Keith , Sir Arthur

Keith , Sir Arthur
(1866–1955) British anatomist
Keith, the son of a farmer from Old Machan in Scotland, was educated at the University of Aberdeen, where he qualified as a doctor in 1888. He served as a medical officer in Siam (now Thailand) from 1889 until 1892, when his interest in the comparative anatomy of the primates was first aroused. On his return to Europe he studied anatomy in Leipzig and London before being appointed (1895) demonstrator in anatomy at the London Hospital. In 1908 Keith moved to the Royal College of Surgeons, where he served as curator of the Hunterian Museum until his retirement in 1933.
On 18 December 1912, Arthur Woodward and Charles Dawson announced to the Geological Society the discovery at Piltdown in Sussex of a remarkable skull, which apparently combined the mandible of an ape with the cranium of a human. Here at last, it was felt, was solid evidence for the antiquity of humans. Although some at the meeting were skeptical of the find, suggesting that the skull and jaw must have come from two different individuals, Keith was not among them. It thus appeared that a human with a cranial capacity of 1500 cubic centimeters (as estimated by Keith) and with the jaw of an ape had coexisted with the mastodon. Keith, in the first edition of his Antiquity of Man(1915), dated Piltdown man to the beginning of the Pliocene, which was then assumed to be about a million years ago. With the change in geological fashion Keith was forced to halve the date of Piltdown man in the second edition of his book (1925).
In 1915 Keith estimated the actual separation of humans from the apes to have taken place in the lower Miocene, then considered to be some 2–4 million years ago. This meant that Keith was unable to accommodate the discovery of the famous Taung skull by Raymond Dart in 1924, and consequently he denied that Dart'sAustralopithecus was either human or a link between apes and humans, considering it to be a pure ape having affinities with two living apes, the gorilla and the chimpanzee.
Keith lived long enough to witness the exposure of Piltdown man by Kenneth Oakley in 1949, using modern fluorine dating techniques. These showed the fossil to date back only as far as the Pleistocene, while later work (1953) revealed its fraudulent nature by assigning markedly different dates to the skull and jaw. When Oakley made a special journey to the 87-year-old Keith to inform him of his results, Keith commented “I think you are probably right, but it will take me some time to adjust myself to the new view.”

Scientists. . 2011.

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