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Mystery Man: Local author looks at scientific hoaxes and frauds
by Monica Burge
May 10, 2012 09:39 PM | 1044 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Back in the early 1900s, a group of men discovered partial remains that, at the time, were the most bizarre ever uncovered.

Found by workmen who were working at a construction site in Piltdown, England, the cranium and jawbone that were discovered didn’t appear to come from any human.

Before long, scientists began hailing the find as Charles Darwin’s Missing Link, said Jonathan Maxwell, of Taylorsville.

Supposedly, it proved that early man emerged in Europe, he said.

So for several years scientists and scholars studied and debated what had come to be known as Piltdown Man.

But after decades of accepting the remains as a groundbreaking scientific discovery, experts were forced to admit the discovery that had sent shockwaves was nothing more than a hoax.

Maxwell said scientists were able to prove that the cranium came from a thoroughly modern human being, while the jaw came simply from an ordinary ape.

Maxwell said there was backlash from the fraud particularly for the emerging scientific field of paleoanthropology, the study of human origins.

“It nearly destroyed paleoanthropology,” said Maxwell. “It did embarrass a lot of people.”

Maxwell explores the myth of Piltdown Man in his latest book, “Piltdown Man and Other Hoaxes.”

In his first award-winning book, “Murderous Intellectuals: German Elites and the Nazi SS,” Maxwell tackled Nazis leadership and the Third Reich.

Maxwell said his second book is markedly different.

“I just wanted to do something different,” Maxwell said. “I took a scholarly approach to the book. It should make an excellent research book.”

“Piltdown Man and Other Hoaxes” explores scientific frauds through history. It focuses especially on the Piltdown Man Hoax, which is sometimes casually called the Missing Link Hoax.

The book examines other frauds as well, including those involving Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, lake monsters, mermaids, and Atlantis. It also addresses the conflicts between science and traditional religious belief, and argues optimistically that the two forces can be reconciled with one another.

“I think the average reader will be enlightened but will be entertained,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said “Piltdown Man and Other Hoaxes” is designed to be a fun, thought-provoking book that should entertain both adult and juvenile readers.

It can be purchased at Barnes & Noble,, and at independent bookstores. The publisher is American Book Publishing, which is based in Salt Lake City.

“I think readers will learn a lot,” Maxwell said.

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