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The Sensational--and Fraudulent--Piltdown Man

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. CVIII, NO. 2; JANUARY 11, 1913

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December 1963

Cold War
“Premier Khrushchev, in a note of congratulation on John H. Glenn's orbital flight, had suggested last February that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. pool some of their space-research efforts. President Kennedy answered by proposing co-operation in space medicine, weather satellites, communications satellites, mapping the earth's magnetic field and tracking space vehicles. Last June, Soviet rocket expert Anatoli A. Blagonravov and Hugh L. Dryden, Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, met and drew up recommendations for specific joint programs in three of those areas. After approval by both governments—and a short delay caused by the Cuban crisis—the agreement was announced during the U.N. debate on the peaceful uses of outer space.”

January 1913

Motorcar Musings
“The automobile of the future will look no more like the motor car of to-day than the limousine of 1913 looks like the dos-à-dos of 1896. The limousine or torpedo touring car of the present year is but a link in the gradual transformation of the horse-drawn buggy into the completely enclosed, dust-proof, silent and comfortable ‘car of the future.’ In outward appearance the car resembles a submarine boat more than it does a carriage. Its long cigar-shaped body encloses everything except the wheels [see illustration].”

Piltdown Man
“In Piltdown Common, Sussex, England, an English paleontologist, Mr. Dawson, discovered, about a year ago, a fairly complete human skull representing the most ancient relic of the human race in the British Isles, and one of the oldest found anywhere. The Piltdown skull might be said to stand about half way between the gorilla and modern man—neglecting the fact that the gorilla is more massive in body than man. Nevertheless, the Piltdown skull represents a considerably higher type, it seems, than the Neanderthal race, which has a much more slanting forehead. It appears, therefore, that at least one very low type of man with a comparatively high forehead was in existence in western Europe long before the low-browed Neanderthal man became widely spread in this region.”

Doubts lingered about the fossils, and in 1953 three British scientists conclusively proved that Piltdown Man was a hoax.

January 1863

Crime Hysteria
“The London Daily News says that the garotte panic is very widespread in that great city, and is driving the citizens to very ridiculous measures for protection. Revolvers and bowie-knives are simple weapons compared with the dangerous arms which some self-defenders carry. Bludgeons that shoot out bayonets and sticks that contain daggers and swords are now sold more openly in the city streets than oranges or chestnuts. Meetings have been held and anti-garotte societies formed for mutual protection. However, despite these precautions, garotte robberies seem to be on the increase, and all London, that is all moneyed London, is in turmoil and alarm.”

Information from Light
“Recent scientific discoveries have conferred upon man new powers of investigation, whereby nature has been made to reveal secrets so subtile that they never had been dreamt of before in philosophy. Sir Isaac Newton first dissected a ray of light, and proved that it was composed of several colors, but the subject has recently been elevated into a special science, called ‘spectral analysis,’ by the splendid discoveries of the two German professors—Kirchoff and Bunsen. Professor Kirchoff used four prisms of very perfect workmanship to examine the solar spectrum through a telescope having a magnifying power of 40. He saw whole series of nebulous bands and dark lines, and a new field of vision, like that first developed by the microscope, was opened up. These dark lines it is conjectured have been made to reveal the chemical composition of the sun's atmosphere.”

NOTE: 150 years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, take a look at Scientific American's views back then on the institution of slavery at www.ScientificAmerican.com/jan2013/slavery

This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago."

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