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British mystery! Who was responsible for forging Piltdown Man?

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In “Piltdown Man: British archaeology’s greatest hoax”(The Guardian Observer February 5 2012), Robin McKie reports on a serious attempt, on the fraud’s centenary, to find out who perpetrated it.

The British have always done mysteries best, and there is no shortage of famous suspects: Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle figures, as does Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit paleontologist (and you know what they say about Jesuits …. ) Today’s high-tech methods, applied to the artifacts, may shed a bit of light.

No, sorry. This is not a film. Not yet. But imagine the possibilities …

The news of the Piltdown find, first released in late 1912, caused a sensation. The first Englishman had been uncovered and not only was he brainy, he was sporty. A sculpted elephant bone, found near the skull pieces and interpreted by scientists as being a ceremonial artefact, was jokingly claimed by many commentators to be an early cricket bat. The first Englishman with his own cricket bat ? if nothing else it was one in the eye for French and German archaeologists whose discoveries of Cro-Magnons, Neanderthals and other early humans had been making headlines for several decades. Now England had a real fossil rival.

Trouble was, Piltdown Man didn’t make any sense in relation to other discoveries, and it seems that no one had done a systematic third-party investigation. Finally,

… the Piltdown Man began to look so out of kilter with other fossil discoveries that a team led by geologist Kenneth Oakley, anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark and anthropologist Joseph Weiner took a closer look and in 1953 announced that Piltdown’s big braincase belonged to a modern human being while the jawbone came from an orangutan or chimpanzee. Each piece had been stained to look as if they were from the same skull while the teeth had been flattened with a metal file and the “cricket bat” carved with a knife.

You know how they say “Science is self-correcting?” This “cheap fraud” took forty years to be detected.

McKie tells us that over thirty people have been accused of perpetrating the hoax. Meanwhile, it became a cult:

By 1915, Dawson’s dawn-man [Piltdown Man] had become established scientific fact. The painting, Discussion of the Piltdown Skull, by John Cooke, presents its discoverers in an almost holy atmosphere. Keith is seated while Smith Woodward stands behind him in front of table with pieces of skull on it. Also standing, with a picture of Charles Darwin behind him, is the benign figure of Charles Dawson. “The way the painting is structured suggests Darwin is passing on his mantle to Dawson,” says Russell. “The former had the theory, the latter had provided it, it is being suggested.”

We want a film. We practically demand one.

McKie thinks that the reason the British paleontologists fell for it was in part that they were lean on finds, relative to Europe:

Hence English researchers’ willingness to accept the Piltdown finds. They may have been crudely made but the finds gave scientists what they wanted: evidence that England had been an important crucible in the forging of our species. “No one did any scientific tests,” says Russell. “If they had, they would have noticed the chemical staining and filed-down teeth very quickly. This was clearly not a genuine artefact. The scientific establishment accepted it because they wanted it so much.”

But we will spoil no more for you.

Except this: We think that the film should at one point show all those characters together, exactly like the portrait …

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

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16 Replies to “British mystery! Who was responsible for forging Piltdown Man?

  1. 1
    Bullwinkle says:

    Trouble was, Piltdown Man didn’t make any sense in relation to other discoveries…

    Were Plltdown Man a real specimen, he would ultimately have presented a serious challenge for the contemporary picture of human evolution.

    Conversely, a genuine Piltdown wouldn’t have presented a problem at all for the view that Piltdown, along with other hominid and protohuman species, was designed by an intelligent agent unconstrained by descent with modification.

    Which prompts me to wonder, would advocates of intelligent design have had any basis on which to reject Piltdown given his incongruous combination of features? That is, does ID theory make any predictions that would be disconfirmed by a genuine Piltdown Man?

    Perhaps the 1953 debunking of Piltdown was actually the hoax, perpetrated to protect Darwinist orthodoxy from a very uncomfortable specimen.

  2. 2
    DrREC says:

    In the scientific literature, Piltdown is immediately challenged. If we went by the publication record, the refutations of Piltdown score big, while Piltdown itself fizzles. It is an interesting mix of national pride, the media, and scientific fraud and mistakes that kept it going.

    The Piltdown Mandible
    DAVID WATERSTON
    Nature 92, 319 (13 November 1913

    ” I have also superimposed tracings of the last reconstruction of the Piltdown mandible and of the jaw of a young chimpanzee ….

