Piltdown Man and popular culture

Until recently a pub in Piltdown was called the 'Piltdown Man'.

Film and television

In the first episode of Quatermass and the Pit (BBC, 1958) the palaeontologist Matthew Roney (Cec Linder) who is excavating the remains of ape-men in Knightsbridge says that if he is wrong in his conclusions, ‘They‘ll stick me alongside the Piltdown forgeries as a horrid warning.’

In the ITV science fiction thriller Undermind, (1965) one character refers to a scandal involving a compromising diary as ‘the biggest hoax since the Piltdown Man’.

In 1987 the BBC series QED produced Murder on the Bluebell Line starring Hugh Fraser as Sherlock Holmes and Ronald Fraser as Doctor Watson. In this docudrama Holmes and Watson investigate the Piltdown forgery and the possible suspects including Arthur Conan Doyle.

In 2009 a script for a proposed film The Wizard of Sussex was produced. This is described as a satire that centres on Charles Dawson and his discovery.


Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of Fake, Photo by Michael Brosilow. Ref: Fake-2. Used courtesy of Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

In 2009 the Steppenwolf Theatre Company produced the play ‘Fake’ which was based on the forgery. This is set in 1914 at a meeting at Arthur Conan Doyle’s house that includes Dawson, Woodward and Teilhard de Chardin and in 1953 when the forgery is revealed.

Literature and poetry

As has already been mentioned Piltdown may have been one of the things that inspired Conan Doyle to write The Lost World (1912).

It has been suggested that Rudyard Kipling’s short story Dayspring Mishandled (1928) may have been influenced by Piltdown. It concerns a forged Chaucer manuscript.

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson (1956) was partly inspired by Piltdown. The novel features the archaeological excavation of the tomb of an Anglo-Saxon bishop. An idol which is uncovered is later revealed to be a fake. The book was adapted for television in 1992.

Mask of the Jaguar by Jessica North (1981) is centred on a priceless Mayan jaguar mask of jade, bone and gold. At one point two characters discuss a discovery in England that ‘fooled experts for years until new scientific tests unmasked the fraud’ and ‘the little man who must have perpetrated it―a respected, scholarly gentleman who had nothing―absolutely nothing!―to gain.’

Skullduggery by Peter Marks (1987) is a fictional treatment of the forgery and features, Charles Dawson, Arthur Smith Woodward, Teilhard de Chardin, Kenneth Oakley, Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde.

The novel The Piltdown Confession by Irwin Schwartz (1994) is narrated by Charles Dawson, features Teilhard de Chardin and Conan Doyle and includes a murder mystery.

In 2018, Nick Flittner published Piltdown Man: The Man Who Never Was, a poem that tells the story of the forgery from various points of view including those of Arthur Smith Woodward, Charles Dawson, Venus Hargreaves, J S Weiner and even Piltdown Man himself!


The vineyard at Barkham Manor  produced bottles of 'Piltdown Man Wine'.

In the early 1960s there was a rock and roll instrumental group called The Piltdown Men. They were from California and their singles included ‘Brontosaurus Stomp’ and ‘Goodnight Mrs Flintstone’.

On Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ (1973) he is listed as playing ’Piltdown Man‘ which refers to some unintelligible vocalisation he does on the album.


Contact Andrew Morrison for further details