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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 10:06 GMT
Piltdown Man: The chief suspects
Fifty years after the fossils of a 500,000-year-old human ancestor dubbed Piltdown Man were shown to be fakes, the debate continues to rage over who might have been behind the hoax. This list includes just some of the individuals linked to the case over the years.

Dig, Natural History Museum
Dawson and Smith Woodward work the Piltdown site
William Lewis Abbott - Hastings jeweller, palaeontologist and a member of the influential Ightham circle of prehistorians and geologists. Of the names that surfaced during Weiner's investigations in 1953, Abbott's was among the few to remain on the list of possible culprits. Abbott had known Arthur Smith Woodward and Dawson long before the events at Piltdown and had the resources, skills and knowledge to have manufactured the forgery.

William Butterfield - Librarian at the Hastings Museum during the period of the Piltdown discoveries. Guy van Esbroeck's book Pleine Lumiere Sur l'Imposture De Piltdown published in 1972, put forward the case that Butterfield engineered the hoax to spite Dawson, to get revenge for Dawson's excavation of an almost complete Iguanodon skeleton, which he had excavated from Hastings and taken to London without Butterfield's knowledge in 1909.

Charles Dawson - Lewes solicitor, amateur antiquarian, and principal discoverer of the Piltdown remains. Dawson has been one of the prime suspects associated with the fraud ever since it was first revealed. Crucially, after his death, no significant remains were found at Piltdown.

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

Arthur Conan Doyle - In 1983, American archaeologist John H Winslow put forward the theory that The Lost World author and creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, had carried out the hoax. Doyle lived close to Dawson and was himself an amateur bone hunter. Some still believe that, as an ardent spiritualist, Doyle wanted to discredit the science profession by faking the evidence of something they wanted to believe in to prove they knew less than they claimed.

John Hewitt - Professor of chemistry at Queen Mary College, London. Hewitt served with Samuel Woodhead on the Council of the Society of Public Analysts. It has been claimed that, sometime around 1952-3, Hewitt confessed to a neighbour that he and a friend had "made Piltdown Man as a joke". However, there was no further evidence found in Hewitt's papers.

Martin Hinton - At the time of the Piltdown discoveries, a knowledgeable volunteer in Smith Woodward's department at the British Museum (Natural History), and later deputy keeper of Zoology.

Hinton allegedly said to a friend from the BBC that he believed the fraudster had been working for the British Museum at the time of the hoax, and that he was unable to reveal his name because he was still alive.

To some, this amounted to a confession. To others, it indicated that his reference to the forger being alive was a red herring, and that he was really pointing indirectly to Smith Woodward. A trunk bearing his initials and containing what appeared to be test fakes was discovered in a museum attic room in the 1970s.

Arthur Keith - Conservator of the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons at the time of the Piltdown discoveries, Keith was involved in crucial discussions of their significance. Initially a cynic, Keith later became a key spokesperson on Piltdown Man.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - French Jesuit priest and palaeontologist, he was studying for his ordination when he first met Dawson and Smith Woodward, and excavated with them, discovering the Piltdown canine tooth.

Samuel Woodhead - Chemist at Uckfield Agricultural College and an associate of Charles Dawson. Some believe Woodhead helped Hewitt to carry out the forgery, so Hewitt could get revenge on Charles Dawson. But many would dispute this as Woodhead was a friend of Dawson's.

Arthur Smith Woodward - Palaeontologist and keeper of geology at the British Museum. He began excavating at Piltdown in 1912, a few months after Charles Dawson informed him of the first discoveries.

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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