Piltdown Man

by John Cooke (1915)

The Piltdown Man was a paleoanthropological hoax in which bone fragments were presented as the fossilized remains of a previously unknown early human.

In 1912, the amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed that he had discovered the “missing link” between ape and man. After finding a section of a human-like skull in gravel beds near Piltdown, East Sussex, Dawson contacted Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum. Dawson and Smith Woodward discovered more bones and artifacts at the site, which they connected to the same individual. These included a jawbone, more skull fragments, a set of teeth, and primitive tools.

Smith Woodward reconstructed the skull fragments and hypothesized that they belonged to a human ancestor from 500,000 years ago. The discovery was announced at a Geological Society meeting and was given the Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni (“Dawson’s dawn-man”). The questionable significance of the assemblage remained the subject of considerable controversy until it was conclusively exposed in 1953 as a forgery. It was found to have consisted of the altered mandible and some teeth of an orangutan deliberately combined with the cranium of a fully developed, though small-brained, modern human.

The Piltdown hoax is prominent for two reasons: the attention it generated around the subject of human evolution, and the length of time, 41 years that elapsed from its alleged initial discovery to its definitive exposure as a composite forgery.

Romans 1:18-24

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

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