The story of Piltdown Man came out at just the time when scientists were in a desperate race to find the missing link in the theory of evolution. Since Charles Darwin had published his theory on the origin of species in 1859, the hunt had been on for clues to the ancient ancestor that linked apes to humans.
Sensational finds of fossil ancestors, named Neanderthals, had already occurred in Germany and France. British Scientists, however, were desperate to prove that Britain had also played its part in the story of human evolution, and Piltdown Man was the answer to their prayers - because of him, Britain could claim to be the birthplace of mankind.
Charles Dawson had made a name for himself by finding fossils in Sussex, and passing them on to Sir Arthur Smith Woodward at what is now the Natural History Museum, London. Dawson now claimed that at some point before 1910, a workman had handed him a dark-stained and thick piece of human skull. He said that recognising that this might be part of an ancient human, he had continued to dig at the site and collected more pieces of skull.
On 14 February 1912, he wrote to Woodward with news of exciting discoveries, and that summer Woodward joined him to excavate at Piltdown. They found more fragments of skull, and the bones and teeth of extinct British animals such as elephants, rhinos and beavers. They also found primitive stone tools, and a remarkable ape-like jaw.
Edutainment: Piltdown Man: Britain's Greatest Hoax