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In this episode, we explore the story of Piltdown Man – one of the most notorious hoaxes in history. 

When Piltdown Man was discovered in a gravel pit outside a small English village in 1912, it was celebrated as a “missing link.” The find captured the public’s imagination and became world-famous. The problem was that Piltdown Man was a complete fraud. The purported fossils were actually made up of modern human bones and an orangutan mandible.

The Piltdown hoax suspects have included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, and the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin. Now, more than 100 years later, scientists have narrowed the suspects down to a single culprit. 

Thanks to producer Leo Hornak for reporting this story.

Thanks also to Professor Chris Dean of University College, London, Dr. Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool University, Karolyn Shindler, Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London, and Dr. David Joyce of Clark University, who runs the excellent Piltdown Plot website.

Thanks as well to Dr. Miles Russell of Bournemouth University – author of  “Piltdown Man: The Secret Life of Charles Dawson.”

And finally thanks to Dr. Hugh Cecil for his advice and encouragement.

Readings were by Luke Blackall, Angelo Hornak, and Jonathan Keates.

The archival lecture audio used in this episode is from The Leakey Foundation Archive. You can listen to Dr. Weiner’s complete lecture on our website

The Leakey Foundation

Origin Stories is a project of The Leakey Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding human origins research and outreach. The Leakey Foundation funds cutting-edge research about human evolution and human behavior. Support this show and the science we talk about with a tax-deductible donation. Thanks to a generous supporter, your donation will automatically be doubled!

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Producer: Leo Hornak

Editor: Julia Barton

Host and Series Producer: Meredith Johnson

Senior Producer: Catherine Girardeau

Sound Design: Katie McMurran

Theme Music: Henry Nagle

Additional Music:

Lee Rosevere “Tech Toys” 


This season of Origin Stories is made possible by support from Dixon Long, Jeanne Newman, Camilla Smith, and donors like you!

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