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Paleontologists suggest that a famous lizard fossil has been forged

Paleontologists suggest that a famous lizard fossil has been forged

A 280-million-year-old lizard fossil, considered for decades to be one of the best-preserved fossils in the Italian Alps from the Permian period (between 299 and 252 million years ago), has been forged, paleontologists have discovered. According to the team, what was believed to be charred skin was merely an impression of a carved lizard-shaped body covered in black paint.

Understands:

  • A 280-million-year-old lizard fossil — considered the oldest animal mummy ever found — contains fake parts;
  • The discovery was made by a team of paleontologists who sought to solve some mysteries about reptiles, which had not been examined in detail before;
  • As scientists discovered, what appeared to be soft tissue was actually just a black coating made from animal bones;
  • Despite the artificial tissue, the fossil isn't exactly a fake: the team believes the hind limb bones and bony scales are real;
  • The discovery was published in the journal Paleontology.

It was discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931, and the specimen was scientifically named Tridentinosaurus anticus. It is considered the oldest animal mummy found so far, and the fossil has not been examined in detail. Scientists were looking to solve some mysteries related to reptiles, and discovered that what should have been a soft tissue was a coating made from animal bones. An article was published in the Journal of Paleontology.

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The fossil isn't exactly a fake

Ultraviolet light showed no soft tissue in the fossil. (Photo: Valentina Rossi, CC BY-NC-ND)

Despite the artificial tissue, the sample is not completely fake. In an article published in Conversation“The bones of the hind limbs, especially the femur, look real,” explains Valentina Rossi, lead author of the study. We also found some small bony scales (called osteoderms, like crocodile scales) preserved on what may have been the animal's back.

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Valentina also says that the circumstances behind the fraud are still unknown. But it is known that it occurred before 1959, the date of the official scientific description of the fossil.