Sociology Index

PILTDOWN MAN

Piltdown Man is one of the great science hoaxes of the 20th century. Human fossil remains were discovered in 1912 on an estate near Piltdown Common in England. Piltdown Man bones were claimed to be evidence of the evolutionary transition from hominid to homo sapiens and were thought to be very important.

While some doubt was raised about the authenticity of the Piltdown Man discovery, it was not until 1953, after the use of fluorine tests for dating archaeological materials, that the bones were revealed as a hoax. There is still considerable mystery about the perpetrator of this Piltdown Man hoax which stood for so long.

Piltdown Man confused the scientific community for 40 years until it was discovered that the skull was only 500 years old rather than 500,000, and the jawbone was that of an orangutan. The Piltdown Hoax illustrates the dangerous effects a preconceived notion of what "should" be true can have on the scientific pursuit of the truth.

Piltdown Man: Combining the Instruction of Scientific Ethics and Qualitative Research Analysis 
Vincent, John B. 
A laboratory experiment was developed to allow students to feel some of the sense of scientific discovery associated with the exposure of the Piltdown Man fraud. This is accomplished by modifying a commonly performed freshman chemistry laboratory experiment, qualitative analysis of group III metal ions. Pieces of chalk are treated with chromium, manganese, and iron to simulate the treatment used to forge the Piltdown Man "fossils".

Woodward, A. Smith. The Piltdown Man Skull. Nature, vol. 92, pp. 110-111. September 25, 1913.

Woodward, A. Smith. Note on the Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni ). Geol. Mag. n. s., Dec. 5, vol. 10, pp. 433-434, pl. 15. October, 1913.