One of the biggest frauds in the history of peleoanthropology It is precisely the so-called “piltdown man”, since this deception was maintained for forty-five years, from 1913 to 1953, when the fraud was detected.
It all began when skeletal remains consisting of a partial skull, a loose tooth and a jaw with teeth were found in England in 1912, in Piltdown, a town in Sussex. That lie would last for almost half a century.
The discovery was made by a worker in a quarry, who subsequently handed them over to amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson, who presented them together with the prestigious paleontologist Smith Woodward (of the British Museum) at the Geological Society of London. However, for many years there was a debate about the origin of these remains. In fact, the press said that it was probably the missing link and they named it Eoanthropus dawsonii. The story seemed credible, or perhaps the scientific community wanted to believe so and accepted them without further analysis because it fit with what they were looking for at that time.
As time passed, more doubts began to arise about the origin of the remains. Finally, AT Marston dentist, determined that the teeth of that skeleton corresponded to an orangutan, the loose tooth of a monkey and the skull of a human being. More investigations began. Analysis of the fluoride content of the bones showed that the burial had been intrusive, as the dark color of the bones was due to a chemical treatment to make the jaw color even with the skull.
Once the fraud was revealed, there was a question to be answered: who had set up such a fraud and why? At first some attributed the fraud to the original discoverers, leading Dawson, perhaps motivated by the fact that no human fossils had been discovered in the British Isles. However, Professor Douglas left behind him a magnetic tape in which he pointed out that the author of such a forgery had been the very famous Professor Sollas, who thereby intended to discredit his rival Woodward. And curiously despite the fraud, an honorary monument to these remains was erected in the place where it was found, and in fact Woodawrd attended the inauguration.
There are other names that appear among the possible fraudsters, for example, there is talk of Arthur Conan Doyle and Teilhard de Chardin. We may never know the answer, but it reminds us that the truth always comes out.
You will find more curious notes of this series of Hoaxes and Frauds in the Historical Curiosities category.