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Piltdown Man

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Excavating the Piltdown gravels in 1911, with Dawson (right) and Smith Woodward (center).

Piltdown man was the name given to a hominid fossil reportedly discovered by an amateur fossil hunter Charles Dawson. He claimed to have found pieces of a human skull from a gravel pit in Piltdown, England. He also claimed that he found ape-like lower jaw with human-like teeth after additional digging. The two claimed finds were assigned to the same person who was said to be at least 500,000 years old. In 1912 it was announced that Darwin's missing link had been found. The discovery of Piltdown man was announced in the New York Times under the headline, "Darwin Theory Proved True".

The "find" was featured in textbooks and encyclopedias for the next four decades. It was assigned the name Eoanthropus dawsoni in honor of the discoverer. The scientists who worked on the fossil and verified its authenticity (Arthur Smith Woodward of the British Museum, Arthur Keith, and Grafton Elliot Smith) were all knighted. The British Museum displayed plaster casts of Piltdown Man viewed by thousands, which led to the ridicule of clergy who had denounced evolution.

In 1953 scientists subjected the find to chemical analysis which proved the ape-like jawbone was of recent origin. Close inspection also revealed file marks on the teeth, which had been shortened to make them appear human-like. In addition, the bones had been treated with chemicals to increase the appearance of their age. It was quickly concluded that the jaw had been intentionally planted, and bore no resemblance to the human skull, which was later determined to be from the Middle Ages. Later in 1982, collagen testing proved conclusively that the jawbone was from an Orangutan.

Nobody knows who perpetrated the fraud, but a number of suspects have named. Clearly an ardent evolutionist tired of waiting for evidence of a ape-human missing link could have decided to take matters into his own hands. Correcting the find took 40 years, and it remained used as a "proof" of Darwinism long enough to deceive an entire generation.


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