    The cranial fragments of the Piltdown skull, on the other hand, are in practically all their details esentially human. If that be so it seems to me to be as inconsquent to refer the mandible and the cranium to the same individual as it would be to articulate a chimpanzee foot with the bones of an essentially human thigh and leg.”

    French and American paleontologists publish the same.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    of note: Though the persistent practice of deception for human evolution by neo-Darwinists to the public has certainly gotten more sophisticated over the years:

    Icon Of Evolution – Ape To Man – The Ultimate Deception – video
    http://vimeo.com/19080087

    The fact of the matter is, from the best evidence we have, that man, just as all other species, is actually slowly ‘devolving’ instead of evolving into any sort of ‘super-human’ (sorry for all you neo-NAZI fans):

    Genetic Entropy – Dr. John Sanford – Evolution vs. Reality – video
    http://vimeo.com/35088933

  4. 4
    bevets says:

    Between the years 1912 and 1914 Mr. Charles Dawson found in a stratum of gravel at Piltdown Sussex, fragments of a fossilized skull and jaw which were reconstructed by Sir Arthur Smith Woodward as Eoanthropus, the famed man of Piltdown. Some scholars refused to believe at first that a skull so human could be associated with a jaw so apelike, but present-day consensus is that the fragments actually belonged to one individual. Most anthropologists—notably excepting Sir Arthur Keith—hold that the Piltdown man, like the Pekin man and the Java apeman, were offshoot types which died out and were not on the ancestral line of Homo sapiens. Nevertheless Piltdown appeared to be the oldest near-human inhabitant of England to come to light, and his age was variously estimated at 100,000 to 300,000 years. ~ Time October 12 1936 p.42

  5. 5
    Petrushka says:

    Time Magazine is certainly the trusted authority on this.

  6. 6
    bevets says:

    Do you have any published examples before 1945 that state scientific consensus rejects piltdown?

  7. 7
    DrREC says:

    I’ll look to the scientific literature for consensus. If “News” here proclaims a consensus, is it true?

    Journalism has a limited utility. Considering how it was the property of the Rockefellers and British aristocracy then, and Disney, GE and Rupert Murdoch now, I’d exercise caution.

  8. 8
    bevets says:

    I agree: The public should exercise caution anytime some rag like the New York Times runs a headline like ‘Darwin Theory Proved True‘.

    btw Did the New York Times ever issue a retraction stating ‘Darwin Theory Proved False’?

  9. 9
    DrREC says:

    “Did the New York Times ever issue a retraction stating ‘Darwin Theory Proved False’?”

    Piltdown doesnt falsify evolution, just reinforces the follies of individuals seeking fame.

    I suppose the NYT should, if ever given cause….

  10. 10
    Petrushka says:

    The Pilltdown fossils, including a portion of the skull, a jawbone, and a few teeth, were found in 1911 and 1912. This “Piltdown Man” was believed by many to be “the earliest Englishman,” and in fact, the missing link between apes and humans. But in 1953, the jawbone was found to be that of a modern ape — orangutan, most likely — that had been treated with chemicals to make it look as though it had been lying in the ground for hundreds of centuries. The cap of the skull was still thought to be a genuine fossil, but far more recent than originally believed.

    From the 1953 expose.

    I’d say 1953 minus 20 years counts. Part of the problem was getting access to the material. I’m posting on a tablet, and can’t easily correct the formatting.
    “This declaration . . . has been made after twenty years of rumors and uneasy speculation among European paleontologists about the authenticity of the bones,” the New York Times stated. The London Star headlines shouted, “The Biggest Scientific Hoax of the Century!”

  11. 11
    bevets says:

    Are you equating ‘rumors’ with ‘consensus’?

    While some paleontologists have long regarded the Piltdown Man as a fraud, a majority of both British and American scientists are reported to have accepted the strange combination of a human head with an ape-like jaw as a sort of “missing link” between man and the anthropoids… If it takes science more than 40 years to discover and acknowledge that, as the Associated Press put it, the Piltdown Man has been making monkeys our of anthropologists with the jawbone of an ape, the scientific method must still be considerably short of perfection. ~ The Washington Post (November 23 1953)

  12. 12
    bevets says:

    So ‘proving Darwin’ is a one way street?

