Faking the Missing Link
QUESTION Do we know who perpetrated the Piltdown Man hoax?
PILTDOWN Man, apparently fossils showing the Missing link between ape and Man, was one of the most embarrassing and successful scientific frauds.
The key perpetrator was Charles dawson, a country solicitor and amateur archaeologist, who was desperate to become a Fellow of the Royal Society. Several others may have been complicit, at least in overlooking the evidence.
In 1912, dawson ‘discovered’ part of an unusually thick human-like skull in gravel beds near Piltdown village in Sussex.
He contacted Arthur Smith woodward, Keeper of Geology at the natural History Museum, and invited him to investigate.
The pair made a series of discoveries in the area, including several pieces of a hominid skull, an ape-like lower jawbone, canine teeth, some worn molar teeth and a number of stone tools.
Given the age of animal remains near the find, the two men speculated that Piltdown Man lived 500,000 years ago.
They announced their sensational discovery to the Geological Society. that it was accepted seems remarkable but has to be seen in the context of the time.
In 1907, a quarry worker in Germany had discovered the jawbone of Homo heidelbergensis — a 200,000 to 600,000year- old hominid, a probable common ancestor to humans and neanderthals.
With rising tensions between Germany and Britain in the run-up to world war i, it was seen as fortuitous that a groundbreaking discovery was made here.
There were doubts. Anatomist william King Gregory of the American Museum of natural History studied the find in 1913 and said: ‘it has been suspected by some that geologically they are not old at all.
‘They may represent a deliberate hoax, a human skull and a broken ape jaw artificially fossilised and planted in the gravel bed to fool the scientists.’
In 1949, new dating technology put Piltdown Man to the test. Using fluorine tests, dr Kenneth oakley, a geologist at the natural History Museum, discovered the remains were no more than 50,000 years old. Subsequent tests showed the teeth had been filed and the remains artificially stained.
We now know they came from a human and an ape, probably an orangutan. dawson’s guilt is not in doubt, but given the risks to his reputation, it’s likely Smith woodward was an innocent dupe.
Other suspects in the case include dawson’s friend and co-collector Pierre teilhard de Chardin, anthropologist Arthur Keith, who reconstructed the remains, and Martin Hinton, a Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum and a practical joker. A trunk belonging to him discovered in 1970 contained animal bones and teeth carved and stained in a similar way to Piltdown Man.
Rebecca Cox, Manchester.
QUESTION Who was the first Formula 1 driver with an onboard camera?
THE first time a live onboard camera was used in a Formula 1 race was at the 1985 German Grand Prix.
It was attached to Francois Hesnault’s Renault. the lens was covered in clingfilm to prevent damage, but quickly became dirty. Hesnault qualified 23rd and retired on lap 8 with clutch problems.
Onboard footage was considered from the 1950s, but cameras were too large to be used in a race.
Ahead of the 1956 24 Hours of le Mans, Mike Hawthorn completed a lap of Circuit de la Sarthe with a film camera attached to the tail of his Jaguar d-type, describing his experience through a microphone strapped to his chest.
In 1957, reigning F1 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio did the same at Modena in his Maserati 250F.
RaceCam — a system of car-mounted cameras, microwave radio transmitters and relays from helicopters — debuted at the 1979 Bathurst 1000 in Australia.
This was exported to the U.S. for nascar and indyCar before F1 adopted it. Since 1998, every F1 car on the grid has been fitted with at least three cameras.
Anti-vibration mounts and self-cleaning technology have dramatically increased production quality.
Martin Evers, Chelmsford, Essex.
QUESTION What is the terrain theory of the human body?
IN THE 1800s, French chemist louis Pasteur’s germ theory proposed that micro- organisms cause infectious diseases. this paved the way for antibiotics and vaccines.
Claude Bernard and Antoine Bechamp came up with opposing hypotheses.
Bernard proposed the concept of the milieu interieur, the idea that the body’s internal environment — or terrain — maintains its equilibrium. He thought the state of the body, rather than the presence of pathogens, ultimately dictates if disease will develop.
His ideas were not without merit given what we now know about the microbiome and the immuno-compromised.
Bechamp, Pasteur’s bitter rival, claimed illness was caused by the response of molecular granulations, called microzymas, in biological fluids to changes, such as pH. He believed that bacteria don’t cause disease, but are a self-created symptom of it.
Dr J. Singh, Daventry, Northants.
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