Piltdown man – science proves Uckfield solicitor Charles Dawson was ‘single forger’

Uckfield solicitor Charles Dawson, who “discovered” the Piltdown man, WAS definitely the forger.

The “discovery” at Barkham Manor was made in 1912 and was billed as the missing link between humans and large apes.

Illustration of Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus). fragments of skull found in 1912. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Illustration of Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus). fragments of skull found in 1912. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Licence

It was revealed as a hoax in the early 1950s.

But it was only yesterday (August 10) that evidence published by the Royal Society Open Science identified Dawson as the “single forger”.

It said: In 1912, palaeontologist Arthur Smith Woodward and amateur antiquarian and solicitor Charles Dawson announced the discovery of a fossil that supposedly provided a link between apes and humans: Eoanthropus dawsoni (Dawson’s dawn man).

“The publication generated huge interest from scientists and the general public.

“However, ‘Piltdown man’s’ initial celebrity has long been overshadowed by its subsequent infamy as one of the most famous scientific frauds in history.

“Our re-evaluation of the Piltdown fossils using the latest scientific methods (DNA analyses, high-precision measurements, spectroscopy and virtual anthropology) shows that it is highly likely that a single orang-utan specimen and at least two human specimens were used to create the fake fossils.

Charles Dawson: hunger for acclaim


“The modus operandi was found consistent throughout the assemblage (specimens are stained brown, loaded with gravel fragments and restored using filling materials), linking all specimens from the Piltdown I and Piltdown II sites to a single forger—Charles Dawson.

“Whether Dawson acted alone is uncertain, but his hunger for acclaim may have driven him to risk his reputation and misdirect the course of anthropology for decades.

“The Piltdown hoax stands as a cautionary tale to scientists not to be led by preconceived ideas, but to use scientific integrity and rigour in the face of novel discoveries.”

Piltdown sign

Charles Dawson established his legal career in Uckfield and became a partner in what we now know as Dawson Hart.

Uckfield and District Preservation Society, in an article by Simon Wright in Hindsight magazine, said Charles Dawson was clerk to Uckfield Urban District Council, secretary to the local water company, solicitor to the gas company, secretary of the Uckfield Building Society and the holder of several offices and trusteeships elsewhere in Sussex.

By 1900 he was established as the leading legal representative in Uckfield. He lived for a large part of his life in Lewes.

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