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2012 December – Piltdown: 100 years on

‘Discussion on the Piltdown Skull’ by John Cooke (ref: GSL/POR/19) from the archives of the Geological Society of London
One hundred years ago, Piltdown man was revealed to the world at a packed and excited meeting at the Geological Society of London on 18 December 1912. It was hailed as a very early species of human – possibly even a missing link between man and ape that Charles Darwin had predicted.

It was of course, as we know now, an audacious hoax that convinced many of the greatest scientific names of the time – but it was very far from harmless. It had pernicious effects not only on scientific research for decades, but also on the reputations of those most intimately involved. Part of what makes this fascinating story so compelling is that, one hundred years on, we still don’t know the forger’s identity.

Perhaps it would lose its magic if we did! There is, as yet, no incontrovertible proof as to who the perpetrator was or why they did it. There is no smoking gun, no signed confession, and a daunting list of possible suspects.

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