Scientist or Fraud?


Just because it sounds fun to me, I’m going to make October Hoax month. All of the Faith Filled Science Posts and the Fun Science Facts in October will be about great (and some not-so-great) scientific hoaxes. I’m sure we’ll laugh together about some of these.

I’ll start with an old one, the hoax of Piltdown Man in 1912. The set of fossils, found near Piltdown, England, included a skull and a jaw bone discovered in a gravel pit by Charles Dawson. Piltdown Man appeared to be the missing link between humans and apes because the skull was hominid-like and the jaw bone was ape-like.

It took 40 years for this fraud to come to light. In 1953, scientists released evidence that Piltdown Man was a hoax. Evidence like scratches found on the surface of the teeth where they were ground down to make them appear more human. And evidence that the skull and teeth were artificially stained to match the local graves.

These fossils seemed like a mixture between humans and apes because they were—in reality, the skull was human and the jaw bone was from an orangutan. And so Piltdown Man was put down.

Was this a hoax for profit, fame or just to further the spread of evolution? And who was responsible? There are several suspects in this fraud, and of course Charles Dawson is one of them. He had found many other notable fossils in his lifetime, several of which were later classified as fakes. And no other Piltdown Man fossils were found anywhere after his death in 1916. There were a few other possible suspects, but my money’s on Charles (if I were a gambling kind of girl).

We will probably never know the specifics of this hoax, although it certainly speaks to the lengths even scientists will go to present the illusion of truth. But an illusion can’t hide the truth forever.


Photo Credit: ID 40007121 © Creativemarc |

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