|Scientists at London's Natural History Museum seek to solve mystery of Piltdown Man |
A century on, researchers are determined to find out who was responsible for Piltdown Man, the missing link that never was. AP Photo/Natural History Museum.
By: Jill Lawless, Associated Press
LONDON (AP).- It was an archaeological hoax that fooled scientists for decades. A century on, researchers are determined to find out who was responsible for Piltdown Man, the missing link that never was.
In December 1912, it was announced that a lawyer and amateur archaeologist named Charles Dawson had made an astonishing discovery in a gravel pit in southern England prehistoric remains, up to 1 million years old, that combined the skull of a human and the jaw of an ape.
Piltdown Man named for the village where the remains were found set the scientific world ablaze. It was hailed as the missing evolutionary link between apes and humans, and proof that humans' enlarged brains had evolved earlier than had been supposed.
It was 40 years before the find was definitively exposed as a hoax, and speculation about who did it rages to this day. Now scientists at London's Natural History Museum whose predecessors trumpeted the Piltdown find and may be suspects in the fraud are marking the 100th anniversary with a new push to settle the argument for good.
The goal, lead scientist Chris Stringer wrote in a comment piece published Wednesday in the journal Nature, is to find out "who did it and what drove them" whether scientific ambition, humor or malice.
Stringer heads a team of 15 researchers including experts in ancient DNA, radiocarbon dating and isotope studies examining the remains with the latest techniques and equipment and combing the museum's archives for overlooked evidence about the evidence unearthed at sites around Piltdown.
"Although Charles Dawson is the prime suspect, it's a complex story," Stringer, the museum's research leader in human origins, told The Associated Press. "The amount of material planted at two different sites makes some people and that includes me wonder whether there were at least two people involved."
Doubts grew about Piltdown Man's authenticity in the years after 1912, as more remains were found around the world that contradicted its evidence. In 1953, scientists from London's Natural History Museum and Oxford University conducted tests that showed the find was a cleverly assembled fake, combining a human skull a few hundred years old with the jaw of an orangutan, stained to make it look ancient.
Ever since, speculation had swirled about possible perpetrators. Many people think the evidence points to Dawson, who died in 1916.
Other long-dead suspects identified by researchers include Arthur Smith Woodward, the museum's keeper of geology, who championed Dawson's discoveries and gave them vital scientific credibility. The finger has also been pointed at museum zoologist Martin Hinton; Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; and even "Sherlock Holmes" author Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived near Piltdown.
Stringer said the key may lie in a later find nearby a slab of elephant bone nicknamed the "cricket bat" that seemed to back up the first Piltdown discovery. It was revealed as a clumsy fake, carved with a steel knife from a fossilized elephant femur.
One theory is that Hinton skeptical but afraid to openly question Woodward, his boss at the museum might have planted it thinking it would be spotted as a hoax and discredit the whole find. A trunk with Hinton's initials found in a loft at the museum a decade after his death in 1961 contained animal bones stained the same way as the Piltdown fossils.
Miles Russell, senior lecturer in archaeology at Bournemouth University, thinks the museum's work may shed new light on how the forgery was done. But he thinks there is little doubt Dawson was the perpetrator.
"He is the only person who is always on site every time a find is made," Russell said. "And when he died in 1916, Piltdown Man died with him."
Russell is author of the new book "The Piltdown Man Hoax: Case Closed" though he doubts speculation about the century-old fraud will stop.
"People love conspiracy theories," he said. "And this is one of the biggest scientific hoaxes of all time."
Whoever was behind it, the hoax delayed consensus on human origins, leading some scientists to question the authenticity of later finds because they did not fit with Piltdown Man.
Stringer said Piltdown Man stands as a warning to scientists always to be on their guard especially when evidence seems to back up their theories.
"There was a huge gap in evidence and Piltdown at the time neatly filled that gap," he said. "It was what people expected to be found. In a sense you could say it was manufactured to fit the scientific agenda.
"That lesson of Piltdown is always worth learning when something seems too good to be true, maybe it is."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
December 13, 2012
Yale University Art Gallery reopens $135 million renovated and reinstalled galleries
Scientists at London's Natural History Museum seek to solve mystery of Piltdown Man
Michelangelo's David-Apollo returns to the National Gallery of Art in Washington
AXA Equitable donates Thomas Hart Benton's epic mural "America Today" to Met Museum
Hans Christian Andersen's first fairy tale found in Denmark's national archives
Mick Jagger love letters written to American singer Marsha Hunt sold at London auction
Dallas Museum of Art's Razor by Gerald Murphy featured in U.S. Postal Services stamp collection
Bowers Museum presents award winning costumes in "Cut! Costume and Cinema"
Fine art, exquisite antiques from Southern Calif. estates highlight Don Presley's New Year's Auction
Bonhams walks on Moon as illuminating space auction reaches the stars
Leading Turkish auction house Antik A.S. to offer Osman Hamdi Bey's "A Girl Arranging a Vase of Flowers"
The IVAM reviews the iconography of the American dream in the exhibition 'America, America'
Michael Winner sale makes £1.1 million and new record for EH Shepard at Sotheby's
RM Auctions secures upcoming sale of Texas' distinguished Don Davis Collection
The Wolfsonian-FIU receives $5 million to increase access to collection
Dictionaries define success at Bonhams
Sotheby's announces first ever selling exhibition of contemporary art from central Asia and the Caucasus
Top results for Dali, Signac and Anker at Koller Zurich
Musical clock once owned by Egypt's King Farouk sells for £385,250
Far from the Shire, a Hobbit house in Pennsylvania country
Most Popular Last Seven Days
1.- Archaeologists discover Roman 'free choice' cemetery in the 2,700-year-old ancient port of Rome
2.- Romanians must pay 18 million euros over Kunsthal Museum Rotterdam art heist
3.- Hello Kitty designer Yuko Yamaguchi defends cute character as cat turns 40 years old
4.- eBay and Sotheby's partner to bring world class art and collectibles to a global community
5.- Exhibition on Screen returns with new series of films bringing great art to big screens across the globe
6.- Marina Abramović reaches half way point of her '512 Hours' performance at the Serpentine Gallery
7.- The Phillips Collection in Washington introduces a uCurate app for curating on-the-go
8.- United States comic icon Archie Andrews dies saving openly gay character
9.- New feathered predatory fossil, unearthed in China, sheds light on dinosaur flight
10.- Exhibition at Thyssen Bornemisza Museum presents an analysis of the concept of the 'unfinished'
Artistic Evolution: Southern California Artists at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 1945-1963
Fossilized Hyena Dung Found Off Dutch Coast
New Permanent Exhibition Brings Climate Change & Evolution Dramatically to Life
Natural History Museum Exhibition Takes Visitors 11,000 Metres Down
London's Natural History Museum to Open "Giant Cocoon" that will House Darwin Centre
Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .
|Royalville Communications, Inc|