On This Day: December 18, 1912 – missing link discovered by Dawson
It was a paleoanthropological forty-one-year hoax
For more than forty years scientists believed in the existence of the Piltdown man, discovered by Charles Dawson, but it was all a hoax. In 1912 Charles Dawson, a lawyer and amateur fossil hunter, discovered the first fragments of the Piltdown man. As interest developed, more fragments were produced. They called the find “Eoanthropus dawsoni” – Dawson’s Dawn Man. He brought them to the British Museum.
However, the jaw had come from a modern ape. It was stained with iron salt and bichromate. An oil paint had been used to stain the chewing surfaces. This was perhaps one of the greatest forgeries and hoax perpetrated on the scientific community in modern history.
Facts & Information:
“Discovered” by Charles Dawson.
Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin formed digging team after Dawson’s “discovery.”
It was believed and taught that the bones belonged to a human ancestor from 500,000 years ago.
The fossil was introduced as evidence by Clarence Darrow at the John Scopes Monkey Trial – 1925
Approximately 250 scholarly papers were written on this discovery.
It was not until 1953 that it was officially declared a hoax — an altered mouth and some teeth (filed down) from an orangutan.
“For more than a generation, a shambling creature with a human skull and an apelike jaw was known to schoolchildren, Sunday-supplement readers and serious anthropologists as “the first Englishman.” He was “Piltdown man,” and he was supposed to have lived anywhere from 750,000 to 950,000 years ago. Last week three British scientists, armed with modern chemistry, demolished Piltdown man.
The “first Englishman” was first heard from in 1911 when Charles Dawson, lawyer and amateur anthropologist, unearthed skull fragments and part of a jaw in a gravel pit near Piltdown in Sussex.” — Time Magazine – November 20, 1953
November 2003, London’s Natural History Museum in London held an exhibition which marked the 50th anniversary of the hoax.
“The anonymous aphorism “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it” is a continuing truth in science. And of course, it cuts two ways: you often see what you expect to see and not what you don’t. Of course, no two scientists’ set of guidelines, or preconceptions, are going to be identical, even if the individuals concerned are in broad agreement. And as preconceptions are the lens through which each scientist views the questions to be asked about the world and the “facts” perceived therein, there is always a good deal of room for lively disagreement.” — “Bones of Contention” — pdf link
Key Illustrative Thoughts:
• Men often believe what they want to believe
• Just give it time!
• It was taught as truth.
• Even “science” was fooled.
• Likewise: Science taught that there were nine planets. Is Pluto a planet or not?
• an anniversary of a Hoax
• evidence which was a lie
• a 41-year hoax
• the missing link is still missing
• seeing what you expect to see
• seeing what you want to see
Other Information & Links:
Note on the Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus Dawsoni ).
By A. Smith Woodward, LL.D., F.R.S., Keeper, Geological Department,
British Museum (Natural History). 1
The Geological Magazine October, 1913 d
 In a communication to the International Medical Congress recently reported in some of the English newspapers, Professor Arthur Keith expressed complete disapproval of my reconstruction of the skull and mandible of Eoanthropus Dawsoni. 2 I concluded that the brain capacity of this skull was comparable only with that of some of the lowest existing savages, while the mandible must have been provided in front with teeth of the ape pattern. Professor Keith, on the other hand, has restored the skull in such a manner as to hare a brain capacity of 1,500 cubic centimetres, thus exceeding that of the average modern European. By distorting the curve of the front of the mandible he has also furnished it with completely human teeth. These two views, therefore, need careful examination before any definite conclusions can be drawn from this remarkable fossil.
Fortunately, Mr. Dawson has continued his diggings at Piltdown during the past summer, and on August 30 Father P. Teilhard, who was working with him, picked up the canine tooth which obviously belongs to the half of the mandible originally discovered. In shape it corresponds exactly with that of an ape, and its worn face shows that it worked upon the upper canine in the true ape fashion. It only differs from the canine of my published restoration in being slightly smaller, more pointed, and little more upright in the mouth. Hence we have now definite proof that the front teeth of Eoanthropus resembled those of an ape, and my original determination is justified.
It may next be questioned whether this ape-like mandible belongs to the skull. We can only state that its molar teeth are typically human, its muscle-markings are such as might be expected, and it was found in the gravel near to the skull. The probabilities are  therefore in favour of its natural association. If so, it is reasonable to suppose that the skull will prove to be that of a very primitive type, not that of a highly civilized man. I have accordingly made a new study of the specimen, with the special help of my colleague, Mr. W. P. Pycraft, and I find that the only alteration necessary in my original model (made by Mr. frank O. Barlow) is a very slight displacement of the occipital and right parietal bones, which Professor Elliot Smith pointed out to me when he made his first studies of the brain. Both behind and in front I correctly identified the internal groove for the upper longitudinal blood-sinus, which marks the middle line of the roof of the skull; and the reason why my adjustment of the occipital was not exact at first is, that on the hinder part of the parietal region of the skull-roof I noticed a longitudinal ridge which I supposed to be truly median, while the extraordinary unsymmetrical development of the brain seemed to have pushed the longitudinal sinus at that part slightly out of its normal place. I now know that the longitudinal ridge is one of a pair. The change, however, only opens the upper part of the skull behind to an extent of three-quarters of an inch, and there are compensations elsewhere through the necessary readjustments, so the total brain capacity remains nearly the same as that I originally stated, well within the range of the smallest human brains of the present day.
I may add that I have submitted the new brain-cast to Professor Elliot Smith, who allows me to state that he finds it in all essential respects correct. He will shortly describe it in a memoir on fossil human brains to be read before the Royal Society.
“Practically all paleontological discoveries can be described as bones of contention,” says British anthropologist John Napier. — from “Chain of Fraud”
“Fakes & Forgeries” by Ian Graham – chapter “The Man Who Never Was”