Piltdown Man forgery

At a meeting of the Geological Society of London, in December 1912, the fossil remains of what was claimed to be a new type of early human, Eoanthropus dawsoni, or ‘Piltdown Man’, were unveiled to the world.

It appeared that irrefutable evidence had been found at last for the sought-after ‘missing link’ between man and ape.

It was not until the 1950s that Piltdown Man was proved to be a forgery.

Contribution and collaboration

Staff of the Natural History Museum (previously the British Museum (Natural History)), the Geological Society, and the British Geological Survey (previously H.M. Geological Survey) were all involved with Piltdown — from discovery to unmasking. Some have been implicated in the forgery itself.

Archivists at the Natural History Museum, the Geological Society and the British Geological Survey pooled their resources to create a web-based exhibition telling the story of Piltdown Man’s discovery.

The Piltdown Timeline reveals the history of the forgery and the identity of individuals that have been accused of complicity or culpability in the affair.

The Piltdown story provides a cautionary lesson of how scientists can get things wrong and how science, when applied correctly, can reveal error and malpractice.

Piltdown and popular culture

The Piltdown forgery has also found its way into popular culture via TV, theatre, film and music.

Further reading and detailed bibliography

If you want to find out more about Piltdown then the following books would be a good place to start:

Russell, Miles, The Piltdown Man forgery: Case Closed (The History Press, 2012)

Spencer, Frank, The Piltdown Papers (Oxford University Press, 1990)

Walsh, John, Unravelling Piltdown: The Science Fraud of the Century and Its Solution (Random House, 1996)

Weiner, J S, The Piltdown Forgery (Fiftieth Anniversary edition, with a new Introduction and Afterword by Chris Stringer, Oxford University Press, 2003)

For a more detailed study of the whole Piltdown story, BGS Historian David G Bate has compiled a large annotated bibliography.

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Contact

Contact Andrew Morrison, BGS Archivist, for further details