Frauds in the Rise of the Apemen

Dear hijas,

Have you ever heard of Piltdown Man?

Piltdown Man

Perhaps you studied him at university in your anthropology classes or in your high school biology textbooks in the sections on evolution. Turns out he was a hoax, a fraud. Perpetuated for over 40 years as a ‘missing link’ in the human evolutionary chain it was a very successful hoax indeed; a combination of ape and human bones labeled Eoanthropus dawsoni after Charles Dawson the medical doctor and amateur paleontologist who in 1912 discovered a mandible (lower jaw) and part of a skull in a gravel pit in Piltdown, England.

Piltdown man 1912

Here’s the story. The jawbone was apelike but had teeth that showed similar wear to that of humans. The skull, on the other hand, was very humanlike. The two specimens were combined, together with other pieces of skull, and later a canine tooth in the Piltdown gravel pit and surrounding area, and this combination was called ‘Dawn Man’. He was calculated to be 500, 000 years old.

Turns out the whole thing was an elaborate hoax. The skull was indeed human (but only about 500 years old), the jawbone was that of an orangutan whose teeth had been obviously filed down to crudely resemble the human wear pattern, and the canine tooth discovered 3 months later had been filed down so far it had exposed the pulp chamber, which was then filled in to hide the mischief.

The fraud was likely committed by only one or two persons, (a dozen different individuals have been named as the likely culprit or culprits) whether Dawson or someone else, nobody knows, but the fascinating thing is that the hoax lasted for over 40 years! It was only in 1982 that the mandible and canine tooth were determined conclusively, by collagen reactions, to be those of an orangutan.

The literature produced on Piltdown Man was huge. Perhaps as many as 500 doctoral dissertations were written on Piltdown. Thinking they were writing and perhaps seeing actual fossils of their evolutionary ancestors ‘proving’ the human evolutionary chain, they were really writing and looking at a hoax. Sir Arthur Keith, perhaps one of the greatest anatomists of the twentieth century, and writing about Piltdown more than anyone (see his The Antiquity of Man), was completely conned. Keith had put his faith in Piltdown. At 86 years old he was at home when he was told that the fossil he had trusted in for more than 40 years was a fraud. His Autobiography tells of  his attending evangelistic meetings and seeing students make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and often feeling ‘on the verge of conversion.’ Sadly, he had rejected the gospel in large part to faith in a phony fossil and the human evolutionary chain it supposedly was part of.

The widespread myth, mis hijas, is that science is a superior worldview because of its self-correcting nature. In reality, it’s not all that self-correcting in any meaningful way as the Piltdown Hoax has demonstrated. Science as a tool, practiced in light of God’s revelation in Scripture, is very powerful to explain the means that our Creator upholds and sustains His Creation; science as practiced by unregenerate men and women looking to explain their origins apart from God, is fraught with hoaxes, frauds, and errors.

As always, I remain,

Dear ol’ Dad

Vaya con Dios mis hijas


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