Digging for Truth: “The Missing Link” Between Facts and History

First it was Richard III. Now it’s Alfred the Great  a month later. At this rate, we will have found the remains of all our great past rulers in no time. Or will we have?

Piltdown skullArchaeological discoveries, like those presumed of these kings, always prove to be extraordinarily exciting—even for people outside of the field. We want the physical evidence of who, and where, we came from. As Ed Steers puts it in his new book, Hoax:

That man should be interested in man, and how the human species came to be is self-evident.

However, how often does this excitement distract us from the facts? Back in 1912, amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson, together with notable geologist Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, announced that they had unearthed the “Missing Link” between ape and human evolution. The remains came to be known as the Piltdown Man, named after the piltsignBritish village where Dawson supposedly found him. As Englishmen, this was particularly spectacular news—before their “discovery,” no one had ever uncovered early human fossils in Great Britain. Edward Steers emphasizes this early twentieth-century deficiency in the British scientific community, as he simultaneously presents scientific evidence exposing the “Missing Link” as a fraud. Steers seems to say: how perfect.

According to Steers, two factors play into the success of a hoax: greed, and the desire to believe. He contends that such was the case in England with Dawson’s Piltdown Man. Read more about this story in Steers’s new book, Hoax: Hitler’s Diaries, Lincoln’s Assassins, and other Famous Frauds, and you may find yourself more skeptical when the next big breakthrough is announced.

Enter our weekly giveaway to receive a free copy of Hoax. The lucky winner will be chosen Friday at 1 pm. Good luck!

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