• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

stream/download this segment as an MP3 file

This week, we have facts about Piltdown Man. Fifty years ago, a skull thought to be the missing link between ape and man was exposed as one of the biggest hoaxes in the history of science.


GELLERMAN: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.

[MUSIC: The Flaming Lips “Are You A Hypnotist” YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS (Warner Bros. Records - 2002)]

GELLERMAN: It seemed like the discovery of a lifetime. Amateur anthropologist Richard Dawson suspected the skull he dug up in southern England in 1912 was the long sought connection between ape and man. Scientists agreed and newspapers headlined “Missing Link Discovered in Piltdown Quarry.”

But Richard Milner, contributing editor for Natural History magazine, says there was a bit of old English bluster behind the celebrated find.

MILNER: The British really wanted to accept Piltdown from the start because they were somewhat jealous of France that had all these wonderful cave paintings, and had Cro-Magnon remains, and their Neanderthals. And the Germans had their Neanderthals. So the English were hungry to have the earliest Englishman.

GELLERMAN: Forty years later, scientists decried Piltdown as a great hoax. An orangutan’s jaw, a 500-year-old human skull, and filed teeth were all chemically treated to look prehistoric. But, who done it? Dawson? Or maybe one of his colleagues? Milner points an accusing finger at a celebrated mystery writer of the time.

MILNER: Despite the intellectual science of “Sherlock Holmes,” Conan Doyle was really something of a mystic. He believed you could communicate with spirits from the beyond. And the scientists ridiculed him, laughed at him that he didn’t know the meaning of evidence. So Conan Doyle, in this scenario, thought, I’ll teach them something about the meaning of evidence.

GELLERMAN: Patrons to Britain’s Natural History Museum are free to sleuth for clues and try to unravel the mystery for themselves this month. The forged Piltdown skull will be displayed there for the first time since its discovery. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC: The Flaming Lips “Are You A Hypnotist” YOSHIMI BATTLES THE PINK ROBOTS (Warner Bros. Records - 2002)]



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth