The Piltdown Man skull at the British Museum of Natural History was once rated as one of the most important scientific exhibits of the twentieth century from 1913 until 1953. Piltdown is the hamlet where the skull fragments were found.
The exhibit stunned evolution critics and strengthened unrelenting evolution activists. The Guardian newspaper in November 1912 announced that “One of the most important prehistoric finds of our time has been made in Sussex.” Piltdown is located in East Sussex, England.
The Piltdown Man fit the profile of Charles Darwin’s long sought after missing link between ape and man, the exhibit gained immediate notoriety. Darwin had been vindicated, so it seemed.
Palaeontologist Arthur Smith Woodward in his book entitled The Earliest Englishman declared: “No theory of human evolution can be regarded as satisfactory unless the revelations of Piltdown are taken into account.”
According to the 1953 American College Dictionary, the “Piltdown man [was] a very early type of man (believed to belong to an earlier period than the Neanderthaloid type) whose existence is inferred from fragments of a skull discovered at Piltdown in 1912.” The Piltdown Man instantly became a main staple in the evolution industry.
The Piltdown Man fragments were discovered by Charles Dawson, a lawyer and amateur palaeontologist, who reported the initial discovery to Woodward who was the Keeper of Geology at the British Museum of Natural History. For years, Dawson had been bringing artifacts to the attention of Woodward.
The Piltdown Man saga started around 1908 when Dawson first noticed skull bone fragments uncovered by workmen in the Piltdown gravel pit. The discovery of more fragments was reported in 1911. Eventually, Woodward joined Dawson to work in a gravel pit along with laborer Venus Hargreaves, however, no other fragments were found.
In December 1912, Woodward and Dawson presented nine cranium fragments and a partial jaw bone with two molars, to the Geological Society of London that had been fabricated as a complete skull. Woodward named the findings Eoanthropus dawsoni, Latin for Dawson’s dawn-man.
The Geological Society played a key role in the history of evolution. Less than one month after returning from his 5-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin presented his first paper on the movement of South American landmass to the society in January 1837. In the following year, Darwin was appointed Secretary of the Geological Society of London, a position held until his death in 1882.
In The Descent of Man, Darwin described human evolutionary forerunners as having had “great canine teeth which served as formidable weapons.” The evidence fit with Darwin’s theory of human evolution. In assessing the evidence, anthropologist Grafton Eliot Smith declared then re-constructed skull as the most primitive and apelike human yet to be found. Darwin had been vindicated, so it seemed.
The Piltdown Man had early skeptics, however. David Waterston of King’s College London published in Nature in 1913 concluded that the re-construction was simply a skull of a man and the jaw of an ape−not one of Darwin’s missing links.
French paleontologist Marcellin Boule came to the same conclusion in 1915. In the same year, American zoologist Gerrit Miller from Harvard University and curator at the Smithsonian Institute appraised the construction as a previously unknown kind of chimpanzee−again, not one of Darwin’s missing links.
Woodward sacked Miller’s assessment as “the latest ROT from the U.S.A.” Darwin’s vindication stayed intact, so it seemed.
Not until 1953, at a scientific conference in London, did the vindication start to unravel. Physical anthropologists Joseph Weiner and Kenneth Oakley were given permission by the museum to examine the skull. Under close examination, Weiner and Oakley discovered that the condition of the teeth were unnatural.
Smelling a rat, Weiner and Oakley took the constructed Piltdown Man fossil to professor Le Gros Clark’s laboratory at Oxford University for further investigation.
Following an array of tests, included testing for the presence of fluoride, iron, nitrogen, collagen, organic carbon, organic water, radioactivity, crystal structure, and the visual examination of the artificially shaped teeth, the scientists eventually concluded that the Piltdown man was not a missing link, but was a composite of a skull of a man and the jaw of an orangutan. The fossil record evidence in support of Darwin’s theory was a fraud−not a missing link between the ape and man.
The Piltdown Man, once marketed by the evolution industry over a period of four decades as the most important discovery in support Darwin’s theory of human evolution, is now recognized as the “Science Fraud of the Century”.
In the interim while the Piltdown Man was on display at the British Museum of Natural History as evidence for the evolution of man, Clarence Darrow used the Piltdown Man fraud to defend John Scopes during the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
Reflecting on the hoax, in 1997 British anthropologist Roger Lewin lamented:
Given all the many anatomical incongruities in the Piltdown remains, which of course are glaringly obvious from the vantage of the present, it is truly astonishing that the forgery was so eagerly embraced.
The history of evolution has followed a legacy of fraud masquerading as science. Darwin was even concerned about his abandonment of basic scientific principles. The day before the publication of The Origin of Species in November 1859, Darwin’s brother, Erasmus, wrote these consoling words to him in a letter:
In fact the a priori reasoning is so entirely satisfactory to me that if the facts won’t fit, why so much the worse for the facts, in my feeling.
As the Piltdown Man saga demonstrates, the philosophical adherence to the theory of evolution has continued produce a legacy of hoodwinking dramas based on anti-science principles.