Piltdown Man



The Piltdown man, Eoanthropus dawsoni (“Dawson’s Dawn Man”) then Homo dawsoni or Homo piltdownensis, was considered early as a fossil dating from the Acheulean (Lower Paleolithic) and as a link missing between the monkey and the man because of its simian characters (lower jaw) and human (skull cap). In 1959, tests definitely showed that it was a paleontological hoax. This hoax is.

Charles Dawson was a lawyer, archaeologist, paleontologist and amateur geologist. Dawson had discovered a species of iguanodon to which he had given his name and had collected a large collection of fossils he had given to the British Museum. At 21, he was able to become a member of the Geological Society of London and a correspondent at the Natural History Museum in London. In the summer of 1899, Dawson was walking on a road in Sussex, sixty miles south of London. Near a farm in Piltdown, he noticed that the road had been repaired with reddish gravel, likely to be fossiliferous. He asked the workers if there were any bones in the quarry and wanted to be warned in this case. A little later, a workman brought him a fragment of flat bone, reddish like gravel; Charles Dawson recognized a piece of human skull. For the next three years, he searched the excavations and found some more fragments. In February 1912, Dawson announced to paleontologist Arthur Smith Woodward, president of the London Geological Society and curator of the Department of Natural History at the Museum of Natural History in London, that he had found fragments of a particularly human skull. interesting. The bones, worn and reddish, seemed contemporary with this ancient gravel although the skull had a modern form. The fossils of animals found in the same place (elephant tooth, hippopotamus …), of the same color, suggested an age of half a million years. Since radioactive dating methods do not yet exist, the fossils allowed a relative dating of the terrain. In June, Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward and Teilhard de Chardin went to Piltdown and found several pieces of skull and then the right half of a lower jaw. Although this mandible was strongly tinted and had the appearance of antiquity, it seemed of simian origin. It was broken at the level of the chin and the maxillary condyle, both places that allow a safe identification. Two molars showed flat wear, which is common in humans but unknown in monkeys. The three men logically associated this mandible with the fragments of the skull found a few feet away, and a careful examination by Woodward and Charles Dawson comforted them in their opinion.

At the Natural History Museum in London, Woodward assembled the mandible and skull, imagining the missing elements and creating them with modeling clay. On December 18, 1912, the discovery was unveiled at the London Geological Society. Accompanied by Dawson, Woodward amazed the audience by describing a human being who lived at the dawn of humanity, which he named Eoanthropus, the Man of the Dawn. He presented his reconstruction of the head of the Piltdown Man, provoking the enthusiasm of the audience. The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London published a report that made the Piltdown man a world celebrity. The skull was similar to that of a modern man and the mandible to that of a monkey with well worn molars, which showed, Woodward explained to the amazed scientists, that they found the first fossil fragments of the famous “missing link” This intermediate form, which, as Darwin had predicted in “The Origin of Species” (1859), was meant to demonstrate the passage from the monkey to man via a common ancestor that has now disappeared. The Neanderthal man, discovered in 1856, interposed naturally between the pithecanthropus, discovered in Sumatra by Eugène Dubois in 1891, and the current man. However, with his lower monkey jaw, the Piltdown Man did not look like other fossil hominids and seemed unclassifiable. Older than 500,000 years old as Neanderthal man, he paradoxically combined a monkey’s lower jaw with a modern man’s skull. Woodward concludes that the Neanderthal man was degenerate and that the Piltdown man was to be the true ancestor of modern man.

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