++++++++++


       \Gee, Henry.  "Box of Bones 'Clinches' Identity of
      Piltdown Palaeontology Hoaxer," Nature 381 (23 May
      1996), pp. 262-262.\

      London. A trunk discovered under the roof of London's
      Natural History Museum appears to have provided vital
      evidence allowing the Piltdown fraud -- one of the most
      successful hoaxes in scientific history -- finally to
      be put to rest.

            The canvas travelling trunk is marked with the
      initials of Martin A. C. Hinton, a curator of zoology
      at the museum at the time of the fraud. It contains
      bones stained and carved in the same way as the
      Piltdown fossils and associated artefacts.

            The discovery is the first solid evidence in the
      case after decades of speculation. As Brian Gardiner,
      professor of palaeontology at King's College, London,
      is due to announce in his presidential address to the
      Linnean Society in London tomorrow (24 May), it appears
      to identify Hinton unequivocally as the hoaxer.

            The story of what was to turn into the longest-
      running parlour game, in the history of
      palaeoanthropology began in 1912 when Charles Dawson, a
      lawyer and antiquary,  unearthed human skull and jaw
      fragments and primitive artefacts at a gravel pit at
      Piltdown, Sussex, in the south of England.

              The find caused a sensation. The Piltdown skull
      seemed remarkably advanced, given the great age
      indicated by the bones of archaic forms of fossil
      mammal characteristic of Pliocene deposits. But the jaw
      seemed very primitive, and almost ape-like. Both tied
      in with the prevailing views of human ancestry, namely
      that humanity was the culmination of a very ancient
      lineage, and that the first modern human feature to
      emerge was the enlarged brain.

            Several people immediately suspected fraud. But
      many considered the skull to be an immensely important
      find, in particular Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of
      palaeontology at the museum.

            Subsequent research showed humanity evolved quite
      differently. The human lineage turns out to be
      relatively young, and expansion of the brain took place
      relatively late in human history. Piltdown Man was
      increasingly seen as an aberrant offshoot.

            Nevertheless, Smith Woodward remained convinced of
      the authenticity of the skull until the day he died;
      his book The Earliest Englishman, published in 1948,
      was dictated on his deathbed. But just five years
      later, chemical analyses by Kenneth P. Oakley of the
      museum showed that all the artefacts were of recent
      date. The skull came from a modern human, the jaw from
      an orangutan. The accompanying mammal fossils, it
      emerged, had been 'planted' to give the human fossils
      an authentic context. All the objects had been
      carefully stained and abraded to appear old. Artefacts
      such as a piece of elephant bone carved to look like a
      cricket bat (a fitting accoutrement for the 'first
      Englishman') were seen as part of an elaborate joke.
      But who was the joker, and why?

            Dawson was the prime suspect.  But as he died in
      1916, he could hardly be confronted with the evidence.
      Indeed, since 1953, virtually everyone connected with
      Piltdown Man has come under suspicion as the hoaxer,
      from the distinguished anatomists Arthur Keith and
      Grafton Elliot Smith to Teilhard de Chardin, the
      palaeontologist priest, and even Sir Arthur Conan
      Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, who lived nearby
      and is known to have visited the site.

           Hinton has not escaped previous suspicion. Writing
      in The Common but Less Frequent Loon and Other Essays,
      published this year, Keith S. Thomson suggested that
      Dawson initially perpetrated the fraud, but that it was
      immediately spotted by Hinton. But Thomson claimed that
      because Hinton was afraid of exposing his boss, Smith
      Woodward, to ridicule, he sought to expose the hoax by
      planting increasingly ridiculous fossils, such as the
      'cricket bat', at the site in order to scare Dawson and
      expose him as a fraud in the eyes of Smith Woodward.

            But the new evidence contained in Hinton's trunk
      disproves this scenario. It now turns out that all the
      Piltdown remains were stained with the same chemical
      recipe, one that was invented by Hinton. The evidence
      appears to identify Hinton as the sole fraudster -- and
      Dawson as his unwitting dupe.

            The trunk came to light in the mid-1970s, when
      contractors were clearing the loftspace in the
      southwest tower of the museum before maintenance work
      was carried out on the roof It came to the notice of
      Andrew Currant, a researcher at the museum
      specializing, as did Hinton, in fossil rodents.

           The trunk contained hundreds of vials of rodent
      dissections --  described by Currant as "quite
      macabre". But the bottom lay a hidden treasure: a
      collection of carved and stained pieces
      of fossil hippopotamus and elephant teeth, as well as
      assorted bones, that looked as if they belonged in the
      Piltdown collection.

            Realizing the potential importance of what could
      be the 'smoking gun' to one of the great hoaxes of the
      century, Currant mentioned the existence of the trunk
      to Gardner, who had been on the Piltdown trail since
      the hoax was first exposed in 1953, and was already
      certain from circumstantial evidence that it led to
      Hinton's door.

            The trunk was the final piece of the puzzle -- and
      the clinching solid evidence -- that Gardiner needed to
      establish his case. He and Currant have spent the last
      few years studying its contents and reanalyzing the
      Piltdown collection. As Gardiner is due to announce to
      the Linnean Society tomorrow, they are now certain that
      Hinton was the sole author of the fraud.

