Was the genius behind Sherlock Holmes also behind one of the most infamous forgeries in history?
In what could be described in retrospect as basically a shallow grave near the village of Piltdown, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward found the alleged remains of an early human fossil dubbed Eoanthropus Dawsoni. Curiously, bones of elephants, rhinos. hippos and mastadons were also found at the scene. In December 1912, they presented their finding to the Geological Society of London, and history was made.
Despite academic dissent, Piltdown Man was regarded as one of the oldest human fossils, as well as a possible missing link (reading list here for those not familiar). Although over time it was becoming increasingly clear Piltdown did not agree with the fossil record, and 1949 the fossils were dated by fluorine absorbtion and found to be quite recent.
J.S. Weiner and co. later revealed to the world that the Piltdown Man was a fake consisting of human skull fragments and the mandible of a juvenile, female orangutan. Skeptics, if there was ever a time to use the phrase "thoroughly debunked" this would be it. And even though it seems Weiner had some suspicions as to who had perpetrated the hoax (Dawson) when he published "The Piltdown Forgery" he does seem careful not to directly point the finger, and no definitive proof has been found.
In 1983, John Winslow and Alfred Meyer addressed the fact that no definite hoaxer had yet been identified despite the numerous suspects, and proposed..
But there was another interested figure who haunted the Piltdown site during excavation, a doctor who knew human anatomy and chemistry, someone interested in geology and archeology, and an avid collector of fossils. He was a man who loved hoaxes, adventure, and danger; a writer gifted at manipulating complex plots; and perhaps most important of all, one who bore a grudge against the British science establishment. He was none other than the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. source
They argue that
- The hoaxer had to have a great knowledge of anatomy particularly of skulls and jaws, which Doyle obviously did.
- The hoaxer had to have access to a varied collection (due to the peculiar thickness of the Piltdown skull) of skulls, which Doyle did through American phrenologist Jessie Fowler
- The hoaxer had to have access to the 5-600 year old jawbone of an orangutan, which Doyle did through a former neighbor named Cecil Wray
- The hoaxer would need access to the other exotic materials and fossilized mammalian remains found at the site, which have been identified as coming from the Mediterranean, which Doyle did through archeologist Joseph Whitaker, as well as having visited the region himself.
- The hoaxer had to have access to the excavation site, which Doyle obviouly did, as he is documented there and is reported to have lived close by.
The case against him seems to be circumstantial. Has any investigation into the matter yielded compelling evidence that Doyle was involved, if not directly responsible?
Or is this simply an attempt to involve/implicate a famous name based on little evidence?