Welcome to this week’s History Thread! I didn’t have a topic until I looked up “this day in history,” but it seems like a fun one to discuss. As always, do not feel constrained by the discussion topic.
This week’s topic: hoaxes, scams and cons. History is full of humans tricking other humans for fun and profit, politics or religion or other ideology. Discuss your favorite bits of historical trickery and deception!
Today’s picture: In 1912, Charles Dawson made one of the most momentous finds in modern archaeology. During a dig at the Piltdown gravel pit in East Sussex, Dawson found a strange humanoid skull which seemed too large to be human but too human-like to be an ape. Several professional scientists examined the find and determined that it must be the legendary “missing link” between man and ape. Thus, an important moment in proving Darwin’s Theory of Evolution!
…Except it wasn’t. Even in Dawson’s day there were doubters, but enough reputable people bought the story. Incredibly, it took over four decades until an in-depth investigation (published in Time Magazine, of all places, on November 21st, 1953) by several leading archaeologists determined that the Piltdown skull was actually a crude admixture of a human skull, an orangutan mandible and fossilized chimp teeth.
Why something that, in retrospect, seemed so obviously fake (and most likely faked by Dawson himself, though it’s never been conclusively proved) was accepted as truth for so long is unknown, though it’s been suggested that the eagerness of certain scientists to “prove” the reality of the “missing link” let them accept something specious that seemed to validate them. So much for the scientific process.
This has gone down in history as one of the most notorious scientific hoaxes, and remains ammunition for the creationist crowd who desperately want to prove evolution isn’t real. Fortunately, they are reality-denying morons who can be dismissed along with global warming “skeptics,” Holocaust deniers and those Trump supporters Politico loves to profile.