Forgeries and science

After investigation by museum scientists, fragments of a human skull and ape-like jaw unearthed in Piltdown, Sussex were found to be a hoax.

The earliest Englishman

In 1911, pieces of a human skull and ape-like jaw were found in a quarry in Piltdown, Sussex by Charles Dawson, a solicitor and amateur archaeologist. Dawson showed the remains to his friend Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Museum. 

In their enthusiasm to proclaim the 'missing link', the men declared the remains to be that of a human ancestor, Eoanthropus dawsoni, in 1912. 

Teeth and other artefacts were found on the site until Dawson’s death in 1916. 

Testing the hypothesis

In following decades, newer hominid discoveries cast doubt over the human credentials of the specimens.

In 1949, fluorine dating of the specimens by Museum geologist and palaeontologist Kenneth Oakley suggested they were younger than expected. Together with Joseph Weiner from Oxford University, Oakley subjected the remains to further chemical testing. 

The results indicated that the jaw was from a modern ape, teeth filed down and jaw stained to match the skull.

The forgery and subsequent exposure of Piltdown Man, so intimately a part of the Museum’s history, is well documented in the Library’s collection of manuscripts, drawings and photographs.

Read more about the Piltdown hoax

Piltdown Man hoax

Men studying the Piltdown skull, painting by John Cooke, 1915 © Geological Society of London

Once believed to be the 'missing link' between apes and humans, Piltdown Man was exposed as an audacious fraud.

Find out about the key suspects and research that could finally reveal the truth.

Investigate the hoax and suspects

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