1912 - Piltdown Man ‘discovered’ in England.
The Piltdown Man Hoax
In a gravel-pit at Piltdown Common, Southern England, in 1912, amateur collector Charles Dawson ‘discovered’ what appeared to be the long-sought ‘missing link’ between apes and humans. This fortuitous find – nine pieces of a large-brained human skull and an ape-like lower jaw with two teeth – was readily accepted by the British establishment due to their belief that a large brain was one of the first human features to evolve. Although inconsistent with later discoveries, ‘Piltdown Man’s’ authenticity remained virtually unchallenged for 41 years.
Proving the fake
In 1953, advanced analytical and dating techniques proved Piltdown Man to be a fake. The mandible was stained with potassium bichromate and the teeth had been filed down. Fluorine testing proved that the pieces of the skull were of different ages. This was confirmed in 1959 by carbon dating, which provided a date of about 600 years for the skull!
Who dunnit, and why?
Was the Piltdown ‘find’ a hoax that went too far to be admitted, or an attempt to fool a rival? Although the hoaxer has never been identified, the strongest case has been made against Charles Dawson as the perpetrator. The only question really is whether he did it on his own or was assisted by a scientist. Dawson died in 1916, long before the ‘Piltdown Man’s’ authenticity was challenged.
Could a similar hoax happen today? - Not likely! Modern chemical, physical and anatomical screening techniques make it virtually impossible.