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Definition: Piltdown man from Collins English Dictionary


1 an advanced hominid postulated from fossil bones found in Sussex in 1912, but shown by modern dating methods in 1953 to be a hoax, which was perpetrated by a student museum assistant who was refused a wage

Summary Article: Piltdown man
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Fossil skull and jaw fragments ‘discovered’ by Charles Dawson at Piltdown, East Sussex, England, between 1908 and 1912, and believed to be the earliest European human remains until proved a hoax in 1953. The jaw was that of an orang-utan with the teeth filed flat, and the skull bones were human but from an ancient deposit; both had been stained to match the Piltdown gravel deposits.

A series of flint tools and an elephant-bone club were also found. The assemblage was supposed to suggest an early Pleistocene date for the fossils, and were intended to confirm current ideas, which expected hominids of this date to exhibit transitional features between apes and Homo sapiens (modern humans) – the ‘missing link’. As increasing numbers of authentic hominid fossils were discovered, the features exhibited by Piltdown man became suspect. Scientific tests of the bones showed them to be much younger than supposed, and the elephant-bone club was found to have been made with a steel knife.

A suggested perpetrator was Samuel Woodhead, a lawyer friend of Dawson, who was an amateur palaeontologist. Others now believe it to have been Arthur Keith. Another possible hoaxer was identified in 1996 when bone specimens with similar staining were analysed. The bones had been found in the trunk of Martin Hinton, a zoology curator who had fallen out with the then keeper of palaeontology at London's Natural History Museum, Arthur Smith Woodward. It was Woodward who had declared the bones to be a missing link.


Archaeology: The Discovery of Boxgrove Man

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