Hoaxes are neither fakes nor forgeries as these terms in archaeology, refer to an artefact. A hoax, on the other hand, is an attempt to fool people into believing that something, usually philosophical or theoretical, is true by constructing or manipulating the truth.
For instance, a proponent of Darwinian evolution, who has no artefact evidence to support the theory, may use a forgery or may reposition a real artefact to provide verification of the ideology.
The word hoax is thought to date from the 1700’s where it could be a contraction of the term hocus pocus, a phrase long used by stage magicians and for describing nonsense.
The Best Hoaxes Have a Bit of Truth
Although there is, more often than not, some forged object involved, using only genuine artefacts and describing the apparent truth can construct a hoax.
Hoaxes are common all over the world in archaeology and more so as fame, prestige, funding, pride and ego get intertwined with archaeological science.
With better testing and authentication methods, hoaxes are generally uncovered sooner or later, although at the beginning of the 20th century laboratory testing was far from sophisticated and some well-contrived hoaxes lasted in scientific acceptance for 40 years.
The simplest form of archaeological hoax is the burying of an artefact at a foreign site. This might be done for several reasons. Firstly, the expedition sponsor may only wish to continue to fund excavations if a ‘significant’ artefact is located.
Archaeologists, fearing loss of employment, might ‘plant’ artefacts found elsewhere to secure further funding. Secondly, a scientist with a particular theory about the site may place an artefact into the ground to be ‘discovered’ by a worker that will prove the theory correct and bring kudos.
Examples of Archaeological Hoaxes
Digging My Own Hole
In Japan, archaeologist, Shinichi Fujimura, announced the discovery of humanly worked, stone items found in deep holes making them some of the oldest human tools in the world. His discovery sparked international attention. Fujimura was acclaimed as the person who had found the oldest stoneware in Japan.
However, only two weeks later, a Japanese newspaper published photographs, taken secretly at the digging site, on the front page, that showed the archaeologist digging holes himself and burying the artefacts that he later dug up. His exposure meant that all of the conclusions from Fujimura’s work had to be re-examined.
Make It Up
A German University professor was exposed for systematically lying about the ages of skulls that he had found saying that his ancient modern-human skulls were co-existent with Neanderthals. After radiocarbon dating the remains, professor Protsch claimed outrageously old dates for his 1300-year-old skulls.
He was exposed when it was learned that the professor did not know how to operate radiocarbon dating equipment and after returning from studying in the United States he just started making up ages to suit himself.
The Longest Running Hoax
Sussex, England, began to yield the weirdest fossil collection around the 1910’s. Fossilised bits and pieces from an elephant, hippopotamus, a dog tooth, chimp jaw, and a human skull all made it look like Noah’s Ark or an ancient zoo was once at the gravel pits at Piltdown.
Charles Dawson, an amateur archaeologist coupled together the human skull with the chimpanzee jaw and presented the contraption as the missing link, ape-man that all evolutionists were desperate to locate. Arthur Woodard, a professional palaeontologist named it Eoanthropus dawsoni, translated, Dawson’s Dawn Man. As no one could pronounce such a mouthful the popular nickname of Piltdown Man was taken from the gravel pit site.
For the next forty years no one questioned the authenticity of Piltdown and drawings and sketches made their way into scientific textbooks as the proof of Darwin’s evolutionary tree. Right up until the mid 1950’s, every high school biology book lectured students as to their ape-man heritage based solely on Dawson’s skull discovery.
Curious and sincere biologists, using exacting analysis techniques in the 1950’s were able to prove that the skull and the jaw did not belong together. In fact, further examination revealed that almost all of Dawson’s primitive remains had been planted at the site. The new dating methods showed that the pieces were from different time periods and had been chemically aged to deceive a willing audience, thus executing the greatest hoax in biological science.
Carry On but Be Wise
Hoaxes are bound to continue to surface for whatever reason. The presence of them or the potential for them to do harm must not influence genuine archaeological research. As the techniques and methods of archaeological science improve it makes it all the more difficult for the hoaxer to get way with it.