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Famous fossil found almost 100 years ago is actually just a painted rock

Published Feb 17th, 2024 9:01AM EST
Dinosaur Fossils
Image: piyaphunjun/Adobe

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A famous fossil unearthed almost 100 years ago has turned out to be a fake. The fossil forgery is one of astronomical disappointment. Discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931, the fossil was believed to show the full body outline of Tridentinosaurus antiquus, a fossil that has baffled scientists for almost a century.

The fossil has long been held up as a vital stepping stone in understanding the evolution of early reptiles. It has been celebrated in multiple articles and books but never studied in full detail. Researchers involved in a new study wanted to get a closer look at the fossil and see if the reported fossilized skin could be used to learn more about the time period it came from.

What the researchers found is that the fossilized skin wasn’t actually skin at all. Instead, it was paint or charcoal used to darken the fossil. But the fossil wasn’t entirely fake.

fossil forgery is actually just a painted rockImage source: Dr Valentina Rossi

The researchers say that some bones in the hindlimbs, as well as tony bony scales called osteoderms, were found within the fossil forgery. This means that, while poorly preserved, some parts of the fossil can perhaps be used for research and studies. However, most of the fossil is completely fake.

As such, the researchers have urged that others be mindful of this when using the fossil in any kind of paper. It is likely nice to finally have some closure about this fossil, as it has baffled scientists for decades. However, learning that it was essentially forged to make it look more appealing than it actually was is disappointing.

Whether it was done out of maliciousness or if the researchers responsible simply wanted to highlight the fossil structure is unclear. But, what we do know is that the forgery has been discovered, and now researchers will have to find a new specimen to base their research on if they want something truly accurate. A paper with their findings is available in Paleontology.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.