One bad hoax deserves another

Mary
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All this talk about the upcoming photos of baby Suri Cruise has gotten me thinking about Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, or as you know him, L. Ron. Plenty has been said about his opinions on aliens, volcanoes, and disembodied spirits, but his scientific interests didn't stop with astronomy, vulcanology, and, er, thetanology.

For instance: he was an amateur paleontologist! In his book Scientology: A History of Man, Hubbard wrote about a toothy human ancestor who was "quite careless as to whom and what he bit." For perhaps the only time in his life, he could cite real scientific evidence: fragments of a humanoid skull and a powerful jaw that had been dug up in England and christened Eoanthropus dawsoni in 1912, four decades before his book was published in 1952.

Alas, just twelve months after Hubbard's book was published, scientists announced that Eoanthropus dawsoni was a fake, planted by some unknown trickster. The "fossil" -- a patchwork of a medieval human skull, a 500-year-old orangutan jaw, and some fossil teeth from a chimp, all stained with chromic acid and iron to look older -- came to be known as Piltdown Man and ceased to be taught in biology classes.

Or did it? The plastic skeleton pictured at the top of IMG_0921.jpgthis post is one of my prized possessions, a teaching tool with an accompanying pamphlet quoting the 1958 World Book. On the side of the box-top is a parade of skulls from Neanderthal to modern man, in order of age -- and smack in the middle, there's Piltdown, rearing his big fake head. The lineage doesn't begin with clams like L. Ron thought it did, but I still think he'd totally approve.

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August 11, 2006 - 10:20am
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