Little Bits of History

Missing Link

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 21, 2010

Piltdown Man rendering

November 21, 1953: A skull fragment, portion of jawbone, and a few teeth that had been discovered in 1912-15 are declared to be a hoax. Throughout the last half of the 19th century there were many discoveries of ancient bones that spoke to the history of the evolution of mankind. The Origin of Species was also published by Charles Darwin.

Many discoveries were made in continental Europe and Asia, but nothing was found in England until 1912. At that time, Charles Dawson found the above mentioned bones and brought them to the attention of the Geological Society of London in December. Arthur Smith Woodward went to the Piltdown quarries in Sussex, England along with Dawson and discovered even more bone fragments. The finds were called Piltdown Man due to the location of the site. The skull fragments were similar to man but much smaller while the jaw and teeth were indistinguishable from modern chimpanzees. Even at the time, there was some doubt as to the efficacy of the find.

Woodward and Martin A. C. Hinton, both officials in museums, found parts of bone at digs conducted with Dawson. The “missing link” between man and monkey was called Eoanthropus dawsoni for Dawson. Piltdown Man was memorialized in 1938 with a marker erected at the site. Dawson claimed to find Piltdown II at a site a couple of miles from the original, but no details remain and the site was never quite found.

Who was the perpetrator of the hoax? Why do this? It is theorized that it may have been a practical joke that spun out of control. Was Dawson working alone? Did Woodward, Hinton, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin [who also found a tooth at the first site] know what they were doing? Were the grounds salted or did these men plan the hoax? Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is named as a possible perpetrator. We don’t know who or why, but it is the perfect working of science after all. Even though at the beginning the “truth” was in error or misrepresented, due to diligent testing, study, and improved technologies, the hoax was eventually brought to light.

“It’s a hoax. Somebody got this started and it has gone all over the place.” – Gary Gibson

“Most people are genuinely wanting to see their work published in the best way possible. Very few people are trying to hoax the system, but you have to be aware of those who are.” – Vicky Taylor

“The testing confirmed it was a hoax.” – Michael Potter

“Under a forehead roughly comparable to that of Javanese and Piltdown man are visible a pair of tiny pig eyes, lit up alternately by greed and concupiscence.” – S. J. Perelman

Also on this day, in 1942 the opening of the Alaska Highway was celebrated at Soldier Station.

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