Search NOVA Teachers

Back to Teachers Home

Boldest Hoax, The

Program Overview

PDF

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
BUY THE VIDEO PROGRAM OVERVIEW VIEWING IDEAS CLASSROOM ACTIVITY RELATED NOVA RESOURCES