Monday, 5 October 2015

Piltdown man - the story is somewhat different to what the evolution denialists allege

It's been well over sixty years since Piltdown Man was exposed as a fraud, but that doesn't stop desperate evolution denialists from appealing to it as if it somehow invalidated the entire field of palaeoanthropology. It doesn't. The fossil evidence for human evolution is robust, shows the reality of both an increase in cranial capacity and a trend towards obligate bipedality over time, and is definitely more than a few chipped teeth and bones on a billiard table.

Furthermore, what evolution denialists fail to point out is that not only was Piltdown exposed by scientists, there were considerable doubts about its authenticity from the very beginning. Darren Naish makes this point in a recent post in his blog Tetrapod Zoology:
What’s discussed rather less frequently is that early 20th century views on Piltdown man were far more complex than popularly portrayed. Acceptance of Eoanthropus as a valid proto-human might have been the ‘mainstream’ view that made it into textbooks and encyclopedias, but it certainly wasn’t the only one, nor was this acceptance wholesale or uncontroversial.
 Arthur Keith (middle). Back (L to R): Barlow, Elliot Smith, Dawson, Woodward. Seated at left: Underwood. Seated at right (L-R): Lankester, Pycraft. Painting by John Cooke (1915)

In fact, as Naish continues, some raised significant doubts about Piltdown within a few years after its discovery:
Long prior to 1953 however, certain other anthropologists, primatologists and mammalogists were of the opinion that the cranium and jaw of Piltdown I did not go together, and that while the cranium was human, the jaw was from a chimpanzee or some other non-human ape. In fact, some workers voiced doubts about the authenticity of Woodward’s reconstruction within just two or three years of 1912. We might even go as far as saying that quite a few anthropologists and mammalogists of the early 1900s would not have been surprised on learning that it was a hoax, and some might even have suspected that this is exactly what it was.
Given the absolutely atrocious record special creationists have when it comes to commenting in an informed, accurate, intellectually honest way on palaeoanthropology, the best thing they could do to begin restoring their credibility is to stop peddling their tendentious Piltdown narrative.

Full article is here