  13. 13
    goodusername says:

    Some paleontologists saw Piltdown man as a fake, but many saw it as at least a great mistake (Marcellin Boule, Franz Weidenreich). (You can pretty much guess if a paleontologist was pro or against Piltdown by their nationality; if they’re British or perhaps American they were probably pro, if not probably against.)

    And even the British paleontologists were beginning to see Piltdown as irrelevant as a picture of human evolution was developing by the fossils being found in Asia and Africa:
    “I remember writing a paper on human evolution in 1944, and I simply left Piltdown out. You could make sense of human evolution if you didn’t try to put Piltdown into it.” -Sherwood Washburn

    The quote at the top of the link you gave has “I am firmly convinced that no theory of human evolution can be regarded as satisfactory unless the revelations of Piltdown are taken into account. ~ Arthur Keith” – that was from Keith’s “The First Englishman” and was a sigh of desperation because the Piltdown finds were so often being ignored or rejected.

    I found this interesting document from 1925, giving a Creationist’s view from that time: http://www.ldolphin.org/wmwilliams.html
    “The Piltdown man, alias the Piltdown fake, fabricated out of a few bones of a man and a few of an ape. It is rejected as a fabrication even by many evolutionists.”

    Interesting that the Creationist sources prior to 1950 say that even evolutionists doubt the authenticity of Piltdown man, but after 1950 usually say that everyone was fooled by it. 🙂

    Piltdown man had long been the most baffling, controversial, contradictory, head-scratch-inducing hominid. When fluoride dating became available, there was a reason that the Piltdown remains were the obvious choice to be the first fossils tested, and of course it showed that they weren’t what its supporters claimed them to be (to the relief of most of the paleontological world).

    If you see someone with pieces of a puzzle and attempting to put together a picture, and you have doubts that there is actually a real objective picture, how might you test if there is something objective going on? One way might be to toss in a fake puzzle piece. If the person fits it into the picture as smoothly as any other piece, that would show that the picture being put together is utterly subjective. OTOH, if it stands out as especially baffling and never finds a place to fit it and gets knocked aside as the other pieces begin fitting together, that would be evidence that there really is an objective picture.

    This is exactly what happened with Piltdown man. While it certainly embarrassing how long it took to discover the forgery – at the same time it displays that the other fossils are displaying something real to us.

    I agree with News on this point: I want a movie.

  14. 14
    bevets says:

    Sure there were a few cranks (e.g. Creationists) but they could be safely ignored — the consensus supported the authenticity of Piltdown.

    Yet in spite of all this, nearly 1,000,000 persons annually pass through the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and view the “reconstruction” according to the artist’s fancy, of the pithecanthropus, the Heidelberg man, the Piltdown man, and the Neanderthal man, the “ancestors of the human race,” and the multitude of high school students and teachers, as well as the general public, are not told how dubious and unscientific the representation is… Text books like Chapin’s Social Evolution are placed in the hands of pupils giving only the arguments in favor, and the student, even if disposed to question this flimsy and unsupported theory, is helpless in the hands of an adroit professor. Dr. Gruenberg’s high school text book teaches that man is descended from the pithecanthropus, the Heidelberg, the Piltdown and the Neanderthal man, without the slightest intimation that such descent is at all disputed or questioned. ~ Rev. William A. Williams

  15. 15
    bornagain77 says:

    The fossil record is certainly not as conducive to evolutionary thought as neo-Darwinists portray it to be to the general public. In fact the purported fossil record of apes to man shows the same pattern of discontinuity (sudden appearance and overall stasis) as the rest of the fossil record does!!! Moreover it is sad testimony to our education system that students are still taught this garbage (that man evolved from apes) in textbooks, unquestionably, without so much as a hint at the enormous gaps that are in the fossil record, nor enormous controversy surrounding it. i.e. It is indoctrination not education!!!:

    “We have all seen the canonical parade of apes, each one becoming more human. We know that, as a depiction of evolution, this line-up is tosh (i.e. nonsense). Yet we cling to it. Ideas of what human evolution ought to have been like still colour our debates.”
    Henry Gee, editor of Nature (478, 6 October 2011, page 34, doi:10.1038/478034a),
    http://crev.info/content/11102.....he_ape_man

    Paleoanthropology
    Excerpt: In regards to the pictures of the supposed ancestors of man featured in science journals and the news media Boyce Rensberger wrote in the journal Science the following regarding their highly speculative nature:
    “Unfortunately, the vast majority of artist’s conceptions are based more on imagination than on evidence. But a handful of expert natural-history artists begin with the fossil bones of a hominid and work from there…. Much of the reconstruction, however, is guesswork. Bones say nothing about the fleshy parts of the nose, lips, or ears. Artists must create something between an ape and a human being; the older the specimen is said to be, the more apelike they make it…. Hairiness is a matter of pure conjecture.”
    http://conservapedia.com/Evolu.....thropology

    When we consider the remote past, before the origin of the actual species Homo sapiens, we are faced with a fragmentary and disconnected fossil record. Despite the excited and optimistic claims that have been made by some paleontologists, no fossil hominid species can be established as our direct ancestor.
    Richard Lewontin – Harvard Zoologist
    http://www.discovery.org/a/9961

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Tattersall, Schwartz, May 2009
    Excerpt: “Definition of the genus Homo is almost as fraught as the definition of Homo sapiens. We look at the evidence for “early Homo,” finding little morphological basis for extending our genus to any of the 2.5–1.6-myr-old fossil forms assigned to “early Homo” or Homo habilis/rudolfensis.”
    http://arjournals.annualreview.....208.100202

    Man is indeed as unique, as different from all other animals, as had been traditionally claimed by theologians and philosophers. Evolutionist Ernst Mayr
    http://www.y-origins.com/index.php?p=home_more4

    “Something extraordinary, if totally fortuitous, happened with the birth of our species….Homo sapiens is as distinctive an entity as exists on the face of the Earth, and should be dignified as such instead of being adulterated with every reasonably large-brained hominid fossil that happened to come along.”
    Anthropologist Ian Tattersall
    (curator at the American Museum of Natural History)

    “But what is the basis for the human evolution thesis put forward by evolutionists? It is the existence of plenty of fossils on which evolutionists are able to build imaginary interpretations. Throughout history, more than 6,000 species of ape have lived, and most of them have become extinct. Today, only 120 species live on the earth. These 6,000 or so species of ape, most of which are extinct, constitute a rich resource for the evolutionists to build imaginary interpretations with.”
    http://www.darwinismrefuted.com/origin_of_man.html

    “Dr. Leakey produced a biased reconstruction (of 1470/ Homo Rudolfensis) based on erroneous preconceived expectations of early human appearance that violated principles of craniofacial development,” Dr. Timothy Bromage
    http://www.geneticarchaeology......lieved.asp

    A 2004 book by leading evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr stated that “The earliest fossils of Homo, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, are separated from Australopithecus (Lucy) by a large, unbridged gap. How can we explain this seeming saltation? Not having any fossils that can serve as missing links, we have to fall back on the time-honored method of historical science, the construction of a historical narrative.”
    Misrepresentations of the Evidence for Human Evolutionary Origins:
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....ml#moreSee More

    Paleoanthropology
    Dr. Pilbeam wrote the following regarding the theory of evolution and paleoanthropology (The study of purported bones and artifacts ‘presupposed to support’ the ‘story’ of humans evolving from apes) :
    “I am also aware of the fact that, at least in my own subject of paleoanthropology, “theory” – heavily influenced by implicit ideas almost always dominates “data”. ….Ideas that are totally unrelated to actual fossils have dominated theory building, which in turn strongly influence the way fossils are interpreted”
    http://conservapedia.com/Evolu.....thropology

    ?”Fossil evidence of human evolutionary history is fragmentary and open to various interpretations. Fossil evidence of chimpanzee evolution is absent altogether”. Evolutionist Henry Gee, Nature 2001
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v412/…n6843/full/412131a0.html

    Etc.. etc.. etc..

    i.e. there is nothing solid in the dogmatically taught area of human evolution that can hold the weight of scrutiny once light is brought to bear on it!!!

