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The anniversary of the Piltdown fossil (missing link) fraud exposure

With Charles Darwin looking down from a photo on the wall, a painting of the skull of Piltdown man being examined by (Back Row L to R): F. O. Barlow, G. Elliot Smith, Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward. (Front row): A. S. Underwood, Arthur Keith, W. P. Pycraft, and Ray Lankester
Credit: Wikipedia/Public Domain

Nov. 21, 2022 marks the anniversary of the day, the skull of the Piltdown man, hailed as the missing link between man and apes, was revealed to be a fraud, Denison Forum reports.

The skull was discovered in England in 1912 by lawyer and amateur anthropologist Charles Dawson. Because, it had the head of a man and jaw of an ape it was hailed as the missing link by the head of the British Museum, Sir Arthur Smith Woodward.

For the next several decades, the fame of the Piltdown man discovery spread through evolutionary circles.

But there is more to the story.

It seems that the British were a bit envious of German archaeologists who claimed to have found a human jaw bone of a man that was 600,000 years old a few years earlier.

Ryan Denison, Ph.D. explains what happened next:

However, in the late 1940s, a new kind of chemical test was developed, and researchers from Oxford and the British Museum applied it to the Piltdown Man. They published their findings on this day, November 21, 1953.

It turns out the fossil was, in many ways, exactly what it had always appeared to be.

The skull resembled that of a human because it was a human skull—well, at least two skulls plastered together to be precise—and it was closer to five hundred years old than five hundred thousand. Likewise, the jaw resembled that of an ape because it belonged to an ape. In fact, the jaw and teeth all belonged to the same orangutan, likely purchased from a nearby curiosity shop or museum collection.

A further study in 2016 found that whoever had crafted the forgery covered the fossils in putty, painted over them, then stained them to ensure that the whole looked like it belonged to the same creature.

READ: On this day in Christian history, the “missing link” Piltdown Man was revealed to be a hoax

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