natural History Museum in London, who died in 1961.
His evidence, which he will set out tomorrow in his presidential address to the
Linnean Society, is based on years studying and analysing the contents of the
trunk, which bears Hinton's initials.
Professor Gardiner said yesterday: "I first learnt of the trunk's existence in
1988. I was already almost sure that Hinton was the perpetrator. Lengthy
examination of the contents has now confirmed my suspicions."
The trunk was discovered by maintenance contractors clearing the loft space in
the south-west tower of the museum in the 1970s. It came to the attention of
Andrew Currant, a researcher at the museum, who mentioned its existence to
Professor Gardiner. Crucially, the two men discovered that the rodent
dissections, pieces of fossil hippopotamus and elephant teeth and other bones in
the trunk were stained with iron and manganese in the same proportions as the
Piltdown specimens. Traces of chromium also found in both are likewise
thought to have been used in the staining process.
Discovery of the skull in 1912 at a gravel pit at Piltdown in Sussex caused a
sensation as it appeared to provide proof of the "missing link" between man and
ape and neatly tied in with prevailing views of human ancestry. But scientific
tests in the 1950s proved that the skull came from a modern human being and
the jaw from an orang-utan, while other artefacts at the site were all shown to
be of recent date.
For years the prime suspect was Charles Dawson, a lawyer, antiquary and
second-rate geologist who had unearthed the find and who had long yearned for
Many others have fallen under suspicion, including Sir Arthur Keith, a former
president of the Royal College of Surgeons, William Sollas, a former Professor
of Palaeontology at Oxford, Teilhard de Chardin, the palaeontologist priest,
and even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Professor Gardiner's findings are reported in today's issue of the scientific
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