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Boldest Hoax, The

Program Overview


Piltdown skull NOVA investigates the Piltdown hoax, the people who may have been involved, and the potential reasons for the forgery.

The program:

  • reviews Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution that drove the hunt to find the "missing link" in human development—fossil evidence for a species that would bridge the evolutionary gap between apes and humans.

  • notes that while Germany, Spain, and France all had evidence of early man, Britain had none.

  • relates how the skull and jawbone found at Piltdown, England, in 1912 were purported to belong to the earliest human ever discovered.

  • states the early suspicions of some scientists who questioned the authenticity of the artifacts.

  • reports subsequent finds that supported the legitimacy of the Piltdown man: a canine tooth discovered in 1913 at the original site and a second skull and tooth unearthed two years later just a few miles away.

  • notes how the hoax was exposed in 1953 by Kenneth Oakley, a scientist whose dating technique revealed the Piltdown artifacts were not as old as presumed.

  • reports further revelations that the skull had been stained, the canine tooth painted and filed, other teeth filed flat, and the jaw obtained from a common orangutan.

  • investigates the potential mastermind(s) of the hoax and what may have motivated each of them.

  • reviews the case against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the mystery writer whose "Lost World" may contain clues relating to the hoax.

  • assesses the character of Charles Dawson, an amateur archeologist who first brought the finds to the attention of the science community.

  • presents the evidence against Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, a geologist at the then British Museum of Natural History.

  • explores evidence regarding museum volunteer Martin Hinton's role in the forgery.

  • theorizes which of the potential instigators might have been involved with the hoax.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Boldest Hoax, The