by John Evangelist Walsh ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1996
A new theory on the culprit behind the Piltdown Hoax--in which a fraudulent early human fossil was foisted on the scientific establishment--is at the heart of this lively book. Walsh (This Brief Tragedy, 1991, etc.), an Edgar-winning unraveler of real-life mysteries, begins with a succinct summary of the 1913 discovery, in an English gravel pit, of parts of a skull and jawbone--the purported remains of an early hominid. The discovery was a sensation, both because no early human fossils had previously been uncovered in Britain and because the apelike character of the jaw was in stark contrast to the modern-looking skull. The fossil was dubbed ""Piltdown Man,"" after the locale of its discovery, and proudly offered as evidence of the antiquity of the human race in Britain. It wasn't until 1952 that new tests revealed the fossil to be a forgery. Ever since, speculation has raged over the identity of the perpetrator and his probable motives. Walsh offers a solution based on what he feels are the incontrovertible facts of the case. He briefly considers the cases against nearly a dozen suspects (including Martin Hinton, recently identified by another researcher as the probable hoaxer), dismissing them all as based on speculation. Three major figures receive detailed scrutiny: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who lived nearby), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (who assisted the original fossil hunt), and Sir Arthur Keith (an anatomist). After clearing these three suspects, the author turns the spotlight on Charles Dawson, the local amateur who first reported the fossil, who was present at all the key Piltdown discoveries, and whose scientific credentials apparently rested upon a series of frauds parallel in many ways to the Piltdown imposture. Walsh convincingly argues that no other suspect had as clear an opportunity to commit the fraud. An informative and well-documented discussion of the famous case, which may not end the Piltdown argument, but which will certainly influence the debate in the future.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996
Page Count: 304
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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