Scientists to investigate ‘British archaeology's greatest hoax’

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Scientists to investigate ‘British archaeology's greatest hoax’

Researchers are planning to investigate pieces of skull and jawbone once believed to be the remains of a million-year-old ape man who possessed a large brain but primitive jawbone and teeth. Unearthed in a gravel pit in Piltdown, East Sussex, in 1912, the shards of bone were actually part of an elaborate scam designed to fool palaeontologists. It wasn’t until 1953, however, that closer examination of the remains revealed that the Piltdown man’s braincase belonged to a modern human, while the jawbone came from an orangutan or chimpanzee. The pieces had been stained to look as if they were from the same skull and the teeth flattened with a metal file. A sculpted elephant bone, found near the skull pieces, once thought to be a ceremonial artefact, had actually been carved with a knife. Now, scientists will use infra-red scanners, lasers and powerful spectroscopes to reveal the precise chemical make-up of each relic and attempt to ascertain the identities of those behind the scam. Names such as Arthur Conan Doyle and practical joker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin have previously been put forward as suspects.

 

 

Plas Tirion's cow shed could be oldest house in Wales

 

Experts have claimed that a cow shed in Conwy could pre-date Wales' oldest surviving homes, which date from 1402. The building, which is part of a project to find the ages of historic buildings by dating their timbers, boasts a cruck frame (a tree trunk used to support a roof), while its blackened timbers suggest a fire was regularly burned below. Dendrochronology tests have been carried out on the cowshed but the results will not be known for several weeks.

 

 

Architectural treasures found at Sir Walter Scott’s home

 

Decorated floors, an ancient well, a private gas works and other finds have been unearthed at the former home of Sir Walter Scott, according to archaeologists. Abbotsford House in the Scottish Borders is currently closed to the public while conservation and refurbishment is carried out, but the work has already revealed a number of discoveries.

 

 

JFK mistress reveals details of relationship

 

Mimi Alford, the one time mistress of US president John F Kennedy, has revealed details of their 18-month affair in her new book, Once Upon A Secret. In the book, Alford relates Kennedy's thoughts on the Cuban missile crisis and the death of his baby son, as well as tales of drug use. Alford met the president at the age of 19 while she was an intern at the White House.

 

 

Elizabeth Taylor art sale makes £13.7 million

 

Three paintings that once belonged to Oscar-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor have sold for £13.7 million at auction in London. Van Gogh's Vue de l'asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Remy (1889), which once hung in the star’s living room, fetched £10.1 million, the highest price of all the works on sale. Paintings by Edgar Degas and Claude Pissarro fetched £713,250 and £2.9 million respectively.

 

 

Viking axe head ‘evidence of battle’

 

A wrought iron axe head found in the village of Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, in 2008, has been confirmed as being of Viking origin and could be evidence of a battle fought more than 1,100 years ago, say archaeologists. Historians believe that a band of Vikings sailed up the River Severn and fought a battle with the Anglo-Saxons in AD 894. The location of the axe head, they say, could have been where the Vikings moored their ships.

 

 

And finally…

 

Love letters, believed to be 150 years old, have been discovered at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, hidden within the directors’ correspondence collection and personal papers written by botanical collectors and explorers in the 19th and early-20th centuries.
One of the letters was written by Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, Kew’s second public Director and friend of Charles Darwin, to his wife, Hyacinth, during a tour of North America. In one letter he states: “I do long to see you again and stroke your face. I am as anxious to be back as you can be and begin to count the days. I am most anxious to hear of you.” In another: “This is my last letter to you from America, I am pleased to go, for I am wearying to be home and with you”. The letters have been highlighted as part of The National Archives Archive Awareness Campaign.

 

 

Charlotte Hodgman

 

Charlotte Hodgman is Features Editor for BBC History Magazine 

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