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F is for Fake

On Thursday 6 April, just after April Fools' Day, the Library hosted 'F is for Fake', celebrating two of history's most infamous geological hoaxes!

Beringer   GSL Library Event Piltdown

The evening began with Paul Taylor from the Natural History Museum speaking on "Fossil fraud on a massive scale: the 'lying stones' of Johann Beringer”, a tale of scholarly skullduggery in early 18th century Germany. In 1726, Dr Johann Beringer (1667-1740), published his now notorious ‘Lithographiae Wirceburgensis’, an academic treatise on the extraordinary stones he had found the previous year. Numbering in the thousands, the stones depicted a bewildering variety of stylized animals, insects & plants, as well as celestial bodies and letters resembling Hebrew script all petrified in stone. Within months, however, he was soon forced to admit that he had been a victim of a fraud. Paul Taylor revealed the story behind this incredible hoax and asked why someone would engineer such a massive deception. During the interval visitors had the opportunity to view the Library’s latest exhibition which brings together examples of Beringer’s Lügensteine kindly lent by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Natural History Museum.

David Bate from the British Geological Survey continued the evening with his talk, ‘Piltdown Man and the Forgery Career of Charles Dawson’ – a story of social climbing, thwarted ambition and the lengths to which some will go for scientific fame. Piltdown Man, believed to be the ‘missing link’, is history's most celebrated geological fraud and coincidentally was first shown at the Society in 1912. But as David Bate revealed this was not the first foray into the realm of forgery by its author, Charles Dawson. The evening closed with the chance to view the Society’s famous painting ‘Discussion on the Piltdown Skull’, by John Cooke, 1915.

Further resources

Read Paul Taylor's article "Beringer’s iconoliths: palaeontological fraud in the early 18th century" (page 21 of PDF)

View the British Geological Survey's interactive Piltdown Man timeline.

Find out about the Society's painting, 'Discussion on the Piltdown skull'


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