The mystery of the Piltdown man hoax may have finally been solved by scientists who have been re-examining the evidence.
It was a hoax that fooled some of the most eminent minds in the country and has remained unsolved for 100 years.
Now scientists believe they can finally put to rest the mystery of how one of the most famous scientific frauds in history was orchestrated and who was responsible for creating the fake remains of a human ancestor known as Piltdown man.
The bones, discovered in a gravel pit in Piltdown, East Sussex, in 1912 alongside animal fossils and stone tools, were celebrated as a missing link in the evolution between apes and humans that lived around 500,000 years ago.
It was nearly 50 years before it was exposed as a fake, while the perpetrators, and their motives, have remained unknown ever since.
However, archaeologists, palaeontologists and anthropologists are this week holding a special meeting at the Geological Society in London to discuss the results of the latest investigation into the hoax aimed at finally answering the outstanding questions.
They have subjected the bones and teeth to a series of sophisticated modern tests in an attempt to find their true origins.
Although some of the tests are still ongoing, the scientists believe they have gathered enough evidence to narrow down the list of more than 15 suspects accused of the fraud, among them Arthur Conan Doyle, the author, to one man – Charles Dawson, the amateur archaeologist and solicitor who first found the bones.
They believe he was driven by a desire to be accepted into the scientific establishment and planted remains from other archaeological sites from around the world at the Piltdown gravel pit.
Dr Miles Russell, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University who has just published a book called The Piltdown Man Hoax: Case Closed, will present evidence that Dawson had created as many as 38 fakes through his career as an amateur scientist.
He said: “It is quite clear that over his lifetime he fabricated 38 separate dubious finds all of which seem to have been intended to impress museum curators to get into different scientific societies.
“When you look at the finds, however, they seem to have happened within 15 miles of his house in East Sussex. In many cases material he found then went missing after he described it.”
In one early find, Dawson claimed to have found the remains of one of the earliest timber boats in the country, but shortly after his discovery, it mysteriously went missing.
A tooth that Dawson also hailed as a missing link between reptiles and mammals appears to have been altered with a metal file.
He also claimed to have found a rare Roman tile, but dating has shown it would have been newly made at around the time Dawson found it rather than 2,000 years old.
The Piltdown man discovery was first announced to the world at a packed meeting at the Geological Society on 18 December 1912. Claimed as a missing link in the evolution between apes and modern humans, it caused a sensation.
Dawson, from Lewes, East Sussex, claimed he had found a thick human like skull in gravel beds a Piltdown and worked with Arthur Smith Woodward, the keeper of geology at the Natural History Museum, on the find.
Together they unearthed a series of skull fragments, a jawbone with two teeth, animal fossils and some primitive stone tools.
The pair named their new human species Eoanthropus dawsoni, or Dawson’s Dawn Man. Although some scientists questioned the discovery, many others backed the find.
Dawson died in 1916 from septicaemia and the fossils were locked away, meaning the find was never independently scrutinised.
In 1949, however, two scientists at Oxford University gained access to the Piltdown fossils to carry out more stringent tests.
They discovered that while the cranium was from a human that was probably only 50,000 years old, the jaw was from an orang-utan.
The teeth had also been filed down while all of the bones had been stained to match the colour of the gravel they were found in.
Among the suspects accused of being behind the fake were Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who lived near the site and was said to have planted the material to discredit the science of evolution that he opposed as a spiritualist.
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