[PILTDOWN MAN]. DAWSON, Charles & Arthur Smith WOODWARD. Supplementary Note on the Discovery of a Palæolithic Human Skull and Mandible at Piltdown. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London Vol LXX, Part 1, April 25th, 1914, No. 277. 1913-14.
8vo. Original blue paper wrappers; pp., xcvi + 103 + [2, ads.], 15 plates (Dawson & Woodward pp. 82-99, plates XIV & XV); wrappers a little spotted, a little foxing to edges, very good.
First edition. This is the second of four papers recording the announcement of the discovery of Piltdown Man, one of the most notorious scientific hoaxes ever perpetrated. In December 1912 Charles Dawson, a Sussex solicitor and renowned amateur archaeologist, announced the discovery of a skull and jawbone in the small village of Piltdown, near Lewes, that proved the existence of the missing link between man and apes. The jaw was ape-like, but the skull had obviously housed a human-sized brain. His claim had been verified by Arthur Smith Woodward of the Natural History Museum, and the two of them produced the report to the Geological Society which formally presented their findings to the scientific community for the first time. The effect of their work was sensational; although some scientists were sceptical, Dawson's findings were accepted with great acclaim, especially when he found a canine tooth, described in the 1914 paper, that was neither simian nor human in size and appeared to confirm the discovery of an intermediate hominid. Dawson also uncovered primitive tools, including something that looked uncannily like an early cricket bat, and later a second skeleton, and for the next forty years Piltdown Man was a fixture in man's family tree. It was not until 1952, after a series of newly devised tests had been applied to the remains, that the awful truth was uncovered - Piltdown Man was nothing more than a confection of human skull, orangutan jaw and filed-down ape tooth. All of Dawson's finds had been artificially and skilfully aged and planted in the soil at Piltdown.
By this time, both Dawson and Woodward were dead, and there is still much debate over who exactly was responsible for the fraud. It is perhaps telling that the Piltdown discoveries ceased after Dawson's premature death in 1916, although Woodward continued digging the site. It is also worth noting that a number of Dawson's other prize finds turned out to be fakes. Other names to be implicated include those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived near Piltdown, and Martin Hinton, a colleague of Woodward at the Museum who fell out with him and may have wanted to discredit him. Whoever the perpetrators, the fact remains that this fraud had serious scientific consequences for over 50 years. Piltdown Man's celebrated place in the evolutionary tree meant that true transitional hominids such as the Australopithecines, discovered by Raymond Dart in 1924, were neglected while scientists swallowed the many red herrings thrown up by Dawson's Sussex excavations. Moreover, fuel was provided for the Creationists' arguments - now that the greatest scientifically verified example of evolution was shown to be false, how could any other scientific evidence be viewed without suspicion?