Fossil Frauds

A new twist to whodunnit in science's famous Piltdown Man hoax

Piltdown Man… not!

I enjoy plugging prehistoric animals–mammals more than dinosaurs–into my Bell Mountain books. It’s just plain fun.

However, I’ve avoided the slight temptation to ring in prehistoric critters that have turned out to be deliberately faked fossils (https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/archaeology/g3051/fake-fossils/).

The most famous fossil fraud is, of course, Piltdown Man. Discovered in Britain in 1912 and ballyhooed as the Missing Link between apes and man, Piltdown Man took England’s scientific establishment by storm–although scientists elsewhere had their doubts. The fraud was not exposed until 1953… after appearing in textbooks all over the world.

More recently, China produced “Archaeoraptor,” supposedly a flying dinosaur. That one turned out to have been manufactured by Chinese peasants using parts from other fossils.

And from Russia we got “Alyoshenka,” supposedly the fossil remains of an extraterrestrial UFO voyager stranded on the earth. It’s hard to see how this could have fooled anyone.

I’m not counting honest scientific mistakes, like “Nebraska Man,” based on the tooth of a prehistoric pig, or confusing, possibly fake, but just possibly real, examples like the super-dinosaur “Amphicoelias,” whose briefly famous nine-foot leg bone somehow got lost and can’t be studied anymore.

We shouldn’t be surprised that fraud exists within the sciences: people are people, and people are sinners.

So don’t hold your breath waiting for Piltdown Man or the Cardiff Giant to be guest starring in any of my stories.

6 comments on “Fossil Frauds

  1. Some might say that the largest collection of frauds is currently on view in Washington, DC — but that wouldn’t be fair to the other collections in state capitals around the country.

  2. I’ve heard of some whoppers. Lucy, which is basically a chimpanzee, but some finger bones make the fossil seem human. However, allegedly the finger bones were found some distance away and were not necessarily related to the skeleton of Lucy. While there are some complete fossil skeletons, there are far more that are incomplete. Context is important to any finding and when fossils are incomplete, there are context issues galore.

    1. So much for Aliwalia rex, the alleged Triassic super-predator: parts of this and parts of that. Too bad–I liked Aliwalia.

  3. Darwin’s theory of evolution is nonsensical even on its surface. What is compelling natural selection to cause things to evolve when the very laws of thermodynamics prove just the opposite. At minimum, there has to be an intelligence involved in creation, and a powerful one at that.. To deny this is to live in a fantasy. So we are offered an impersonal intelligence and brute force for our worldview, or a absolute personal intelligence with an omnipotent predestinating force for our worldview – the choice is not ever a contest.

Leave a Reply