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OAKLEY, Kenneth Page (1911-1981)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 378 LDGSL 1101
Held at: Geological Society of London
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Full title: OAKLEY, Kenneth Page (1911-1981)
Date(s): [1972]
Level of description: Series
Extent: 11pp
Name of creator(s): OAKLEY | Kenneth Page | 1911-1981 | anthropologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Kenneth Oakley was born on 7 April 1911 at Amersham, Buckinghamshire. He attended Challoner's Grammar School and University College School before enrolling at University College London where he graduated with a first class honours BSc in geology (with anthropology as a subsidiary subject) in 1933, as well as gaining the Rosa Morison memorial medal. Oakley began his PhD at the University of London in 1933, but did not complete his research until 1938 due to his appointment to the geological survey in 1934 and his post as an assistant keeper in geology (palaeontology) at the Natural History Museum the following year. The Natural History Museum would be where Oakley spent the rest of his working life, except for a war service secondment to the geological survey.

Oakley became a Fellow of the Society in 1934, gaining the Wollaston Fund award in 1941 and the Prestwich Medal in 1963.

In 1955, Oakley became head of the new sub-department of anthropology within the department of anthropology and held the title of deputy keeper (anthropology) from 1959 to 1969. However he developed multiple sclerosis, which forced his premature retirement. Although eventually confined to a wheelchair, Oakley continued to study and publish work on anthropology until his death on 2 November 1981.

Oakley's major area of interest was in early hominid fossils, particularly the use of technologies to date finds. In the 1940s, he began work with various colleagues on methods of dating bone by analysis of fluorine content. One of the early results of this technique, was finding that a supposedly Middle Pleistocene human skeleton from Galley Hill, Swanscombe, was actually much younger than the gravels in which it was found. This fluorine dating method would lead to, arguably, Oakley's most important contribution to science - the exposure of the Piltdown fraud.

At an Ordinary Meeting of the Geological Society, held on 18 December 1912, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum, presented the first paper on the discoveries found in a shallow gravel pit at Barkham Manor, near Piltdown in Sussex. According to the two men, they had found an early hominid skull and jaw along with other mammalian fossils which Woodward had dated to around 400,000 years old. The large cranial capacity of the skull alongside an ape like jaw saw the discovery being hailed as the missing link between humans and primates - Piltdown Man.

In 1953, using the fluorine dating techniques which had been developed, Oakley along with colleagues C R Hoskins, J S Weiner and W E Le Gros Clark, tested the Piltdown remains and found that the skull fragments were not as ancient as originally claimed. The cranium was around 500 years old and the jaw came from an orangutan, but its teeth had been filed down to mimic a human like wear pattern.


Scope and content/abstract:

Typescript draft, with corrections, of paper 'The Piltdown Problem Reconsidered' by Dr Kenneth Page Oakley, [1972]. Paper describes the circumstances of the original Piltdown discovery by Charles Dawson and recounts Oakley's involvement in proving that the affair was a fraud.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Item was previously catalogued on its own, in amongst the Ordinary Meetings' series. In keeping with the other scientific papers given at Ordinary Meetings, the item has been placed in the LDGSL series.

Conditions governing access:

Access is by appointment only, daily readership fee is applicable unless you are a member of the Society. Please contact the Archivist for further information.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to copyright and the condition of the original, may be supplied. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

The majority of Oakley's correspondence and papers are held by the Natural History Museum, London, but other material includes: Letters to Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford, 1953-1957, Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Western Manuscripts (ref: MSS Crawford); Correspondence with William Joscelyn Arkell, 1943-1947, Oxford University: Museum of Natural History (ref: NUCACS 102/1/02).

Publication note:

Paper read before the Society, 18 October 1972 and brief abstract published in: 'Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London', vol 129 (1973) p207. There were plans for the full paper to appear in a special publication on geological controversies but this does not appear to have happened.

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Description by Caroline Lam

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
August 2012

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