The Boldest Hoax

Student Handout

Great Piltdown Forgery

The Piltdown man, also known as "the earliest Englishman," was one of the greatest hoaxes in science. The forgery lasted 40 years, and a scientific fraud like it was never seen before or since. But who committed the forgery? Explore the suspects in this activity.


  1. You will be assigned some of the questions below. As you watch the video, take notes on your questions. Answer only the questions assigned by your teacher.

  2. After watching the program, have each team member write down the name of the individual(s) that he or she thinks committed the forgery. Team members should not share their choices.

  3. Work with your team members to answer your questions. Choose a member of your team to share answers to your team's questions with the class.


Write your answers on a separate sheet of paper.

  1. What object was initially found at the Piltdown site? Who found it?

  2. What did Charles Dawson claim he noticed about the skull?

  3. How does Charles Darwin fit in to the story of the forgery?

  4. What evidence did Germany, Spain, and France have in relation to the evolution of humans that England did not have?

  5. How did the time period—WWI—affect the atmosphere surrounding the hoax?

  6. Who was Charles Dawson?

  7. Why might Dawson have wanted to be associated with Sir Arthur Smith Woodward?

  8. Who was Woodward? What remains did he and Dawson find at Piltdown?

  9. When was Piltdown man presented to the world? What was he called?

  10. What was the initial response of the science community to Piltdown man?

  11. What was the significance of the canine tooth that was found?

  12. Where was the second Piltdown man found? Who discovered it? What was the significance of this second find?

  13. Who was Kenneth Oakley? What was his role in the Piltdown hoax?

  14. What items were revealed to be forged? How were some of the items faked?

  15. What evidence points to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's possible involvement? What might have been his motivation? Describe his character.

  16. What is the evidence for Dawson's involvement? Describe his character.

  17. Why might Woodward have been considered a suspect? Why might Woodward not have conducted more rigorous science tests on the artifacts?

  18. Who was Martin Hinton? What is the evidence of his connection with the forgery? Include a description of his character.

  19. What object was planted that might have revealed the Piltdown hoax? What happened when it was found?

  20. What character traits might have compelled some of the scientists to be involved with or taken in by the hoax?