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C. S. Lewis: Quick to Call a Fake a Fake

The Lewis Legacy-Issue 86, Autumn 2000 The C.S. Lewis Foundation for Truth in Publishing

On December 18, 1912, when Lewis was fourteen years old, Charles Dawson, an attorney, and Arthur Smith Woodward, the British Museum’s leading paleontologist, announced to the world that they had discovered an early human fossil in a shallow gravel pit near the village of Piltdown in Sussex. This was promptly accepted as the earliest known human fossil and was the pride of British science.

Over forty years later, when Lewis was about fifty, news broke that the Piltdown Man had a jaw from an orangutan. The scientific establishment denied that it had been hoaxed until 1953, when a scientist announced the ape’s teeth had been crudely filed down to look human.

Already, in 1949, Lewis had boldly called the Piltdown man a fake in his poem “A Footnote to Pre-History” published in Punch, 14 September 1949:

Memory, not built on a fake from Piltdown,
Reaches us. We know more than bones can teach.

In 1951, however, the college textbook The Human Organism and the World of Life (by Young and Stebbins, Harper & Brothers) showed the Piltdown Man firmly ensconced between the Neanderthal and the Cro-Magnon.