The Nebraska Man Hoax: Professor Henry Osborn Receives a Old Worn Pigs Tooth from a Nebraska Farmer and Sells it to the World as an Evolutionary Ape Man Tooth

“The study and description of this part of the collection was assigned by Professor [Henry Fairfield] Osborn to the writers, and its results appear in the following pages… The anterior molars and premolars of this genus of peccaries show a startling resemblance to the teeth of Anthropoidea, and might well be mistaken for them by anyone not familiar with the dentition of Miocene peccaries.”– W. D. Matthew and Harold Cook, Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 1909 p.361, 390. ( Note carefully the date of this publication, 1909.)

Introducing the Main Players

I said in my introductory article to this series that I would be advancing a thesis regarding the Nebraska Man hoax that no one else, as far as I knew, had heretofore advanced. That thesis is this: both geologist Harold Cook and the esteemed Henry Fairfield Osborn, former President of the American Museum of Natural History in New York (1908-1933), are to be held culpable in the Nebraska Man fraud and are rightly accused of perpetrating a deliberate hoax.

Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1919

Since saying I would be advancing this thesis that no one else has made, I have done a little more digging and come across an article by Andrew Sibley, “A Fresh Look at Nebraska Man,” which also makes more or less the same claim. Sibley’s article is an excellent article, and I encourage the reader to read it. It was published originally by the Journal of Creation 22(2):108–113, August 2008 and can be found online here. Sibley’s article is, in large measure, a response to an article by evolutionists Wolf and Mellett on Nebraska Man, published by the National Center for Science Education, Creation/Evolution Journal, Issue 16 (Summer 1985). I will give Wolf and Mellett their due: their article is a very sophisticated piece of propaganda.

I will get to what happened and what constituted “Nebraska Man” shortly but first, so the reader may get acquainted with who the players are in the Nebraska Man hoax, let us introduce the principals starting with Osborn himself.

  1. Who was Henry Fairfield Osborn? Henry Fairfield Osborn was the driving force behind the Nebraska Man hoax. I think it is relevant and enlightening to start with observing that Osborn was a prominent member of the ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, in New York. As for me, this solitary fact of Osborn’s membership in the ACLU makes me “smell a rat” in the Nebraska Man hoax. This fact may very well be much more relevant and, indeed, explanatory, of the whole Nebraska Man fraud than what most commentators on this story cite about him, which is that Osborn was the Director of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a Professor at Columbia University.
  2. Another major player in the Nebraska Man hoax is geologist Harold Cook. Harold Cook was a close associate of Osborn at the American Museum of Natural History. Harold Cook, in 1917,  was the excavator of the site in Nebraska where the “artifact” constituting “Nebraska Man,” a presumed ape-man and missing link, was found. (For those of you unfamiliar with the hoax, wait till you find out what the “artifact” was!)
  3. Another major player in the Nebraska Man hoax was famed anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith in Britain, who enthusiastically promoted Nebraska Man to the public as proof of ape-to-man ancestry of humans in the Western world. We encountered Grafton Elliot Smith in the preceding article of this series as a promoter of the Piltdown man hoax.
  4. There were also the editors of the newspaper, the New York Times, chiming in editorially with their own comments about Nebraska Man and the debate surrounding “him.” The New York Times comments centered around the public debates between Osborn and famed creationist William Jennings Bryan, and other pronouncements of Osborn.
  5. William Jennings Bryan

    In addition to these pro-evolution advocates, during this same time period creationist William Jennings Bryan was conducting his own pro-creation and anti-evolution campaign. In the years leading up to the Scopes trial in July of 1925, and concluding just one week before the Scopes trial, Henry Fairfield Osborn took it upon himself to challenge Bryan in very high-profile public disputations with Bryan in the pages of the New York Times, etc. regarding evolution and Nebraska Man. William Jennings Bryan was perceived by evolutionists as doing too much damage to the cause of evolution and the religion of Naturalism not to challenge.

