Frauds and Hoaxes in the Evolutionary Tree

If evolution were true, intermediate links should be found everywhere in the fossil record. But they remain missing, and some famous examples have turned out to be frauds.

Despite being exposed as lies and forgeries, some supposed “missing links” in the fossil record made a deep and lasting impression on the popular conception of the theory of evolution. Some continue to be found in old textbooks and articles used in some schools.

Let’s review some of the falsified evidence.

Deceptive dating

Professor Reiner Protsch von Zieten was famous for finding missing links suggesting interbreeding of Neanderthals with humans—until he was exposed in 2005.

The Guardian newspaper’s correspondent in Berlin, Luke Harding, wrote about this in his article “History of Modern Man Unravels as German Scholar Is Exposed as a Fraud”:

“His discovery appeared to show that Neanderthals had spread much further north than was previously known.

“But … a crucial Hamburg skull fragment, which was believed to have come from the world’s oldest German, a Neanderthal known as Hahnhöfersand Man, was actually a mere 7,500 years old, according to Oxford University’s radiocarbon dating unit. The unit established that other skulls had been wrongly dated too.

Far from the sensational missing links they were dressed up to be, his finds have turned out to be some of the weakest links.“Another of the professor’s sensational finds, ‘Binshof-Speyer’ woman, lived in 1,300 BC and not 21,300 years ago, as he had claimed, while ‘Paderborn-Sande man’ (dated at 27,400 BC) only died a couple of hundred years ago, in 1750.” (For more about the accuracy of dating methods, see our article on “Geologic Dating Methods.”)

The professor was forced to retire in disgrace because of his numerous “falsehoods and manipulations.” Far from the sensational missing links they were dressed up to be, his finds have turned out to be some of the weakest links.

And it wasn’t the first time.

Jaw-dropping deception

As the Titanic was being fitted out for her maiden voyage, the unearthing of Piltdown man, another so-called missing link, came on the evolutionary scene. Charles Dawson, an English solicitor and amateur archaeologist, said he found this now well-known hoax just 15 miles from his home in East Sussex.

At the time a few scientists questioned the discovery, but many others gave their support to it as a genuine evolutionary link. This concocted evidence made its way into the classroom (including mine as I was growing up).

Much later and after the two world wars, two Oxford University scientists inspected the Piltdown find and carried out further tests. It soon was shown to be nothing less than a blatant and premeditated forgery. It was an amalgamation of a human skull joined to the jawbone of an orangutan.

There was evidence also that the lower teeth of the assembled skull had been filed down to make them look more human, and that all of the bones had been colored to match the Piltdown gravel pit. The human skull was just 600 years old.

The Piltdown chicken

Piltdown was glibly attached to another evolutionary rip-off once it was exposed. The nickname Piltdown chicken (sometimes called the Piltdown turkey) was given to Archaeoraptor, a supposed missing link between birds and dinosaurs.

In 1999 National Geographic magazine gave an account of Archaeoraptor’s discovery in China.

The magazine published a glossy article documenting the find. The fossil was about the size of a large chicken and appeared to have the tail of a reptile. The magazine believed it was publishing a report on a missing link between dinosaurs and birds.

What the magazine publishers didn’t know at the time was that they were looking at the remains of not one but two creatures. Fragments of unrelated fossils were joined to complete the skeleton, making an assortment that hoodwinked the scientific world and boosted the theory of evolution.

Chinese scientists initially helped to classify the Archaeoraptor fossil, but later on they found in the same site a second fossil containing an exact, mirror-image of the Archaeoraptor’s tail—attached to a very different body. It was clear that con artists had taken part of the fossil bearing the tail and glued it to the bird fossil, thereby producing the dinosaur-bird deception.

National Geographic acknowledged its mistake in the March 2000 issue of the magazine.

Examine the evidence

The history of the evidence claimed for the theory of evolution includes a number of misconceptions and outright frauds. The human motivation behind these scams is often for personal gain, prestige and—for now—to give credibility to a popular theory.

We believe it is worth examining the evidence for the evolutionary theory and the evidence for creation in more detail.

For more on this subject, see “Intelligent Design: Can Science Answer the Question, Does God Exist?” “Can Christians Believe in Evolution?” “The Fossil Record and Creation” and related articles on the Life, Hope & Truth website.

About the Author

Eddie Johnson

Eddie and Sandra Johnson serve the membership in the Tonbridge, England, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He is an ordained elder.

Get the Latest

InSights Blog

Get the latest blog posts from Life, Hope & Truth straight to your inbox.


Never miss a post! Sign up to receive the week's latest articles, blog posts and updates.



Discern is published every two months and is available in digital and print versions. Choose your preferred format to start your subscription.

Print subscriptions available in U.S., Canada and Europe


Please choose your region: