Robert O’Block | American College of Forensic Examiners Institute

ACFEI Robert O'Block

robert o'block, american college of forensic examiners international, acfei, forensics, forensic sciences education

Dr. Robert O'Block got his start in criminology while attending Pittsburg State University. The textbook that inspired him to a career in criminal justice, a decision that would enable him to change the face of forensic science forever, was Sociology of Deviant Behavior by Marshall Clinard. Upon completion of the course that required this text, he began working as a dispatcher. The rest is history!

To see the cutting edge of forensic science for yourself, look at what the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute is up to. Go to http://www.acfei.com/ for more information!

Robert O’Block is founder of the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI). ACFEI is the largest professional forensic education organization in the world and honored to have as its advisory board members many of the top forensic experts of the 21st century. As all humanity now thrives in the Information Age, Dr. O’Block & ACFEI continues to investigate development of forensic educational services that incorporate Information and Communications Technology. Plans have been made to one day offer the forensic field educational services focused on Cyber Justice, iPredator, Cyber Criminal/Forensic Psychology and Digital Forensics.       

Feel free to visit their website at www.acfei.com. If interested in contacting Dr. O’Block or ACFEI, their phone number is (800) 423-9737.

SCIENCE, INTEGRITY, JUSTICE & CYBER JUSTICE

 

robert o'block, american college of forensic examiners international, acfei, forensics, forensic sciences education

 

Robert O’Block | The Piltdown Man: Not “The Missing Link”

ACFEI Robert O'Block

robert o'block, american college of forensic examiners international, acfei, forensics, forensic sciences education

Article written by Megan Augustine, BS

Science is the system of acquiring knowledge, of uncovering truth. However, pranks, hoaxes, and outright frauds have been perpetrated under the guise of “science,” leading mankind not to truth, but away from it. In the case of the Piltdown hoax, that is exactly what happened. This anthropological hoax, reported in science books as truth for nearly 40 years, is perhaps the most famous scientific fraud in history.

In 1912, archeologist Charles Dawson and Sir Arthur Smith Woodward, keeper of geology at the Natural History Museum, presented an amazing discovery to the public, a discovery that shook the very foundations of science at the time. What they presented was a reconstructed skull that they claimed was the “missing link” between apes and humans.

The reconstruction, dubbed “Piltdown Man,” consisted of a piece of skull and a jawbone. Named after the Piltdown quarry in Sussex, England, where a laborer discovered the fragments, the Piltdown Man had the noble brow of the Homo sapiens and a primitive jaw.

Then, in 1915, more remains turned up in the Piltdown quarry: a second partial skull and an odd-looking bone artifact that resembled a cricket bat. Now even those who had been skeptical of the first finding were convinced: the Piltdown Man discovery was real.

The Hoax Unravels Over Time

As time passed, scientific discoveries in other countries, including the “Taung Child” in South Africa and “The Peking Man” in China cast doubt on the Piltdown Man by illustrating contradictory evidence in the pattern of human evolution. However, Piltdown Man supporters remained loyal and rebuffed arguments against its validity.

But by the late 1930s, the Piltdown Man was marginalized and by the 1940s and 1950s ignored. The truth began to unravel with a new dating technique in 1949, the fluorine absorption test, which dated the Piltdown fossils as relatively modern. Then, in 1953, after further testing, the fraud was exposed. A group of scientists lead by Kenneth Page Oakley revealed that the skull’s fragments were from a modern human and the teeth and jawbone were actually from an orangutan. The teeth had been filed down (microscopic examination revealed scratch marks), and the bones had been stained with an iron solution and chromic acid to make them appear ancient.

The “missing link,” the answer to human evolution, and the work of Dawson and Woodward was all a hoax! But who was the perpetrator?