  6. Another major player was the ACLU, specifically the New York office of the American Civil Liberties Union. The reason I include the ACLU in this list is because of the historical context. It is important to understand that the Nebraska Man fraud is not a stand-alone event. The Nebraska Man fraud is inseparably intertwined with the “Scopes Monkey Trial” caper. As Andrew Sibley notes, “At the time of the Nebraska find he [Osborn] was aware of moves by the ACLU to challenge the ban that was in place that prevented the teaching of evolution in some schools.” It was the New York ACLU, of which Henry Fairfield Osborn was a prominent member, which placed the imfamous ad in the Chattanooga Times newspaper in Tennessee seeking a local teacher willing to help them challenge the State law prohibiting the teaching of evolution (see Evolution: Fact, Fraud or Faith?—pg.263 by Don Boys, Ph.D.). The ad read that the ACLU was: “looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in testing this law in the courts. Our lawyers think a friendly test case can be arranged without costing a teacher his or her job… All we need now is a willing client.” This ad was run by the ACLU on May 4, 1925.
  7. Then there was William King Gregory, another close associate of Osborn’s at the American Museum of Natural History. It was Gregory who completed the Nebraska excavation in the Spring of 1925, just a few months before the start of the famous Scopes trial. Again, note well the timeline.

What Happened?

The Nebraska Man hoax began when geologist Harold Cook, conducting an archaeological dig in 1917, unearthed a molar tooth, a single, lone molar tooth in the state of Nebraska (“coincidentally”–?– the home state of outspoken creationist William Jennings Bryan, who was causing so much consternation to evolutionists.). Harold Cook retained the tooth in his own possession for five years, until March of 1922, when he turned it over to Osborn. Believe it or not, this lone molar tooth was the ENTIRE “evidence” constituting “Nebraska Man.”

An entire ape-man and “missing link” find was proclaimed hastily within a single month by Osborn before the National Academy of Science in 1922 on the basis of a single tooth! Three years later, in the Spring of 1925, William King Gregory completed the excavation in Nebraska–but there was an embarrassing problem. Unexpectedly, the full skeleton of Nebraska Man was still there in the ground. Nebraska Man, it turned out, was actually Nebraska PIG, a Miocene peccary! The whole skeleton, minus the one molar already found, was unearthed. Cook, Matthew and Osborn had already documented their knowledge of and familiarity with Miocene peccary molars in 1909, including noting that they could be mistaken for anthropoid molars “by anyone not familiar with the dentition of Miocene peccaries”! This realization may very well have been the inspiration for the hoax. Cook, Matthew and Osborn already WERE “familiar with the dentition of Miocene peccaries.” Why, then, had they proclaimed that a pig molar, of which they were familiar and knowledgeable, was proof of an ape-man, a missing link? They knew better but made an ape-man out of a pig molar anyway. This whole scenario can hardly be anything other than deliberate deception. The question must be asked, If Harold Cook truly believed the molar he had in his possession was an anthropoid molar, would he not have forwarded it to Osborn immediately in 1917 instead of waiting for five years? Would Cook have actually sat on such a momentous discovery saying nothing about it for five years?

At this same time in history, it was public knowledge that the ACLU was looking to challenge state laws which banned the teaching of evolution in public schools. In 1922, as the ACLU was planning and preparing to mount a legal challenge in the courts against state laws banning the teaching of evolution, Harold Cook forwarded the molar tooth to Osborn, who was, I stress, a member of the ACLU in New York.

Osborn, who was America’s, if not the world’s, leading expert on mammalian molar teeth, examined the tooth handed over to him by Cook and proceeded almost immediately to announce to the world that proof of a missing link, an anthropoid ape, an ape-man, in North America had been found. Osborn, signifying authoritative identification, gave an official name to the presumed original owner of the tooth, “Hesperopithecus haroldcookii,” meaning “Harold Cook’s Ape of the Western World,” in honor of Harold Cook, its finder.

Evolution of Mammalian Molar Teeth by Henry Fairfield Osborn

Henry Fairfield Osborn, as the leading expert on the subject of mammalian molar teeth, had already written a full-length book on the subject, “Evolution of Mammalian Molar Teeth,” published in (note well) 1907. The book is 237 pages of commentary and a virtual catalogue of diagrams of mammalian molars. If anyone knew mammalian molars, it was Osborn. I am not aware of anyone else who has pointed out the relevance of this publication to the current topic.

No claim of ignorance on Osborn’s part can hold any water.

