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Piltdown: 100 years on

4 December 2012

100 years after the first announcement of spectacular fossil finds at Piltdown, The Geological Society of London is holding a meeting to re-examine the specimens, discuss new forensic evidence about how the fraud was perpetrated, and attempt to solve one of science’s most enduring ‘whodunits’.

On 18 December 1912, during a meeting at the Society, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward announced the discovery of fossil remains which allegedly provided a ‘missing link’ between apes and man.

Once considered one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the age, the Piltdown remains were not proved to be forgeries until 1953. 100 years on from that first meeting the Society's History of Geology Group is holding another, in the same room, bringing together historians, geologists and anthropologists.

Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, Professor Chris Dean of University College London and Dr Isabelle de Groote of NHM are collaborating on research which aims to find out more about how the forgeries were produced.

‘Reconstructing how many hands were at work on the whole suite of Piltdown remains should lead to a narrowing of the range of suspects’ says Stringer. ‘In turn, we hope light will be thrown on the agenda and motivation behind this remarkable forgery.’

Dean will discuss the conflicting views contemporary scientists held about the remains, and how they hope to reconstruct the work of the forger using modern techniques. Can modern science help to explain why so many in the scientific community were fooled for so long?

They will be joined by historians who will discuss some of the most often named suspects. Charles Dawson is the most popular choice, but were others involved? And why is the name of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sometimes drawn into the mystery?

By analysing the content of the original papers and the specimens themselves, it is hoped that, on its 100th anniversary, one of science's most notorious mysteries might finally be solved.


14.00 – 14.10 Welcome/Introduction. President of the Society. David T. Shilston

14.10 – 14.45 Anne O’Connor: “Piltdown and the Geological Society”

14.45 – 15.20 Dave Martill: “Arthur Conan Doyle and the Piltdown Forgery”

15.20 – 15.55 Miles Russell: “Charles Dawson: a career fabricating prehistory”

15.55 – 16.15 Tea (Posters)

16.15 – 16.50 Christopher Dean: “The Anatomy of the Forgery”

16.50 – 17.30 Chris Stringer, Adrian Lister and Simon Parfitt: “The Piltdown forgery in context”

17.30 – 18.00 Questions/discussion

18.00 – 19.00: Reception