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 Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense
Michael Shermer.
Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "The Great Bone Hoax: Piltdown and the Self-Correcting Nature of Science"
Scientists and Scoundrels: A Book of Hoaxes
Jerome Snyder; Robert Silverberg.
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1965
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 13 "The Piltdown Puzzle"
Race, Science, and Medicine, 1700-1960
Waltraud Ernst; Bernard Harris.
Routledge, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "'New Men, Strange Faces, Other Minds' Arthur Keith, Race, and the Piltdown Affair (1912-53)"
The Human Species: An Introduction to Physical Anthropology
Frederick S. Hulse.
Random House, 1963
Librarian’s tip: "The Piltdown Hoax" begins on p. 212
Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes
Stephen Jay Gould.
W. W. Norton & Company, 1984
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 16 "The Piltdown Conspiracy"
The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History
Stephen Jay Gould.
W. W. Norton & Company, 1980
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Piltdown Revisited"
Mankind in the Making: The Story of Human Evolution
William Howells; Janis Cirulis.
Doubleday, 1967 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 17 "Piltdown Man: His Rise and Fall"
Man before Adam: The Story of Man in Search of His Origins
Robert Silverberg; Judith Ann Lawrence.
Macrae Smith, 1964
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Little Man Who Wasn't"
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