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The Mystery of Piltdown Man

In December 1912 an astonishing discovery was done in a gravel pit in southern England. It was announced that the lawyer and amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson found prehistoric remains up to 1 million years old, which combined the skull of a human and the jaw of an ape. This discovery was done at the village Piltdown so the discovery was called the Piltdown Man.

Natural History Museum

The Piltdown Man was a riddle for the scientific world. For a century researchers were determined to found out this missing evolutionary link between apes and humans. They wanted to proof that the human’s enlarge brains had evolved earlier than had been supposed.

Now, exactly one century later, scientists at London’s Natural History Museum want to solve the mystery to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The Piltdown Man was never a missing link, but an archaeological hoax that fooled scientist for decades. This was concluded by scientist from London’s Natural History Museum and Oxford University in 1953.  But who made this archaeological fraud and what drove them? Was it scientific ambition, humour or malice? A team of 15 researches will examine these remains with ancient DNA research, radiocarbon dating, isotope studies and by examining the museum’s archives.

The suspects of this archaeologists vary from Charles Dawson to museum zoologists Martin Hinton and palaeontologist Pierre Theilhard. Even Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes who lived near Piltdown, is one of the suspects. Whoever it was, there is one thing to be learned from the Piltdown Man: archaeologists should always be wary of hoaxes.