Charles Dawson (1864-1916)

From Historical Hastings

Charles Dawson
Charles Dawson.jpeg
Born11 July 1864
Died11 August 1916

Charles Dawson was trained as a solicitor, who had an interest in archaeology and geology. At the age of 21, he was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London. Obtaining a position of Town Clerk of Uckfield, he was instrumental in the setting up of Hastings Museum, becoming an acting member of the Committee set up for this purpose in 1889. Although largely discredited due to the Piltdown Man and plagiarism associated with investigation of Hastings Castle, he did make a number of legitimate discoveries in and around East Sussex and obtained the Castle documents from Lord Chichester. As a member of the museum Committee, he assisted in the acquisition of various exhibits such as the engraved plate depicting the chandelier of All Saints Church, part of a pre-historic boat that had been found in Bexhill and a number of other items[1]

Piltdown Man

Whilst he did have one find of a previously unknown mammal accredited to his name and a number of other 'finds' resulting in him being elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities, he was better known for the Piltdown Man scandal which started in 1921.[2] He 'discovered' part of a human-like skull in gravel beds located in Piltdown. He contacted Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum at the time[2], about his find. Working together, the two men then proceeded to find multiple bones and flint tools at the site indicating a previously unknown species of man.

The skull had the cranial capacity of a modern human but the jaw of an ape, indicating our brains had developed well before we had adapted to new types of food.

The fraud continued until new dating technology in 1949 revealed the remains to be younger than stated by Dawson. This proved conclusively that the remains could not possibly be a missing link between apes and mankind. Further testing then revealed that the jaw and skull were, in fact, from two different species - most likely orangutan and human.[2]. In reality, Dawson had fastened the jaw of an orangutan to a human skull and filed down the teeth to fit. The finds were removed from the public view amid much outcry. J. Manwaring Baines examined all artifacts donated by Dawson to both Hastings Museum and alerted other national institutions.

History of Hastings Castle

Later it was determined that there had been large-scale plagiarism on Dawson's part in authoring the History of Hastings Castle, much of this being based upon copied notes by the original researcher, William Herbert.[3] The Sussex Archaeological Society in its publication, "Sussex archaeological collections relating to the history and antiquities of the county" Vol. 2 Pg. 282[4] has the following fairly damning critique of the work:-

...It is difficult to say how far these are due to carelessness, inaccuracy and neglect of proof reading, and how far to reliance upon second-hand authorities, as references are frequently omitted or given in an unintelligible form. In many cases when matter is taken, mistakes and all, from earlier writers no acknowledgment of the source is made...


References & Notes