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Plaque for 'Piltdown Man' priest

8 October 08 08:35 GMT

A blue plaque is to be unveiled in a Sussex town to a controversial French Jesuit priest who was involved in the Piltdown Man controversy.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who died aged 73 in 1955 in New York, was based at the Jesuit College at Ore place, Hastings, from 1908 to 1912.

He was an amateur geologist who discovered the Piltdown canine tooth and wrote philosophical ideas.

The blue plaque will be unveiled at the site of the college on Wednesday.

It was while Teilhard was studying for his ordination in Hastings that he met Charles Dawson the principal discoverer of the hoaxed Piltdown remains.

Exonerated from deceit

Between 1911 and 1912 fragmentary remains of a human ancestor called Eoanthropus dawsoni, were found at Piltdown, by Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward, of the British Museum.

The creature, estimated to be 500,000 years old, was said to be a "missing link" between humans and apes, with a large brain case and ape-like jaw, minus a canine tooth.

After Dawson's initial finds, Teilhard carried out follow-up excavations that unearthed the missing tooth in 1913 that was described as being more human than ape-like.

In 1953 the Piltdown remains were subjected to new tests that proved it was an elaborate hoax.

Analysis showed that while the skull was fossilised, the jaw was that of a modern ape with its teeth filed to change the wear pattern and stained to match the skull.

Although Teilhard took part in excavations that discovered some of the remains, most historians have exonerated him from taking part in the hoax.

During his life he also made controversial statements about original sin and the evolution of man that put him at odds with the Catholic church.

He wrote a book that was banned from being published in his lifetime.

A spokeswoman for Hastings Borough Council said: "De Chardin was a priest, philosopher, palaeontologist and author who studied the fossils found in the cliffs along the Hastings coast.

"He was widely applauded and condemned in both religious and scientific circles for his views on evolution and science."

The blue plaque is due to be unveiled by Canon Alan Nugent, chairman of the British Teilhard Association, at 1430 BST on Wednesday.

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