By 1915, Dawson’s dawn-man had become established scientific fact. The painting, A Discussion of the Piltdown Skull, by John Cooke, presents its discoverers in an almost holy atmosphere. Keith is seated while Smith Woodward stands behind him in front of a table with pieces of skull on it. Also standing, with a picture of Charles Darwin behind him, is the benign figure of Charles Dawson. ‘The way the painting is structured suggests Darwin is passing on his mantle to Dawson,’ says Russell. ‘The former had the theory, the latter had provided it, it is being suggested.’
Certainly, the Wizard of Sussex had come far. He was now feted as one of the world’s greatest archaeologists and would have been knighted, as were Keith and Smith Woodward, had he not died of septicaemia in 1916. Kindly and rotund, the figure of Dawson looks the acme of Edwardian rectitude, a successful solicitor and expert antiquarian. But he had secrets that only came to light decades after his death. In fact most of his ‘wizard’ finds turned out to be frauds, recent investigations have revealed. He was, quite simply, a serial forger, says Russell. ‘I have counted 38 hoaxes or dodgy finds made by him before Piltdown,’ Russell states. He forged axes, statuettes, ancient hammers, Roman tiles and a host of other artefacts – trickery that earned fellowships of both the Geological Society and the Society of Antiquaries. ‘Piltdown was not a one-off. It was the culmination of a life’s work,“ says Russell.