Sunday, January 22, 2012

Piltdown Man

The "Piltdown Man" was the fossilised remains of a previously unknown early human, consisting of fragments of a skull and jawbone collected in 1912 from a gravel pit at Piltdown, East Sussex, England that were later discovered to be a hoax. The Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni ("Dawson's dawn-man", after the collector Charles Dawson) was given to the specimen. The significance of the specimen remained the subject of controversy until it was exposed in 1953 as a forgery, consisting of the lower jawbone of an orangutan that had been deliberately combined with the skull of a fully developed modern human.

The Piltdown hoax is perhaps the most famous archeological hoax ever. It has been prominent for two reasons: the attention paid to the issue of human evolution, and the length of time (more than 40 years) that elapsed from its discovery to its full exposure as a forgery.

In 1912, the Piltdown man was believed to be the “missing link” between apes and humans by the majority of the scientific community. However, over time the Piltdown man lost its validity, as other discoveries such as Taung Child and Peking Man were found. R.W. Ehrich and G.M. Henderson note, “To those who are not completely disillusioned by the work of their predecessors, the disqualification of the Piltdown skull changes little in the broad evolutionary pattern. The validity of the specimen has always been questioned.” Eventually, in the 1940s and 1950s, more advanced dating technologies, such as the fluorine absorption test, scientifically proved that this skull was actually a fraud.

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