Sir Grafton Elliot Smith

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August 15, 1871, Grafton Elliot Smith was born to Stephen Sheldrick Smith and Mary Jane Evans in Grafton, New South Wales. His father was the principal at Grafton Public School in London, where Grafton attended grade school. In 1883, the Smiths moved to Sydney, Australia, where Grafton would continue his education at Darlington Public school(4). Being that his father had an scholastic career, there was an expectation of high academic achievement in the family(1). Elliot showed great interest in science and mathematics, as this interest may have been sparked from his experience dissecting a shark at the age of 10(2). During high school at Sydney Boys High School, he went to evening physiology classes taught by Thomas Anderson Stuart. Professor Stuart claimed that there was still massive amounts of information about the brain that had yet to be discovered, which also may have inspired Grafton's interest in studying the brain. Smith would go on to study medicine at the University of Sydney. He did extraordinarily well in his undergraduate studies and graduated in 1893 with a bachelor of medicine as well as a Ch.M- a master of surgery. He would then begin his residency at Prince Alfred Hospital, shortly before becoming an administrator in the physiology department at the University of Sydney. Smith interest in neuroanatomy developed further as he began to study the brain, specifically of non-placental mammals. He graduated in 1895 as an M.D, and received a gold medal for his research paper on the anatomy and histology of non-placental mammals(4).

Next, Grafton was seeking his PhD. and took advantage of a travelling scholarship that the university was offering, and travelled to England and became a research student at St. John's College in Cambridge. He published numerous papers about neuro-anatomy, which were recognized by st. John's, who ultimately elected him as a fellow of the college in 1899(1). Following this accolade, he received an invitation to become the Chair of Anatomy in Cairo, at the Egyptian Government School of Medicine. He held this position until 1909 and married Kate Emily Macredie. During this decade, Grafton and colleague, Fredrick Wood Jones, investigated countless mummies and the remains of human brains in Nubia. Smith provided insight to the medical society in egypt from his research of how certain diseases affected the brains of the bodies they studied. For this, he was elected Fellowship into the Royal Society in 1907 (5). Grafton would return to England in 1909 where he would occupy Chair of Anatomy in Manchester for the next decade. During this period, Smith created a hypothesis for diffusion, give expert opinion on the skull involved in the piltdown discovery. He would be transferred to London to hold Chair of Anatomy, as he continued to work in hospitals, and did research on shellshock (2). Travelling would continue as Smith would venture to America, Asia, and back to Australia to attend international meetings of anthropologists, where he would share his latest research. In the 1930s, Smith's health began to decline and he was experiencing strokes due to hypertension and diabetes. One of these strokes ended his life on January 1, 1937 (5).

Controversial Theories

Egyptian Hyper Diffusionism

With such a strong interest in the human brain, Grafton was even more intrigued by the evolution of the human brain, and how this impacted human evolution, in general. He believed homsapians evolved from a Mediterranean, Nordic race, originating back to Egypt. Furthermore, he believed all culture stemmed from Egypt, which he discusses in "The Royal Mummies" (1912), The "Migrations of Early Culture" (1915), "The Ancient Egyptians" (1911), and "The Diffusion of Culture" (1933) (5). He suspected that Egypt's influence extended to India, China, Japan, America, and the Pacific, by route of Egyptian designed ships.


In another work of literature, "The Ancient Egyptians and Their Influence Upon the Civilization of Europe" (1911), Smith stated that practices were only passed down between civilized individuals, in small numbers. He credited the origination of European stone building back to Egypt, as well as sourcing other innovations in other continents back to ancient Egyptian culture. With the support of fellow British anthropologists W.J. Perry and W.H.R. Rivers, Smith would present his findings to the British Association for the Advancement of Science during annual conferences. In 1914, prior to one of these meetings, he was presented the mummy of a male from the Darnley Island, off of the Australian mainland. The mummy showed signs of handling after death, which Grafton credited to the Egyptian mummification process. Meanwhile, an expert anthropologist in the region, A.C. Haddon, was ignored as Smith's reasoning received the most attention and credibility. In any case, this specific corpse, called The Torres Strait Mummy, was used by Smith to argue that mummies found across the globe could be traced back to Egypt. He believed that embalming a deceased individual was invented by the Egyptians and that any mummy, found anywhere, showing signs of being embalming proved the diffusion of Egyptian culture. With this, he concluded that the transferring of Egyptian practices and beliefs must've occured after the 9th century (6).

Piltdown Man

Smith was also involved in one of the largest hoaxes in scholastic history, the discovery of the Piltdown Man skull, in 1912, Sussex England. The discovery was made by Charles Dawson and had major importance because the skull appeared to have the mandible of a chimpanzee, providing excellent evidence and insight to human evolution. Dawson was only an amerature archaeologist and sought out expert opinions from respected archaeologists, paleontologists, and anthropologists. So, along with others like Sir Arthur Keith from the British museum, Grafton was consulted by Dawson. Grafton was asked to examine the Piltdown skull because he was specialist in the anatomical field, as his opinion on the matter would carry a large sum of weight. Smith failed to recognize numerous flaws with the Piltdown skull including fragments from other skulls (and other species) as well as signs of manipulation like coating and filing of the bone. In his writings from the period, he stated that all of his observations and findings were based on a plastic mold of the skull, rather than the actual skull (7).