Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Piltdown Man Hoax and Mystery

Teilhard de Chardin and Hinton

Teilhard de Chardin
Teilhard de Chardin

Like Dawson and Woodward, Teilhard had access to many of the artifacts found at Piltdown. In fact, he made some of the discoveries himself, including a canine tooth that had been stained to make it appear ancient. Because of this, he was believed by many to have been an accomplice in the Piltdown forgery. Yet, there is little if any evidence that supports the theory and there doesnt seem to be any apparent motive.

However, a Harvard paleontologist named Stephen Jay Gould thought differently. He believed that Teilhard co-conspired with Dawson in masterminding the Piltdown hoax. Furthermore, he thought that Teilhard did have reason enough to follow through with the fraud. Spencer suggested that Teilhards probable motive for assisting Dawson was a curious mixture of nationalistic spite and the irresistible desire to test the gullibility of the scientific establishment.

According to an article by Mary Lukas titled Teilhard and the Piltdown Hoax, Goulds biggest reason for suspecting Teilhard was a letter he wrote to Kenneth Oakley in 1953. In the letter, Teilhard claimed that Dawson took him to the Piltdown II site in 1913, two years prior to Dawson having found the cranial remains and other artifacts at the location. Based on this information, Gould believed he was guilty because he had actually been to the site years before anyone had known of it.

Yet, Thomson stated in his article that Teilhard was an unlikely candidate because he had no quarrels with Dawson or Woodward. Most importantly, he was absent from the country at the time many of the alleged discoveries were made at Piltdown II. Thus, it is less likely that he could have planted any of the material at the sites or have altered the pieces while he was nowhere near the artifacts or Piltdown II during most of the times in question.

It may not have been likely that Teilhard was actually a collaborator in the Piltdown fraud, yet Martin Hinton was considered a more probable candidate. Hinton was a respected paleontologist and the curator of zoology at the British Museum of Natural History. He was also an expert in the authentication of fossils, as well as a practical joker.

Martin Hinton
Martin Hinton

It was widely known at the time that Hinton held little warmth for Woodward. In fact, he disliked him immensely. Some believed that this was motive enough for him to alter and plant the objects later found at the Piltdown site.

With a reputation as a jokester and knowledge in the field of fossils, especially of those found in gravel beds, it was likely to many that he could have concocted and carried out the infamous Piltdown hoax. It was even suggested that he could have been the source of a rumor that questioned the authenticity of the Piltdown artifact. Although there is only circumstantial evidence, which supports this theory, it is believed that Hinton may have been the first to call the Piltdown discoveries a hoax. If this is the case, there is a chance he had knowledge of the forgery from very early on.

Hinton (left) & Dawson in ditch
Hinton (left) & Dawson in ditch

Thus, if he did have such knowledge, where would it have come from and does it point to his possible involvement in the scam? It will never known, but Hinton seems to be the only one who claimed to have an early knowledge of the hoax before most were aware of it. Yet, that doesnt necessarily mean he was the perpetrator. It is a possibility that he just knew the person behind the scheme.

Hinton did claim at one point to have known the identity of the Piltdown hoaxer. Spencer stated that he declared that the person responsible for the Piltdown fraud worked at the British Museum at the time the discoveries were revealed to the world. However, he apparently was reluctant to divulge his identity because the man was still living and he did not want to damage his reputation.

<em>Piltdown, A Scientific Forgery</em>
Piltdown, A Scientific Forgery

Throughout his life, Hinton maintained that he was in no way involved in the hoax. Although, he did stick with his story that he knew the person who did it. Unfortunately, the culprits name was never revealed and the mystery of who was behind the Piltdown hoax continued to elude the scientific community. Then in the 1980s a new suspect rose to the forefront of the mystery. He was one of the least likely culprits, but he was by far the most intriguing and widely known. His name was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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