  16. 16
    bornagain77 says:

    The fossil record is certainly not as conducive to evolutionary thought as neo-Darwinists portray it to be to the general public. In fact the purported fossil record of apes to man shows the same pattern of discontinuity (sudden appearance and overall stasis) as the rest of the fossil record does!!! Moreover it is sad testimony to our education system that students are still taught this garbage (that man evolved from apes) in textbooks, unquestionably, without so much as a hint at the enormous gaps that are in the fossil record, nor enormous controversy surrounding it. i.e. It is indoctrination not education!!!:

    “We have all seen the canonical parade of apes, each one becoming more human. We know that, as a depiction of evolution, this line-up is tosh (i.e. nonsense). Yet we cling to it. Ideas of what human evolution ought to have been like still colour our debates.”
    Henry Gee, editor of Nature (478, 6 October 2011, page 34, doi:10.1038/478034a),
    http://crev.info/content/11102.....he_ape_man

    Paleoanthropology
    Excerpt: In regards to the pictures of the supposed ancestors of man featured in science journals and the news media Boyce Rensberger wrote in the journal Science the following regarding their highly speculative nature:
    “Unfortunately, the vast majority of artist’s conceptions are based more on imagination than on evidence. But a handful of expert natural-history artists begin with the fossil bones of a hominid and work from there…. Much of the reconstruction, however, is guesswork. Bones say nothing about the fleshy parts of the nose, lips, or ears. Artists must create something between an ape and a human being; the older the specimen is said to be, the more apelike they make it…. Hairiness is a matter of pure conjecture.”
    http://conservapedia.com/Evolu.....thropology

    When we consider the remote past, before the origin of the actual species Homo sapiens, we are faced with a fragmentary and disconnected fossil record. Despite the excited and optimistic claims that have been made by some paleontologists, no fossil hominid species can be established as our direct ancestor.
    Richard Lewontin – Harvard Zoologist
    http://www.discovery.org/a/9961

    Evolution of the Genus Homo – Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences – Tattersall, Schwartz, May 2009
    Excerpt: “Definition of the genus Homo is almost as fraught as the definition of Homo sapiens. We look at the evidence for “early Homo,” finding little morphological basis for extending our genus to any of the 2.5–1.6-myr-old fossil forms assigned to “early Homo” or Homo habilis/rudolfensis.”
    http://arjournals.annualreview.....208.100202

    Man is indeed as unique, as different from all other animals, as had been traditionally claimed by theologians and philosophers. Evolutionist Ernst Mayr
    http://www.y-origins.com/index.php?p=home_more4

    “Something extraordinary, if totally fortuitous, happened with the birth of our species….Homo sapiens is as distinctive an entity as exists on the face of the Earth, and should be dignified as such instead of being adulterated with every reasonably large-brained hominid fossil that happened to come along.”
    Anthropologist Ian Tattersall
    (curator at the American Museum of Natural History)

    “But what is the basis for the human evolution thesis put forward by evolutionists? It is the existence of plenty of fossils on which evolutionists are able to build imaginary interpretations. Throughout history, more than 6,000 species of ape have lived, and most of them have become extinct. Today, only 120 species live on the earth. These 6,000 or so species of ape, most of which are extinct, constitute a rich resource for the evolutionists to build imaginary interpretations with.”

    “Dr. Leakey produced a biased reconstruction (of 1470/ Homo Rudolfensis) based on erroneous preconceived expectations of early human appearance that violated principles of craniofacial development,” Dr. Timothy Bromage
    http://www.geneticarchaeology......lieved.asp

    A 2004 book by leading evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr stated that “The earliest fossils of Homo, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, are separated from Australopithecus (Lucy) by a large, unbridged gap. How can we explain this seeming saltation? Not having any fossils that can serve as missing links, we have to fall back on the time-honored method of historical science, the construction of a historical narrative.”
    Misrepresentations of the Evidence for Human Evolutionary Origins:
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....ml#moreSee More

    Paleoanthropology
    Dr. Pilbeam wrote the following regarding the theory of evolution and paleoanthropology (The study of purported bones and artifacts ‘presupposed to support’ the ‘story’ of humans evolving from apes) :
    “I am also aware of the fact that, at least in my own subject of paleoanthropology, “theory” – heavily influenced by implicit ideas almost always dominates “data”. ….Ideas that are totally unrelated to actual fossils have dominated theory building, which in turn strongly influence the way fossils are interpreted”

    ?”Fossil evidence of human evolutionary history is fragmentary and open to various interpretations. Fossil evidence of chimpanzee evolution is absent altogether”. Evolutionist Henry Gee, Nature 2001

    Etc.. etc.. etc..

    i.e. there is nothing solid in the dogmatically taught area of human evolution that can hold the weight of scrutiny once light is brought to bear on it!!!

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