17 June 2008
[PILTDOWN MAN]. DAWSON, Charles (1864-1916) and Arthur Smith WOODWARD (1864-1944). On the Discovery of a Palaeolithic Skull and Mandible in a Flint-bearing Gravel Overlaying the Wealden (Hastings Beds) at Piltdown, Fletching (Sussex). Offprint from: Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society, Volume 69 (March, 1913). [London, 1913].
4o (298 x 230 mm). 7 plates. Original grey printed wrappers (slightly browned). Provenance: Charles E. Fagan, I.S.O. (presentation inscription).
"THE MOST NOTORIOUS CASE OF SCIENTIFIC FORGERY IN THE HISTORY OF BRITISH ARCHEOLOGY AND PALAEOANTHROPOLOGY" (Turritin)
FIRST EDITION, offprint issue, of Dawson's first published report of his fraudulent "discovery" of "Piltdown Man", the so-called missing link between ape and man, in Red Crag gravel at Barkham Manor between 1909 and 1912, and presented to the Geological Society on 18 December 1912. PRESENTATION COPY inscribed on the front cover "Charles E. Fagan, Esq., I.S.O. with kind regards of the Authors" in a secretarial hand.
Dawson initially took his curious bone fragments to A. Smith Woodward at the Natural History Museum "for comparison and determination. He was immediately impressed with the importance of the discovery" (page ), immediately recognizing that the bones were from a creature with a hominid skull and simian (apelike) jawbone, and dubbed the creature Eoanthropus (dawn-man) dawsoni in honor of Dawson. "Taking all its features into consideration, we must regard this as being the most primitive and most simian human brain so far recorded... The apparent paradox of the association of a simian jaw with a human brain is not surprising to anyone familiar with recent research upon the evolution of man" (page 147). A discovery of this nature fit well with the preconceived notions of the time in regard to the evolution of man, which assumed that the rapid growth of the human brain preceded development of the human frame. A discovery of such magnitude in Europe also fit with prevailing racial attitudes, and more regional notions of national-pride in a "First Briton."
Although there were sceptics of Piltdown Man from the outset, and subsequent discoveries of early hominids in China, Java and Africa "rendered the Piltdown reconstruction utterly incredible" (DSB) it was forty years before techniques for determining the age of fossils were sophisticated enough to reveal the full extent of Dawson's hoax. Piltdown Man was really a five-hundred-year old human skull and the jawbone of an orangutan. Turritin The Piltdown Man Forgery Bibliography, 2006.
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