The Perp

The perpetrator of the Piltdown Hoax has never been uncovered. Theories abound, but no one really knows -who was behind the largest anthropological hoax in history. Some theories include the following:

  • Martin A. C. Hinton: later the keeper of the zoology collection at the British Museum. A trunk, found in the loft of the museum, bore Hinton’s initials and contained a set of bones stained in the same way as the Piltdown Man fragments. Motive? Some say Hinton developed the hoax to embarrass Woodward, who had previously refused Hinton a salaried job at the museum. Others say it began as a practical joke, but after the large amount of publicity the jokester (Hinton) kept quiet.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: author. Conan Doyle lived near the Piltdown quarry and frequently played golf just a few miles away. As an amateur bone hunter who participated briefly in the digs, he had the opportunity to plant the bones; however, he had no way of guaranteeing the bones would be discovered. But, it has been said that he left clues and references to the hoax in his book The Lost World. Motive? Some argue that Conan Doyle was out for revenge on the British scientific community for ridiculing his spiritualist research.
  • Sir Arthur Smith Woodward: keeper of geology at the Natural History Museum. Woodward stood to gain great recognition as the Piltdown Man’s co-discoverer. Additionally, he had access to the fragments, so why did he not perform any scientific examinations? On the other hand, after Woodward retired from the British Museum, he spent the remaining years of his life searching for more Piltdown finds. Why would a man waste his life digging for something he knew was a hoax?
  • Charles Dawson: amateur archeologist and Piltdown-Man discoverer. Dawson chose to search the Piltdown Quarry and was the one who made the original discovery, with no confirmation from another individual. After his death in 1916, several forgeries created by Dawson were exposed, and no further objects related to Piltdown were ever found. Motive? With this find Dawson would go down in history as the archeologist who found the “missing link.”

How Forensics Exposed the Hoax

Why did it take so long to discover the Piltdown Man forgery? With today’s scientific and forensic resources, hoaxes such as the Piltdown Man would quickly be revealed. But in the time of the Piltdown Man, forensic techniques were not what they are today. Additionally, the Piltdown Man affirmed many scientists’ theories of human evolution. They wanted to believe the “missing link” had been found. Perhaps scientists did not put the findings under careful scientific examination in fear they’d discover they were wrong; they did not want to confront (and possibly disprove) the evidence that proved their theory.

The lack of scrutiny could also be the result of national pride. English scientists wanted to have a hand in unraveling human evolution. Neanderthal was found in Germany in 1856 and Cro-Magnum in France in 1868. Maybe the British wanted a piece of the fame, and this desire overshadowed the search for truth.

In the end, forensics led the search for truth. A variety of forensic experts and their techniques aided in exposing the Piltdown hoax.

First, Dawson and Woodward dated the bones with the help of index fossils they found at the site of the discovery. More recently, radiocarbon dating showed that the human bones were less than 1,000 years old, which dated Piltdown Man at least 100,000 years after the first “modern” humans were on earth.

Second, skull reconstruction in the days of Dawson and Woodward was open to different interpretations. It was not an exact science; two different individuals could reconstruct two completely different models. Today, a 3D laser scanner can photograph skull fragments and a computer- modeling program can accurately piece the fragments together, leaving only one reconstruction.

Third, the teeth in the Piltdown jaw felt smooth and flat. This was much different than the rough, pointed teeth of an ape. Dentist Arthur Underwood took an X-ray of the Piltdown jaw and compared it to that of a chimpanzee’s jaw. He concluded that the roots of a chimpanzee jaw looked much straighter than those in the Piltdown jaw. Today, however, X-ray machines are much more sophisticated and are of higher quality. A modern X-ray would lend critical information to Piltdown’s origins. Additionally, scanning electron microscopes clearly revealed the scratch marks on the teeth, making it obvious the teeth had been filed down by hand.

Although modern forensics would have uncovered the hoax in no time, one question still remains: would modern forensics have been able to nail down the individual responsible for the largest anthropological forgery in history? Unfortunately, we will never know.

Robert O’Block is founder of the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI). ACFEI is the largest professional forensic education organization in the world and honored to have as its advisory board members many of the top forensic experts of the 21st century. As all humanity now thrives in the Information Age, Dr. O’Block & ACFEI continues to investigate development of forensic educational services that incorporate Information and Communications Technology. Plans have been made to one day offer the forensic field educational services focused on Cyber Justice, iPredator, Cyber Criminal/Forensic Psychology and Digital Forensics.

Feel free to visit their website at www.acfei.com. If interested in contacting Dr. O’Block or ACFEI, their phone number is (800) 423-9737.

SCIENCE, INTEGRITY, JUSTICE & CYBER JUSTICE

robert o'block, american college of forensic examiners international, acfei, forensics, forensic sciences education