Was the Piltdown Man Really a Hoax?

One of the most interesting discoveries made by archaeologists in the early part of this century was the work of an Englishman named Charles Dawson. In 1908, Dawson began digging at a gravel pit near Piltdown, England.

Six years later, he announced that he had found a jawbone and pieces of a skull belonging to a primitive ancestor of man. Other archaeologists examined the remains and declared that they were indeed the bones of a man-like creature some half-million years old, the oldest ancestor of man ever discovered up until that time!

Dawson and his discovery, named Piltdown Man, soon became famous the world over. Some scientists said that Dawson had discovered the “missing link,” the creature that was later to evolve into both apes and man. But other scientists were doubtful that Piltdown Man was really as old as Dawson claimed.

Dawson died in 1916, but Piltdown Man lived on in science textbooks and museums. Then in the 1950s, scientists using new dating methods found that the skull fragments of Piltdown Man were actually the remains of a man less than 50,000 years old. And they discovered that the jawbone really belonged to a young orangutan, whose teeth had been filed down and painted so that they would look like those of primitive man!

It was eventually shown that someone had placed the bones in the gravel pit by hand. Was Dawson himself the guilty party? No one knows for sure. But Piltdown Man, the human ancestor who never lived, fooled most of the world for more than 35 years!

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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