The Piltdown Hoax Perpetrator: Charles Dawson The Prime Suspect In This Crime Against Anthropology

3207 words - 13 pages

Humanity became fascinated with the idea of evolution with the work of Charles Darwin and the Scientific Revolution. People began hunting for fossils that would prove that man had an ape derived ancestry (Weiner, 1955). After various years of searching, a piece of physical evidence was found in England that was said to confirm the theory of evolution (Weiner, 1955).This confirmation came from Charles Dawson’s discoveries from 1908, that were announced publicly in 1912 (Thackeray, 2011). Dawson was believed to have found the fossil remains of the “missing link” between ape and human evolution, the reconstructed skull of Piltdown man (Augustine, 2006). The material was found in stratigraphical evidence and animal remains that were, at the time, adequate enough to confirm the antiquity of the remains (Weiner, 1955). In 1915, another specimen, Piltdown man II, was found further proving this theory (Augustine, 2006). However, this was merely a hoax proven by fluorine relative dating in 1953; the artifacts and bone fragments discovered turned out to be altered to fit the proposed scenario (Augustine, 2006). The skull found was actually composed of a human braincase that was younger than the complimentary orangutan lower jaw (Falk, 2011). Both sections of the skull had been stained to appear to be from the same person of the same age (Falk, 2011).The perpetrator of this act was never caught and there are many theories proposed for the motive of this hoax (Augustine, 2006). Many people have been taken into consideration for this crime, such as Chardin, Woodward, Hinton, and Dawson (Augustine, 2006). Nevertheless, the evidence that proves that Dawson is guilty of this crime against anthropology is quite substantial compared to the evidence in his defence and against the others. Therefore, the arguments for and against Dawson are his chemistry knowledge and the staining techniques used for the material, his access to the artifacts found, his reasons for wanting to commit the act, and his ability to create the perfect crime due to his circumstances. This hoax opened the eyes of many scientists; it illustrated that individuals must support theories that are proven to be based on objective views (Langdon, 1991). The majority of this hoax was not empirically tested but proven on Dawson’s word of mouth, which needs to be avoided otherwise society will believe in false truths (Langdon, 1991).
Subsequent to the uncovering of the Piltdown hoax, scientists have developed a deep interest in the possible suspects for the fraud. The list of accused is vast, four of the most debated suspects are as follows; Teilhard de Chardin, Martin Hinton, Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, and Charles Dawson (Augustine, 2006). Chardin was a French paleontologist, a priest and a philosopher that was called by Dawson to the Piltdown site (Gardiner, 2003). On one of his visits, he found a canine tooth that was later found to be from an orangutan specimen similar to the mandible (Gardiner,...

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