Piltdown hoax dating
The researchers believe that at least two, and possibly three, skulls were used to make the cranial "fossil." Though the bones are thicker than a standard skull, they fall within the range of human variation, and their thickness is probably why the forger opted to use them.
But the overall of the forger was skillful and incredibly consistent, and only one of the 20 or so people who have been implicated in the hoax could have achieved the whole thing: Charles Dawson.
When Piltdown Man was unveiled before a meeting of London geologists in 1912, he was heralded as paleoanthropology's "missing link," the long-sought transitional form between modern humans and our great ape ancestor.
He had a smallish skull, a chimp-like jaw, and a mixture of primitive and modern teeth to boot.
Plus, he was a local; to this gathering of Brits, it would have seemed completely right and proper that humankind got its start just down the road in Sussex. In 1953, scientists at the British Natural History Museum and University of Oxford reported that the Piltdown fossil was actually a hodgepodge of human and orangutan bones, none of them more than 720 years old.
The remains had been meticulously worn down with a file and stained with iron and acid to give the appearance of age. [Five of the most famous scientific hoaxes] The scientists called the fake "extraordinarily skillful," and the hoax "so entirely unscrupulous and inexplicable as to find no parallel in the history of paleontological discovery." But their investigation couldn't resolve one question: Who would have done such a thing, and why?
[The platypus is so weird that scientists thought the first specimen was a hoax] "When a jaw and the skull bones were announced, there was a big discussion at the Geological Society about what the canine in such an animal would look like," De Groote told the BBC.
"And, ta-da — six or seven months later, a canine shows up and it looks exactly like what they had predicted." A look at Dawson's letters revealed why an apparently successful solicitor and respected amateur scientist would attempt such an audacious hoax.
Just five years earlier, German scientists had uncovered the mandible of a 600,000 year old in solidity," Dawson promised.
Some skeptics eyed Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and prominent paleontologist, who discovered a canine tooth that figured prominently in the skull's identification.
Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the famed creator of Sherlock Holmes, was implicated; he was a member of the same archaeological society as Dawson and, for various complicated reasons, may have wanted to put one over on the scientific establishment by faking the hominid bones.
Whoever committed the forgery, the consequences were long-lasting.
The belief that modern humans evolved in Britain persisted for another 40 years — it was so ingrained that many scientists dismissed a real archaic human fossil, the Taung Child, when it was uncovered in South Africa in 1924.
In addition, tiny cavities in the teeth were stuffed with pebbles and covered with putty to make them heavy — indicating that the forger knew fossil bones weigh more than recent ones.