PILTDOWN: A Scientific Forgery by Frank Spencer

PILTDOWN: A Scientific Forgery

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A possible final solution to the long-lived mystery of Piltdown Man (the supposed missing link uncovered in England early this century), initiated by Sydney Univ.'s Ian Langham and completed after his death by Spencer (Anthropology/Queens College, City Univ. of New York). Who planted the thick, humanlike skull and simian jaw in the gravel pit near Piltdown Common, and why would anyone wish to commit such a phenomenal hoax? So goes the mystery of Piltdown Man, a piece of fakery that sent the science of archaeology down a decades-long blind alley before the forgery was finally proved. Whoever faked the relics to make them resemble evidence of a primitive man's presence on the British Isle had to enjoy extraordinary scientific expertise. Why then, investigators wondered, would he not simply have earned the respect due him through normal channels? Before his death, Langham was fascinated by these never-solved questions, and the notes and comments on the original evidence that his widow later turned over to Spencer made it clear whom he suspected was the culprit and what the motives were. Determined to carry out Langham's intentions, Spencer reviewed the pertinent information preserved in the archives of the British Museum (Natural History), then followed Langham's trail to an identical conclusion: that the hoax's mastermind was the socially prominent anatomist Sir Arthur Keith. In this regrettably dry history of the case, Spencer tells a highly convincing tale of scientific ambition gone unchecked and of a staggering lack of scientific ethics. To be published with a companion volume (The Piltdown Papers 1908-1955) containing over 500 letters and other papers to help others reassess the episode. One hopes that a more accessible interpretation than Spencer's will follow.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1990
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press