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Piltdown Man

It is highly speculative, but an attractive thought, that the Zeitgeist of the early twentieth century produced or induced two events; the development of the modern law of Negligence and the perversion of truth by the Piltdown Man hoax.

They are connected in one respect; a lawyer was at the centre of each event.

Lord Atkin, in the House of Lords, delivered the seminal judgement in Donoghue v Stevenson, and Charles Dawson, a solicitor, “found” the skull of Piltdown Man in an English gravel pit.

Mr. Dawson was a very respectable person, as witnessed by the fact that after his find of Piltdown Man, (officially named “Eoanthropus dawsoni”) critics of the claim that his find were the remains of an early human, were attacked in personal terms.

He allegedly found the remains in 1912. As late as 1938 a memorial was erected at the gravel pit in these terms;

Here in the old river gravel Mr Charles Dawson, FSA found the fossil skull of Piltdown Man, 1912-1913, The discovery was described by Mr Charles Dawson and Sir Arthur Smith Woodward in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 1913-15.”

The memorial was, probably, a desperate last stand of the respectable people. The hoax was fully exposed in 1953 in, inter alia, the “Times”; but the truth had been available since 1923.