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A flamboyant anthropology professor, whose work had been cited as evidence Neanderthal man once lived in Northern Europe, has resigned after a German university panel ruled he fabricated data and plagiarized the works of his colleagues.
Reiner Protsch von Zieten, a Frankfurt university panel ruled, lied about the age of human skulls, dating them tens of thousands of years old, even though they were much younger, reports Deutsche Welle.
“The commission finds that Prof. Protsch has forged and manipulated scientific facts over the past 30 years,” the university said of the widely recognized expert in carbon data in a prepared statement.
Protsch’s work first came under suspicion last year during a routine investigation of German prehistoric remains by two other anthropologists.
“We had decided to subject many of these finds to modern techniques to check their authenticity so we sent them to Oxford [University] for testing,” one of the researchers told The Sunday Telegraph. “It was a routine examination and in no way an attempt to discredit Prof. von Zieten.” In their report, they called Protsch’s 30 years of work a “dating disaster.”
Among their findings was an age of only 3,300 years for the female “Bischof-Speyer” skeleton, found with unusually good teeth in Northern Germany, that Protsch dated to 21,300 years.
Another dating error was identified for a skull found near Paderborn, Germany, that Protsch dated at 27,400 years old. It was believed to be the oldest human remain found in the region until the Oxford investigations indicated it belonged to an elderly man who died in 1750.
The Herne anthropological museum, which owned the Paderborn skull, did its own tests following the unsettling results. “We had the skull cut open and it still smelt,” said the museum’s director. “We are naturally very disappointed.”
Protsch, known for his love of Cuban cigars and Porsches, did not comment on the commission’s findings, but in January he told the Frankfurter Neue Presse, “This was a court of inquisition. They don’t have a single piece of hard evidence against me.”
The fallout from Protsch’s false dating of northern European bone finds is only beginning.
Chris Stringer, a Stone Age specialist and head of human origins at London’s Natural History Museum, said: “What was considered a major piece of evidence showing that the Neanderthals once lived in northern Europe has fallen by the wayside. We are having to rewrite prehistory.”
“Anthropology now has to revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 B.C.,” added Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the University of Greifswald.
Frankfurt University’s president, Rudolf Steinberg, apologized for the university’s failure to curb Protsch’s misconduct for decades. “A lot of people looked the other way,” he said.