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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 10:07 GMT
Piltdown Man: Timeline of deceit
Piltdown Man went from being one of the biggest discoveries of the 20th Century to being its greatest scientific embarrassment. This was the sequence of events.

Autumn 1911 - Charles Dawson, a solicitor and respected amateur geologist, explores a gravel bed in Piltdown, Sussex, and finds a piece of fossilised human bone.

Piltdown Man Inn, Gardiner
So famous, they named the local pub after Piltdown Man
14 February 1912 - Charles Dawson writes to his friend Arthur Smith Woodward, vertebrate palaeontologist and keeper of geology at the British Museum (Natural History), to tell him of his Piltdown discoveries.

Spring and Summer 1912 - Dawson, Smith Woodward and the priest and amateur geologist Teilhard de Chardin continue excavations in Sussex. Finds include an important piece of fossilised jaw.

18 December 1912 - Dawson and Smith Woodward present their discoveries to the Geological Society. The specimens include a large part of a human-like skull, most of one side of the ape-like lower jaw (missing the canine), animal remains and even evidence of early tools. 'Piltdown Man' is estimated to be 500,000 years old.

The discovery fits almost exactly the predicted development of man but some remain unconvinced. Some scientists remain sceptical and suggest that the jaw and skull are not from the same creature.

Thousands of text books would have to be revised because of the hoax, said the Daily Mirror

21 November 1912 - The Guardian newspaper announces "One of the most important prehistoric finds of our time has been made in Sussex".

1913 - The Piltdown fossils go on display to the public.

30 August 1913 - De Chardin finds the missing canine close to the spot where the jaw was found. The tooth closely fulfils Smith Woodward's prediction of its shape, size and wear and is described as being more human-like than ape-like.

1914 - Workmen at the Piltdown site uncover a fossil slab of elephant bone artificially shaped to form a club-like implement. It resembles a cricket bat.

1915 - Remains of a second Piltdown Man are found two miles away from the first gravel pit. The find includes parts of the brain-case, a molar tooth and a lower Pleistocene rhinocerous tooth. Over the next few years a number of former sceptics come to believe that the Piltdown remains belong to one species of early man.

Towards the end of the year Dawson falls ill and the location of Piltdown II is never identified.

10 September 1916 - Charles Dawson dies from septicaemia.

1917 to 1944 - Smith Woodward opens up a number of pits near the original excavation and eventually retires to Haywards Heath in order to continue his search. No further fossils are ever found. In 1938 he unveils a memorial stone to Dawson to mark his achievements.

1936 - A number of new primitive hominid finds in Java suggests that mankind's large brain developed very slowly while jaw and teeth features evolved much earlier - the complete opposite of Piltdown Man. Two separate evolutionary lines have been discovered, on one side are the South African, Javan, Peking, Neanderthal remains and on the other lies Piltdown by itself.

1949 - Dr Kenneth Oakley, geologist and palaeontologist at the British Museum, announces the results of his fluorine ageing tests on the Piltdown remains. The jaw and cranium could be no more than 50,000 years old, from a time when fully developed Homo sapiens were already walking the Earth.

30 July 1953 - A congress of palaeontologists is held in London and discussions include the problems of fossil man. Although Piltdown is not included in the main discussions the delegates are taken to see them on a tour of the British Museum.

Joseph Weiner, a South African anatomist working at Oxford, realises that as well as the two possible "natural" theories a further possible explanation is that the remains came together in "unnatural" circumstances. With his colleague Professor Le Gros Clark he decides to approach the British Museum to carry out further testing on the remains.

Summer and Autumn 1953 - The Piltdown specimens become the target of an array of new analysis techniques by Oakley and his colleagues. As well as re-testing for fluoride, the checks look at the presence of iron, nitrogen, collagen, organic carbon, organic water, radioactivity and at crystal structure.

These tests prove that, while the skull is fossilised, the jaw is that of a modern ape, teeth filed to change the wear pattern and stained to match the skull. The investigators also discover that the teeth have been stained.

21 November 1953 - An official illustrated museum bulletin announcing the evidence is released. The Times and Star newspapers both announce the story to the nation. The exhibition at the British Museum is quickly adapted to explain how the scientific world had been hoaxed by Piltdown Man.

Piltdown Man: The Context And Exposure Of A Scientific Forgery is an exhibition that runs at the Natural History Museum from 25 November.

The BBC broadcast a special Timewatch documentary on Piltdown Man on 21 November, on BBC Two.

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"Charles Dawson had a history of scientific hoaxing and forgery"

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