Institute of Archaeology

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Piltdown Man centenary event

15 October 2012

Piltdown Man centenary event

Matt Pope recently organised a conference with the Sussex Archaeological Society to mark the centenary of the discovery of Piltdown man and to discuss the historical context of the fraud.

The Piltdown hoax is perhaps the most famous palaeontological hoax ever to have been perpetrated. In 1912 remains of a human ancestor were claimed to have been discovered at a gravel pit in Piltdown, East Sussex. But in 1953 the remains - said to be a "missing" link in the evolution of man and apes - were subjected to new tests and proved to be a hoax.

Scientists from the National History Museum, University of Southampton, Bournemouth University and the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, took part in the conference entitled 'The Piltdown Centenary Conference: Truth and Lies from the Deep Sussex Past', "a long overdue event" according to Matt, to talk about the artefacts, their legacy, those suspected to be behind the hoax and new research findings.

One hundred years on, Piltdown remains an internationally infamous case of scientific fraud which still holds a grip on the public imagination and the story of the hoax covers much of the intrigue and excitement of early prehistory and archaeological science during the 20th century. Set against the backdrop of competing individuals and nations during the years leading up to and through the First World War, it provides an enduring lesson on the importance of rigorous archaeological method and a warning against uncritical acceptance of evidence.

Matt is currently co-ordinating teaching at the Institute on the Archaeology of Human Evolution.