            Hinton himself, who published widely on many
      aspects of zoology and palaeontology, was something of
      a prodigy. In 1899, at the age of sixteen, he published
      a paper showing how fossils in river gravels would be
      impregnated with oxides of iron and manganese, staining
      them a characteristic chocolate-brown colour.

            Oakley's analyses showed that the Piltdown fossils
      were enriched in iron, as one would expect if they were
      genuinely old -- even though their recent age was
      indicated by other factors. But Oakley did not look for
      manganese. Crucially, analyses of the contents of
      Hinton's trunk by Currant and Gardiner show that they
      are enriched in iron as well as manganese -- in the
      same proportions as in the Piltdown specimens.

            The Piltdown fossils -- with one important
      exception -- as well as the contents of Hinton's trunk,
      are also enriched with chromium. This appears to have
      been a result of the staining process.

            Before staining, Hinton would have used chromic
      acid as an ingredient in a recipe to turn the apatite
      (the mineral component of bone) to gypsum. This process
      would have etched the bone surface, making it easier
      for the manganese and iron oxides to penetrate the
      specimens. But traces of chromium would remain.

            The one exception was the orangutan jaw. This
      could not be etched because it contained two teeth, and
      acid-etching of the teeth would have been a clear sign
      of a forger at work. Hinton was therefore careful not
      to treat these in the same way. The teeth were lightly
      stained so as not to risk etching, and an isolated
      canine tooth was painted further with paint (possibly
      burnt umber) rich in manganese and iron.

            Gardiner and Currant's suspicions about Hinton's
      difficulties with teeth received support in 1991 after
      Gardiner contacted Robert J. G. Savage, then professor
      of geology at the University of Bristol, telling him of
      Currant's discovery of the Hinton trunk. Savage had
      been the executor of Hinton's estate -- a considerable
      task, given that Hinton was a lifelong hoarder.

            Savage sent Gardiner some glass tubes from
      Hinton's hoard. These contained eight human teeth that
      had been stained in various ways. The teeth, together
      with the contents of the trunk, reveal a forger testing
      out his methods. The staining recipe of iron, manganese
      and chromium seems to have been Hinton's own, based --
      on his knowledge of post-depositional processes
      affecting fossils in gravel.

           Why the Piltdown gravels?   Hinton was an expert
      on the geology of the Weald area of Sussex, in which
      Piltdown is located:  Gardiner and Currant believe
      Hinton chose the Piltdown gravels precisely because
      they were entirely unfossiliferous, leaving Hinton a
      clear field to execute the fraud. Dawson and, through
      him, Smith Woodward, was led to the scene -- and the
      rest is history.

            Hinton knew Dawson was an incompetent geologist
      and would serve as the dupe; Dawson had already
      unknowingly traded a stone implement, stained to look
      old by Hinton, with Harry Morris, an expert on stone
      tools. This later turned up in Morris's collection
      labelled that it had been stained by Dawson with intent
      to defraud. Gardiner argues that Dawson is unlikely to
      have traded a flint he had faked with an expert such as
      Morris if he had he done it himself.

            The real victim seems to have been Smith Woodward,
      and the motive an argument about money. In 1910, Hinton
      wrote to Smith Woodward asking for vacation employment
      cataloguing rodent remains at he museum. Woodward
      agreed, provided the payment of 130 was made after
      completion of the work, as was customary.

            Hinton responded with a letter requesting that the
      sum be paid as a weekly wage, and detailing elaborate
      and costly plans for a catalogue. Woodward's reply, if
      any, does not survive, but as a senior figure (and
      experienced cataloguer) he is unlikely to have been
      impressed by the presumption of a junior colleague.

            Whatever the outcome of the dispute, Hinton spent
      most of his subsequent career in the zoology department
      of the museum, away from Woodward's palaeontology
      department -- even though much of Hinton's work
      concerned fossils.

            Although the evidence of Hinton's responsibility
      appears strong, some doubts will inevitably remain
      among those who have studied the case closely. "It's a
      very convincing link between Piltdown and Hinton," says
      Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at the Natural
      History Museum. "But I still have my suspicions that
      Dawson was involved."

            But Gardiner feels that the evidence for Hinton
      having been the sole hoaxer is now conclusive. He
      points out, for example, that Hinton was well-known for
      his elaborate practical jokes. The Piltdown fraud would
      have been an ideal way to get back at the pompous,
      stuffy keeper of palaeontology. Such suspicions are
      strengthened by the text of a letter Hinton wrote in
      1954 to the evolutionary biologist Gavin de Beer  --
      then the director of the British Museum (Natural
      History), now the Natural History Museum -- after the
      fraud had been exposed.

            "The temptation to invent such a discovery of an
      ape-like man associated with late Pliocene mammals in a
      Wealden gravel might well have proved irresistible to
      some unbalanced member of old Ben Harrison's circle at
      Ightham," wrote Hinton, a reference to his circle of
      Sussex-based geologist colleagues. "He [Harrison] and
      his friends [of whom Hinton was one] were always
      talking of the possibility of finding a late Pliocene
      deposit in the Weald."  Given what we now know, this
      reads as almost a signed confession.

[End]