Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 5th, 2012
Piltdown Man, “Discovered” in 1912.
Bodies of evidence: John Cooke’s 1915 painting of the Piltdown men – see large image for details. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex Features
The Guardian has an interesting read today. In “Piltdown Man: British archaeology’s greatest hoax,” we learn that…
In a few weeks, a group of British researchers will enter the labyrinthine store of London’s Natural History Museum and remove several dark-coloured pieces of primate skull and jawbone from a small metal cabinet. After a brief inspection, the team will wrap the items in protective foam and transport them to a number of laboratories across England. There the bones and teeth, which have rested in the museum for most of the last century, will be put through a sequence of highly sensitive tests using infra-red scanners, lasers and powerful spectroscopes to reveal each relic’s precise chemical make-up.
The aim of the study, which will take weeks to complete, is simple. It has been set up to solve a mystery that has baffled researchers for 100 years: the identities of the perpetrators of the world’s greatest scientific fraud, the Piltdown Hoax.
For more, read here.
Bones of contention: the ‘skull’ fragments with a full-size replica. Photograph: Antonio Olmos
The Piltdown hoax has many levels of mystery, however, and another question that needs to be answered is: What are the species of origin for the Piltdown skull?
As the article notes, the Piltdown hoax was revealed when “a team led by geologist Kenneth Oakley, anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark and anthropologist Joseph Weiner took a closer look and in 1953 announced that Piltdown’s big braincase belonged to a modern human being while the jawbone came from an orangutan or chimpanzee.”
So what can be learned about the “human” skull and what species of “orangutan or chimpanzee” constituted the rest of the hoax? You can’t tell me that no one is curious.
As is often mentioned in cryptozoology and hominology, anthropologists are especially careful about the evidence for Bigfoot because they were fooled so badly by the Piltdown hoax. Standards of “proof” increased after the Piltdown affair, we are told. Perhaps if the detective work done on the 100 year old hoax solves some of the enigmas of this hoax, Science can move on from the post-traumatic distrust that appears to have resulted from that 100 year old event?
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