After being given the tooth by Cook, Osborn announced to the world:

“The anthropoid Primate characters of the tooth are confirmed by another water-worn third upper molar previously found by William D. Matthew in the same beds but not described because it was not sufficiently distinctive. These two teeth establish the existence in the Pilocene period of a new and independent type of anthropoid, intermediate in the structure of its grinding teeth between the anthropoid ape and the human type.” –Henry Fairfield Osborn, see http://bevets.com/nebraska.htm

On March 22, 1923, the New York Times wrote:

Hesperopithecus is represented only by a single tooth, but the evidence which Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, Professor W. K. Gregory have collected regarding the tooth has been generally accepted as proving that a higher anthropoid, which may have closely resembled a man, lived in Nebraska about a million years ago. Dr. Elliot Smith, the English scientist, recently wrote to Professor Gregory that British scientists were practically a unit in accepting the interpretation placed by the authorities of the American Museum of Natural History on the tooth”.—pg. 30

Clearly, a lot was being claimed about what could be known about the original owner of the tooth. And many scientists on both sides of the Atlantic were on board with Osborn’s interpretation. In England, famed anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon. He went on later to write:

“Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn’s announcement of the discovery, in the Pliocene beds of Nebraska, of a fossil tooth, which he and his distinguished colleagues in the American Museum of Natural History are unanimous in regarding as evidence of the former existence in America of a higher representative of the Order Primates, either a new genus of anthropoid apes or an extremely primitive member of the human family, is an event of momentous importance to every student of the history of the human family… the accuracy and reliability of Mr. Cook’s identification of its geological age and provenance was not questioned… His claim that “whatever it is, it is certainly a contemporary fossil of the Upper Snake Creek horizon, and agrees far more closely with the anthropoid-human molar than that of any other mammal known,” has been fully confirmed by the investigations of Professor Osborn and Drs. Matthew and Gregory, who have an unrivalled experience of the scientific study of mammalian fossilized teeth.” From http://bevets.com/nebraska.htm

Cook and Osborn knew that what they had in their possession was a peccary molar. This is abundantly clear from the history of their publications. As we examine the story of Nebraska Man, I admonish the reader to keep in mind that Harold Cook, one of the authors of the AMNH Bulletin quoted at the head of this article, WAS “familiar with the dentition of Miocene peccaries,” as his entry puts it, and, as the expert on the subject and evaluator of Cook’s work, so was Professor Henry Fairfield Osborn. As noted above, he even wrote an entire book exclusively on that subject. The distinction between peccary and anthropoid dentition, though very similar, was distinguishable and KNOWN by Cook , Osborn, Matthew, and probably by William King Gregory as well. Cook and Osborn knew the distinction between peccary and anthropoid molars at least as early as 1909 and maybe earlier. It is this fact that makes the Nebraska Man con job so shocking because it was the tooth of a peccary (pig), and one single tooth at that (!!!), which was the justification for concocting the Nebraska Man hoax almost out of thin air. Both Harold Cook and the esteemed Henry Fairfield Osborn are rightly accused of perpetrating a deliberate hoax.

In all fairness to Grafton Elliot Smith, Smith was probably not aware that Harold Cook had already documented his (and Osborn’s) knowledge of the particulars of “Miocene” pig molars in 1909.

Osborn’s endeavor here does not make a lot of sense unless the hoax had a planned obsolescence to it, a deliberate “shelf life” with limited necessary duration. Osborn and Cook had to know that the cataloging of the Miocene peccary molars in the AMNH Bulletin in 1909 would always be in danger of being pointed out at any time in the course of the hoax. It is my contention that Osborn’s only critical goal was to prolong the hoax for the duration of the Scopes trial, and possible appeal, and then long enough afterward to let the furor from the trial die down. If it lasted longer, so much the better from his perspective.

Let us take the Cook-Osborn story for a moment at face value. What is it that they were claiming? They were claiming to have found a unique tooth, previously attached to a hitherto unknown living creature, a type of tooth never discovered before and uncatalogued anywhere in the world. Now consider this: even if the tooth were in fact what they were claiming, which it was not, then there would be NOTHING that could be rationally claimed about the original possessor of the tooth. There are, after all, even fish whose teeth have an uncanny resemblance to human teeth. What conceivable justification, then, was there for Osborn to concoct an entire anthropoid creature from a single tooth? Even if the tooth had been a unique specimen not assignable to a peccary and not previously cataloged, making an anthropoid out of the tooth constitutes a hoax in and of itself. There was NEVER any rational justification for Osborn’s flight of fancy. In reality, Osborn, in his zeal for the religion of Naturalism and its’ primary idol, evolution, was engaged in a blitzkrieg of evolutionary propaganda designed to mold public perception in anticipation of the upcoming ACLU challenge which became the Scopes trial (in which Osborn was named as one of the expert witnesses for the defense). Osborn, Cook, and Gregory probably never dreamed that the entire skeleton of the pig was still preserved in the ground in Nebraska.

Continued on Next Page…

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