Creationist Arguments: Piltdown Man

No creationist who discusses the human fossil record avoids mentioning Piltdown Man. Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni) was discovered in England by an amateur, Charles Dawson, between 1908 and 1912. It consisted of parts of a surprisingly modern-looking skull associated with a surprisingly apelike lower jaw. Later fragments found in 1913 and 1915 also seemed to have a mixture of ape and human characteristics, and mostly quelled suspicion that the original bones were from two unrelated creatures. In 1953 Piltdown was discovered to be a hoax, consisting of a modern human skull and an orang-utan jaw. Well before then, Piltdown had become a puzzling anomaly when compared to all other hominid fossils, and the scientific community was relieved to be able to forget about it.

The paleontological community was horribly embarrassed by the uncovering of Piltdown, and justifiably so. A number of scientists had made what were in retrospect extremely foolish statements about the skull, elaborating on its "unmistakably apelike characteristics." Piltdown's acceptance was probably helped by the fact that it conformed to contemporary beliefs about what a primitive human skull would look like. In fact a number of scientists did believe that the cranium and jaw were not from the same creature, but no-one had suspected forgery.

Who committed the hoax? The most obvious suspect is Charles Dawson, Piltdown's discoverer, but virtually every person involved with Piltdown has been accused of participating in the hoax at one time or another. You can find comprehensive lists of all the accusations at the following pages by Richard Harter and Tom Turrittin.

The claim is sometimes made by creationists that 500 doctoral dissertations were written about Piltdown Man. This claim is false. If any doctoral dissertations were written about Piltdown Man, the number must have been very small. It was probably zero, based on the absence of dissertations in Piltdown bibliographies. Richard Harter discusses this claim at greater length.

Another occasional creationist claim is that the hoax was constructed in order to foster belief in human evolution. This is, at best, a guess; the motivation of the unknown hoaxer or hoaxers is unknown. (See also Richard Harter's discussion)

See the Piltdown Man Home Page and A Mostly Complete Piltdown Man Bibliography for further information.

The Piltdown Plot, by Charles Blinderman and David Joyce.

Piltdown 2003, by Chris Stringer (a look back on the 50th anniversary of its exposure)

This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive.

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