280-Million-Year-Old Fossil Possibly Partly Forged

A rare fossil that has long been considered a key specimen for understanding the evolution of early reptiles may have been partly forged, a new study suggests.

The fossil, named Tridentinosaurus antiquus, was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931 and was thought to belong to the reptile group Protorosauria. The fossil has a lizard-like shape and a dark outline that was believed to be preserved skin.

However, a recent analysis published in the journal Palaeontology reveals that most of the body outline of the fossil was artificially created with black paint and carving, misleading previous researchers who studied it.

How the forgery was discovered

The researchers used modern techniques, such as 3D modeling, ultraviolet (UV) photography, high-powered microscopes and chemical analysis, to examine the fossil in detail. They found that the texture and composition of the material did not match genuine fossilized soft tissues. They also detected that the entire specimen had been treated with some form of coating material.

The study’s lead author, Dr Valentina Rossi, a paleobiologist at University College Cork in Ireland, told Live Science that she was hoping to learn more about how the creature was fossilized and discovering the skin was fake was “totally unexpected”.

“We analyzed many samples from various parts of the body of the animal, so we are certain that, unfortunately, there is no trace of original soft tissue preserved,” she said.

What is real and what is fake fossil

The researchers noted that not all of the fossil is fake. The bones of the hindlimbs, particularly the femurs, appear to be genuine, although poorly preserved. They also discovered the presence of small bony scales, called osteoderms, on what is believed to be the back of the animal.

These features suggest that Tridentinosaurus antiquus was a reptile with a scaly skin and a long tail. The researchers estimated that it was about 30 cm (12 inches) long and weighed about 200 grams (7 ounces).

However, most of the body outline of the fossil was fabricated with paint and carving. The researchers suspect that this was done to enhance the appearance and value of the specimen, or to fill in missing parts.

What this means for science

The discovery raises questions about the accuracy of previous research conducted using this fossil. Tridentinosaurus antiquus was first described by paleontologist Piero Leonardi in 1959, who concluded that the fossil’s dark outline represented exceptional tissue preservation.

“He couldn’t analyze this fossil with the techniques that we have today, so his description was the best we [scientists] could make at the time,” Rossi said.

Leonardi assigned Tridentinosaurus antiquus to the reptile group Protorosauria, which includes some of the oldest known reptiles. He also suggested that it was closely related to another protorosaur called Tanystropheus, which had a very long neck and lived in Switzerland.

However, based on the new analysis, Rossi and her team doubt that Tridentinosaurus antiquus belongs to Protorosauria or is related to Tanystropheus. They propose that it may be a more primitive reptile or even a non-reptilian amniote (a group of animals that includes reptiles, birds and mammals).

This research highlights the importance of caution when using this specimen in future studies. The findings also underscore the need for thorough examination and scrutiny of fossil specimens to ensure their authenticity and accuracy in scientific research.

The study involved contributors from University College Cork in Ireland, University of Padua, Museum of Nature South Tyrol, and Museo delle Scienze in Trento, all based in Italy.

Recent Blog : Satellite-Based Tolling on Mysuru-Bengaluru Expressway

Leave a Comment