The Ancestor Who Never Was
Between 1908 and 1912, parts of a skull
and of a jawbone were found in a gravel pit at
Piltdown in Sussex, England, by amateur
paleontologist Charles Dawson. Some scientists
believed the remains came from a form of human
being who lived 250,000 years ago. Others
disagreed. Nevertheless, "Piltdown Man"
became famous as a "missing link"
between the physically modern human beings and
the apes because it had a large cranial vault
("brain cavity") and an ape-like jaw.
To scientists of the day this arrangement made
perfect sense, since it was generally assumed
that man had developed his large brain first and
human-like facial features second.
After years of controversy,
scientists used newly developed chemical tests on
the remains and found that the jaw actually came
from a modern ape and that the human skull was
much younger than the gravel in which it had been
found. In 1955, radiocarbon tests dated the skull
at A.D. 1230. Apparently, a prankster had buried
an orang-utan's jaw and a skull from a medical
cemetery. The jaw had been stained to make it
look old and the teeth filed to make them look
human. Who perpetrated the hoax, and why, has
never been conclusively determined.
World Book Encyclopedia
Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International,
The TalkOrigins Archive www.talkorigins.org/faqs/piltdown.html
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