Piltdown timeline

In 1912, the scene was set for Piltdown. The theory of evolution was still relatively new and not everyone wanted to believe that humans were descended from apes. Ancient fossils of early humans were being discovered in Europe and further afield.

Discover the sequence of events leading up to the revelation of one of the most audacious scientific frauds ever committed.

Before Piltdown

1856The first fossils recognised as Neanderthal are discovered in Germany.
1858Darwin and Wallace's paper on natural selection is presented to the Linnean Society.
1859Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species.
1864Smith Woodward and Dawson are born within 8 months of each other.
1871Darwin publishes The Descent of Man, his book on human evolution.
1891The first Homo erectus fossil, known as Java Man, is found in Java, Indonesia.
1907The first Homo heidelbergensis fossil is discovered near Heidelberg, Germany.


1908The first fragment of Piltdown Man's skull is found, or so Dawson claimed.
1911Dawson finds more skull fragments along with other fossilised teeth and stone tools.
1912February 14: Dawson writes to Smith Woodward about the skull fragments.
1912May 24: Dawson visits Smith Woodward and shows him skull fragments and other fossils from Piltdown.
1912June 2: Dawson, Smith Woodward and Teilhard de Chardin start digging at Piltdown and find another piece of skull.
1912Summer: Piltdown Man's jawbone with molar teeth is discovered.
1912November 21: The Guardian runs a story on the finds at Piltdown.
1912December 18: Smith Woodward announces Piltdown Man at a meeting of the Geological Society in London.
1913August 30: Teilhard de Chardin finds the canine tooth.
1914The elephant fossil tool, known as the cricket bat is found.
1915Dawson says he's found more fossils at a nearby site to Piltdown.
1916August 10: Dawson dies of septicaemia, aged 52.

After Piltdown

Across the world, fossil discoveries contradict the Piltdown evidence, instead suggesting that jaws and teeth became human-like before the evolution of a large brain.

1944September 2: Smith Woodward dies shortly after dictating his book, The Earliest Englishman, to his wife.
1949Kenneth Oakley runs flourine tests that reveal the Piltdown fossils are more like 50,000 than 500,000 years old.
1953Joseph Weiner and Wilfrid Le Gros Clark join Oakley and discover the skull and jawbone come from entirely different species.
1953November 21: The Natural History Museum announces Piltdown Man is a hoax.