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Re: Beautifully horrible

In "Men of the Stone Age"(1916)  Henry Fairfield Osborn discusses the
Piltdown race.  He mentions a few doubts about the skull's authenticity as
given by other scientists of the day.  Mainly about whether the jaw and
skull were from the same animal, but he does so with an air of skeptism. 
Nowhere does Osborn express doubts of
his own, and expresses belief in the fossil's authenticity.
  At this time in history Osborn
was definitely one of the authorities on the origin of mankind.  It is
wellknown how Osborn wanted to disprove the African origins of Homo (The
Mongolian expeditions), as such I would feel that the Piltdown man fit
well into Osborn's theory, and he would be loathe to discard it  . He
seems to have supported the fossil's authenticity, and
few people in his time would dare to cross him.  This was apparent in the
mounting of the Brontosaurus skull fiasco.  Not to slag HFO, he was
brilliant and an incredible contributor to Paleontology, but maybe this
was part of the reason the hoax was not uncovered for so long even though
many other people doubted the fossil's authenticity.  

-Bill Parker
Northern Arizona University

On Thu, 23 Jul 1998, Ilja Nieuwland wrote:

> Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. wrote:
> > At 10:00 AM 7/22/98 -0700, Randy King wrote:
> > >This may not be quite what was intended, but my vote for the
> > >most horrible skull would be Piltdown man.  There is nothing
> > >like this kind of fraud to give science a black eye.  
> > 
> > What was so horrible about it?  Certain claims to the contrary
> > notwithstanding, it was not universally accepted as a valid taxon: the skull
> > was suspected as being a chimera by some workers from the start.  More
> > importantly, the discovery of the Recent age of the specimen was a triumph
> > for modern (for 1950s) techniques of geochemical dating, and thus science at
> > is best (as a method of testing hypotheses of the physical world)
> It is true that many scientists had their doubts with Piltdown and considered 
> it an 
> amalgamate of a human skull and an ape's jaw (Marcellin Boule, Alesh 
> Hrdlicka, 
> Gerrit Miller). No-one, however, initially mentioned it as a fake in 
> publication 
> (William Gregory raised the possibility only to reject it out of hand as 
> slanderous 
> gossip). Furthermore, to present the case as a triumph for the 
> self-correcting 
> process of science is a bit too complacent for my taste. The hoax could have 
> been 
> exposed much earlier had some obvious tests been performed (a test for 
> organic 
> matter -readily available to scientists of the day - would have revealed the 
> recent 
> age of the mandible, whereas microscopic research might have revealed the 
> crude 
> filing of the molars). No-one criticised the arbitrary methods of testing for 
> a long 
> time. Finally, serious reports that something was amiss with the dating and 
> composition of the Piltdown specimens (appearing as early as 1925) were 
> usually 
> simply ignored, because they fitted in with accepted theories of human 
> origins 
> (although progressively less so).
> All in all, I think Piltdown is also an example of the less enviable dangers 
> connected 
> with scientific research: the willingness to bow to authority and accepted 
> theory, and 
> the (English) eagerness to posess an ancient ancestor, deceived a large 
> portion of 
> the anthropological community for over fourty years.
> Ilja Nieuwland