ANT203Y5 – BiologicalAnthropology
Lecture 29 – March 11, 2014
Lessons from the Past: the Piltdown Forgery
- At the turn of the 20 century, the fossil remains attributed to the human family were very
scarce, and contested.
The Neander Valley Man
- In 1856, workers in a limestone quarry near Dusseldorf (Germany), discovered a
primitive-looking skull and other bones. These remains were interpreted in many
different ways by the scientist of the time.
o This is the name to the famous Neandertals
o 1856 is earlier than the publication of Darwin’s book
The Java Man
- Later, in 1891, Eugene Dubois, a Dutch anatomist, discovered in Java a skull cap with a
very primitive morphology. Again, this finding was very controversial at the time
o Species: Homo Erectus
o Some people thought it was part of the human lineage, while others didn’t
Interpreting Human Evolution
- During the first decade of the 20 , anthropologists were struggling to understand how
human evolution happened.
- Which human adaptation came first, large brains, or bipedalism?
The Discovery of “Piltdown man”
- In 1912, Charles Dawson, an amateur archeologist, discovered in Piltdown (South
England), some fossils that were regarded as relevant to understand human origins.
- It was a “missing-link” between apes and humans.
- The Piltdown fossils consisted of human-like skull fragments and an ape-like jaw
- An ape-like canine tooth was also discovered a little bit later.
- Fossils of extinct animals, such as mastodon, beaver, hippopotamus, horse, and
primitive elephant, were found in the same stratum, seemingly confirming the antiquity
of the human remains
- The Piltdown fossil was accepted by many prominent anthropologists, and favored the
hypothesis that large brains developed very early in the process of human evolution.
- Conclusion: Large brains came first!!
o At the beginning there was a lot of controversy, where people either supported or
didn’t support the fossil findings
More Fossils Found in Piltdown
- Some scientists thought that the cranium and the jaw didn’t belong to the same
individual, but to a human and an ape, respectively.
- However, the announcement of a second fossil in 1915, greatly reduced the skepticism of
the scientific establishment about the “Piltdown man”. ANT203Y5 – BiologicalAnthropology
Lecture 29 – March 11, 2014
ALittle Bit Later, in SouthAfrica…
- Raymond Dart, a young anatomist working in SouthAfrica, found in 1924 the fossil
skull of a juvenile ape with a small brain, but some interesting human-like features
In the Human Lineage
- Dart’s fossil, which he named Australopithecus africanus, had an ape sized brain, but
some dental and postural characteristics closer to humans. He thought A. africanus was
intermediate between apes and humans
o The Taung Child
o Dart found that the brain was really small, and the teeth and the face was more
modern looking than the Piltdown
o Because of this many people thought that this was a juvenile ape, and not an ape
o But today, we now know that Dart was correct for classifying the Taung Child as
an early part of the human lineage
- However, very few anthropologists accepted Dart’s ideas, and he was severely criticized.
- Most anthropologists believed the Taung Child was just a juvenile ape.
- These are some of the reasons…
o All early human fossils are found inAfrica
Wrong Time, Wrong Place…
- They considered that the Taung Child was just a juvenile ape, resembling humans more
than adult apes.
- Everyone was looking somewhere else, Europe (Neandertal man) and Asia (Java man).
- A. africanus, with a small brain and human-like teeth, contradicted the generally
accepted view of hominids having large brains and ape-like jaws (Piltdown man).
23 Years of Frustration
- It took 23 years