Monday, December 7, 2009

Piltdown Hoax

Science is one of man’s greatest tools--as long as scientists maintain objectivity. When they attempt to cook the books, everyone loses. Man-made global warming, for instance, seems to be an unquestionable tenet among some researchers. At the University of East Anglia, home of England’s Climate Research Unit, purloined emails suggest that climatologists will brook no dissent from their view that man is destroying the planet. Recently, while reading about their heavy-handed attempts to destroy scientists who question man-made global warming, the Piltdown Hoax came to mind.

In 1908, Piltdown, a small village near Lickfield in East Sussex, England, had a few pubs and churches and not much else. It also had a pit where workers sometimes extracted gravel. In their excavations, they would occasionally discover flint carved into tools by early man.

Charles Dawson, a collector of ancient relics, happened by the pit one day. He asked the workers if they had ever found any old bones or skulls. When they told him they hadn’t, he implored them to look out for such things and save them for him. A few months later, Dawson claimed that a worker had indeed found part of a skull. The relic hunter took possession of it, estimating its age at 300,000-years-old.

After several searches of the gravel pit, Dawson gathered a small team of well-known scientists and began to assemble the fragments of bone he claimed to have found there. In 1912, he announced to the world that he had found the skull of a human fused with the jaw of an ape. This, Dawson asserted, was the “missing link.”

The announcement was a sensation. The printed press couldn’t get enough of the story. The skull was called Piltdown Man, and trumpeted as proof that the evolutionists were right.

Since Charles Darwin had published The Origin of Species in 1859, a battle to the death had been raging over the origins of man. Christians believed in the literal accuracy of the Bible while evolutionists declared that humans evolved from apes or ape-like creatures. The debate struck at the core of religion: if man evolved, then the Biblical version of creation was wrong.

The press continued to be giddy with excitement. The missing link had been found--Darwin was right all along. But some scientists who had seen the skull complained that the jaw and cranium didn’t match. They couldn’t belong to the same “person.” These skeptics, however, were soon silenced by the outrage of the reputable scientific community. The authenticity of the Piltdown Man could not be challenged.

The skull was donated to the British Museum. Plaster casts were sent to museums and scientists all around the world, but the original skull was placed under lock and key. Scientists who wanted to study the phenomenon could only view the plaster casts.

Between 1920 and 1950, textbooks were re-written. Generations of school-children were taught that man had evolved from apes, and that Piltdown Man provided the proof. Dawson and his fellow-scientists were knighted. As the years rolled by, Piltdown Man became accepted as scientific gospel. Any scientist who dared to raise questions about its authenticity was quickly silenced.

In 1953, a paleontologist and anthropologist who worked at the British Museum was allowed to study the original Piltdown skull. Kenneth Oakley, along with anthropologist Joseph Weiner and anatomy professor Le Gros Clark, tested the fragments with a fluorine solution designed to determine the age of bones. After their tests were run, they concluded that the bones were recent.

On further examination, it turned out that the bone fragments had been deliberately stained with bichromate (a photographic printing ink) so they would appear ancient. Additional testing proved that Piltdown had been faked from top to bottom. In fact, later radiocarbon tests revealed that the cranium was human, and about 600-years-old. The jaw was that of a 500-year-old orangutan.

According to scientists who investigated the affair, all of the bone fragments found at the gravel pit had likely been planted. The whole Piltdown Man episode was a 40-year-old hoax.

Charles Dawson was almost certainly the hoaxer, although some of the scientists who worked with him may have been complicit. All went to their graves praised and acclaimed.

1 comment:

A.M. said...

THANK-YOU for that very informative write up.
It is nice that the bones were scientifically proven to be
from a different time frame. Of course the bones as well as Darwin are from the wrong time frame
as The Holy Bible is True and Correct!
As Always God Bless in Jesus Name!