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BOOK REVIEW The Piltdown Forgery. ByJ. S. Weiner. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1980. Pp. 214+xii. $4.00 (paper). Originally published in 1955, this book—in unabridged paperback republication—attests to the continuing interest in diis remarkable unsolved twentieth-century whodunit. The genesis of this grand deception of die world's scholars of human evolution occurred in 1912 at a meeting of the Geological Society of London widi die announcement of the discovery of an extraordinary combination of a human braincase and an apelike jaw at Piltdown in Sussex, England. Thereafter controversy raged about the interpretation of this and a subsequent discovery, Piltdown II, both found widi animal remains and crude flint tools. Piltdown man was enthusiastically dubbed the "dawn man" (Eoanthropus dawsoni—in honor of the discoverer, Charles Dawson, a country lawyer and amateur archaeologist and geologist) and the "earliest Englishman." Only 41 years later did the canny reasoning ofJoseph Weiner and the thorough scientific sleuthing by him, Kenneth Oakley, and Wilfrid Le Gros Clark halt the arguments by proving, thoroughly and convincingly, that a fraud had been perpetrated . Many call it a hoax, but there is no real evidence for this, and the phrase only soft-pedals the deliberate and carefully conceived sequence offorgeries and their criminal intent. The republication of this epic comes at a time when tampering with data has uneasily and embarrassingly been revealed in odier scientific disciplines in recent years. Weiner painstakingly, yet excitingly, records the circumstances and events of the discoveries, the scientific milieu in which they were accepted by so many, and the doubts expressed by some, even of possible faking of the specimens (but usually not followed through to convincing conclusions). I opine that it is possible that the enthusiastic and almost automatic immediate acceptance evoked by the Piltdown assemblage in Great Britain (probably through national pride), the lack of a scientific demand for clarification of all the hazy, skimpy facts of die discoveries (and the lack of scorn for such inadequacies), as well as the apparent absence of thorough and detailed follow-up of some of the doubts expressed at scientific meetings and in publications may actually have contributed to a hoax (or fiendishly clever practical joke) being converted into a great fraud. The author has tracked down documents concerning all the known dramatis personae , and he reveals the astonishing vagueness of the recording of the discoveries and the obvious gullibility and subjectivity of so many anthropologists. Personality clashes among some famous scientists of the day affected their Permission to reprint a book review presented in this section may be obtained only from the author. 336 I Book Review objectivity—a not unknown disease in science in general to this day. CarefuUy, and avoiding the finaljudgment, he discusses die pros and cons of the possible involvement in the fraud of die various characters, and even of (unlikely) collusion among them—Charles Dawson, Sir Arthur Woodward (keeper ofgeology at the British Museum of Natural History, announcer in 1912 of the discoveries, and strong proponent of Piltdown man's association with the recovered animals and tools in die early Ice Age setting), Teilhard de Chardin (die Jesuit theologian and scientist who actually discovered one ofthe important "fossils" in situ in the Piltdown gravels), Lewis Abbott (jeweler and amateur geologist, early confidant of Dawson and firm believer in the Pliocene age of die discoveries), and others. Even though die damning investigations of the diree scientific "detectives"— using anatomical, experimental, radiographic, and chemical analyses—revealed (in 1953) each and every forgery of the "fossils," it did not unmask die mysterious perpetrator. The puzzle still intrigues the minds of many: only recendy another accusing finger was unconvincingly pointed toward Teilhard. Weiner's closing chapters appear to direct the jury in Dawson's direction, but, quite rightly, he does not submit the verdict of the foreman—nor, without clear motive , can he. For those of you who were never aware of all die details of the Piltdown forgery or who are too young to know of its existence, this book will enthrall you as much, page by page, as any Agama Christie (but die mystery man is not pulled out of the cranium in die...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 336-337
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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