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A German Piltdown? The Steinau skull discovery of 1911 and the omnipresence of fraud in early paleoanthropology

AuthorsHochadel, Oliver CSIC ORCID
Issue Date8-Jul-2017
PublisherBritish Society for the History of Science
CitationThe British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) Annual Conference 2017, 6 - 9 th July 2017 : (2017)
AbstractJust about one and a half years before ¿Piltdown Man¿ made first headlines in the UK in December 1912 a somehow similar story unfolded in Germany. In the ¿Devil¿s Cave¿ near the small town of Steinau east of Frankfurt a seemingly prehistoric skull was unearthed. For a brief moment the discovery found a strong echo in the media and quite a few anthropologists flocked to Steinau and soon found themselves embroiled in controversy. Yet unlike Piltdown, only proven a hoax in 1953, it transpired after several weeks that the skull had been planted. This paper will try to contextualize this prank in the broader history of the search for human fossils from around the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century. The insight that humanity had a deep past, the discovery of stone artefacts and much less frequently hominid fossils was from the very beginning also marked by a substantial number of forged evidence. Motives varied between economic gain and sheer fun. Thus a new discovery nearly by default also had to face the suspicion of being a hoax. With dating methods still in its infancy and little comparative material at hand scholars struggled to come up with methods to resolve this nagging question. The ¿prehistoric fever¿ particularly of the period around 1900 on the one hand and the omnipresent shadow of fraud on the other hand guaranteed controversial discussions. This paper will try to show how anthropologists handled these epistemological challenges.
Appears in Collections:(IMF) Comunicaciones congresos

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