Photo by: Purwo Kuncoro

The Piltdown Man Hoax

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Group portrait of the Piltdown skull being examined. Back row (from left): F. O. Barlow, G. Elliot Smith, Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward. Front row: A. S. Underwood, Arthur Keith, W. P. Pycraft, and Ray Lankester. Note the portrait of Charles Darwin on the wall. Painting by John Cooke, 1915. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The latest episode of The Leakey Foundation’s Origin Stories podcast explores the story of the infamous Piltdown Man hoax.

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. 

Research published in 2016 by Isabelle de Groote et al. used DNA analyses, high-precision measurements, spectroscopy, and virtual anthropology to tie all of the evidence to one person.

Listen and share!

This episode of Origin Stories was produced by Leo Hornak and edited by Julia Barton with sound design by Katie McMurran. The host and series producer is Meredith Johnson, our senior producer is Catherine Girardeau.

You can also listen to Dr. Joseph Weiner’s Leakey Foundation lecture on Piltdown Man. Weiner was one of the first people to expose the Piltdown fraud. This lecture was recorded in 1980.

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