NABOKV-L post 0005785, Wed, 28 Feb 2001 19:03:44 -0800

Nabokov, S. Holmes and SCIENCE (fwd)
From: Kurt Johnson <>

I see the Nabokov/ Sherlock Holmes thread has survived until today. So I must convey a short story about the Sherlock Holmes connection to science of which few of you are probably aware. I'll be brief, but it's fascinating. One of the most notorious scientific frauds concerns the famous British fossils of the "Piltdown Man". The skull was found just a piece down the road from Arthur Conan Doyle's English estate. For years this skull, housed in the British Museum, was considered authentic and confused the evolutionary scheme of Homo sapiens. The confusion continued because the BM would never allow outside scientists to see the original skull. They would only allow casts to be examined. Eventually, when these "dukes" of the old British establishment died off, outsiders were allowed to see the skull and it was quickly show to be a clever fraud.... clever, but to modern techniques obviously a fraud. The question of who forged the Piltdown skull then bothered science for many years and a spate of books were written about it. The discoverers of the skull were, again oddly, the Jesuit theologian/paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (author of the famous book The Phenomenon of Man), along with two famous British paleontologists of the British Museum, both who seemed beyond reproach but who WERE competitors. One book, The Piltdown Men, suggested that one of the BM scientists planted the skull to embarrass his competitor who, he thought, would end up taking the blame when the fraud was exposed. However, when the forgery was never exposed, he had to die never revealing this hidden secret. Stephen Jay Gould, in Natural History, during his Marxist phase, fingered Teilhard, the Jesuit,...suggesting the usual corruption inherent in religious adherents. However, a recent review of the subject, the name of which excapes me at the moment, suggested that Conan Doyle himself may have concocted the skull and placed it in the pit near his home-- hoping to "plant" at least one other great mystery on par with his character
it was worth writing down. It would have never come up without the VN, S Holmes thread.

Kurt Johnson<br clear=all><hr>Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at <a href=""></a><br></p>