Culprit Behind Famous Piltdown Man Hoax Revealed

Posted: Aug 11 2016, 8:00am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 12 2016, 10:55pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Culprit Behind Famous Piltdown Man Hoax Revealed
This 1915 painting by John Cooke depicts scientists comparing Piltdown Man's remains to other species. Credit:John Cooke/Wikimedia Commons

Piltdown Man was claimed to be a missing link between apes and humans but it turned out to be a hoax, consisting of fake fossil.

New research has finally revealed the culprit behind Piltdown Man, one of the most famous scientific hoaxes of all time.

The hoax involved an amateur archaeologist named Charles Dawson who presented a part of human-like skull in front of the world in 1912 and claimed it to be the ‘missing link’ between ape and the man. Dawson presumably found the skull of a human ancestor at a place called Piltdown in east Sussex, England. 

The scientific community believed that discovery of a skull that was part human and part primate had nearly filled in an archeological gap in the theory of human evolution - but actually it didn’t. Piltdown Man turned out to be the greatest scientific fraud ever committed in UK, with fake fossils being created by integrating the jawbone of an orangutan with the skulls of two ancient human and introduced as the fossil remains of a human ancestor.

The hoax was initially thought to be perpetrated by a several people including French paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin and writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But a new research reveals only one man is to be blamed for the Piltdown Man hoax, not a whole group of people and it was the Charles Dawson himself, the discoverer of the so-called human-like skull. Thanks to the advanced technology and the ‘second find’ of Dawson which he claimed to have made in 1915, researchers have been able to narrow the suspects down to a single person. 

Using micro-CT scans and DNA analysis, a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from institutions in Liverpool, London, Cambridge and Canterbury examined the fossil remains recovered from Piltdown and another site and found both came from a same sources by pairing human skulls with orangutan’s teeth and jaws and were constructed using a consistent method. Since Dawson was involved with both the finds, the research points the finger of suspicion even more firmly at him.

“It now appears that the chemical data supports the abundant circumstantial evidence that Dawson was the brains behind the hoax.” Geologist Stephen Donovan of the Naturalis Biodiversity Institute in Leiden, the Netherlands said.

Now, researchers also know why the fraud was committed.

“Dawson really played a very clever card,” said Isabelle De Groote, a paleoanthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University. “With the findings coming out of Germany, and Britain wanting to be at the forefront of science, there was this sense that, ‘We must have these fossils in Britain, as well.”

Charles Dawson was a great forger indeed who managed to grab a lot of attention with its fake fossils. No new bones or artifacts in Piltdown site have been found after Dawson’s death in 1916.

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The Author

Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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