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 hominin 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, but other researchers have argued that the evidence most strongly points to Dawson.

See J. S. Weiner, The Piltdown Forgery (1955); R. W. Millar, The Piltdown Men (1972); F. Spencer, Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery (1990); M. Russell, Piltdown Man: The Secret Life of Charles Dawson (2003).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Piltdown Man: Selected full-text books and articles

The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense By 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 By Robert Silverberg; Jerome Snyder Thomas Y. Crowell, 1965
Librarian's tip: Chap. 13 "The Piltdown Puzzle"
The Human Species: An Introduction to Physical Anthropology By Frederick S. Hulse Random House, 1963
Librarian's tip: "The Piltdown Hoax" begins on p. 212
Mankind in the Making: The Story of Human Evolution By 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 By Robert Silverberg; Judith Ann Lawrence Macrae Smith, 1964
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "The Little Man Who Wasn't"
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