In the Footsteps of Hinton

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 69, Summer 1996 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

Readers of Fakes, Frauds, and Other Malarkey (1993) may recall that on pp. 159-162 Lindskoog pointed to Martin A.C. Hinton as the likely perpetrator of the Piltdown Hoax, based on information in a 1990 article in New Scientist provided by George Gorniak. In 1981 New Scientist had published a series of articles by Leonard Harrison Matthews, who knew Hinton well and made a strong case that he was the prankster-hoaxer. But in 1990 Oxford University Press published an over-rated book by an American named Frank Spencer, ignoring Hinton and accusing Sir Arthur Keith. New Scientist naively praised the new book. In response, Lord Zuckerman, chief scientific advisor to several Prime Ministers, published a one-page dissent in New Scientist reviewing Matthews’ 1981 evidence and adding some of his own.

In 1912, the time of the hoax, Hinton was an amateur paleontologist and brilliant volunteer worker at London’s Natural History Museum. He felt cheated by his arrogant boss, Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, so he planted the crude “missing link” skull at Piltdown as a joke, to trick Woodward. Then he planted clues to expose the hoax, in vain. The scientific establishment blindly accepted the false skull until 1953, when tardy analysis at the Museum proved it fake. Hinton had enjoyed a very productive scientific career, kept his secret to the end, and died in 1961. But he had first appeared in Who’s Who in 1935, stating frankly that he was interested in hoaxes and had studied many of them.

Although the facts about Hinton in New Scientist never got much attention, an article in the 23 May 1996 issue of Nature has turned the tide. Hinton’s old trunk had survived in a Museum loft for decades, and a researcher has found bones in it stained just like the Piltdown skull. (The public loves discoveries in old trunks.) One remaining mystery: Did Hinton have an accomplice, and was it Arthur Conan Doyle? Read the evidence in Malarkey.