Piltdown man

Piltdown man, name given to human remains found during excavations (1908–15) at Piltdown, Sussex, England, by Charles Dawson. The find led to much speculation and argument. Since they were found with remains of mammals of the Lower Pleistocene epoch, they were supposed to belong to a "Piltdown man" who lived 200,000 to 1,000,000 years ago. Many scientists doubted the whole proposition. They were justified when fluorine tests showed in 1950 that the Piltdown fossil was no more than 50,000 years old. X-ray analysis proved that the jaw was from a chimpanzee; further tests demonstrated conclusively that the jaw and tooth were of modern origin.

There has been much speculation concerning who was responsible for the hoax: Dawson; Arthur Smith Woodward, the paleontologist who identified the fossils as hominid remains; Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who was present during some of the excavations; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived nearby and knew Dawson; and others. In 1996, on the basis of evidence found in a trunk in the British Museum, it was suggested that the zoologist Martin A. C. Hinton planted the remains to embarrass Woodward.

See J. S. Weiner, The Piltdown Forgery (1955); R. W. Millar, The Piltdown Men (1972); F. Spencer, Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery (1990).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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