This Famous ‘Fossil’ Is Just a Painted Rock

This Famous ‘Fossil’ Is Just a Painted Rock

Sorry to all fans of Tridentinosaurus antiquus, thought to be a remarkably preserved 280-million-year-old lizard. A new paper published in Paleontology posits that the early reptile fossil is in fact a forgery.

The striking rock was found in the Italian alps in 1931; dark against the background, the soft tissue of all four limbs and the tail appears immaculately spared from the ravages of time.

“The peculiar preservation of Tridentinosaurus had puzzled experts for decades,” said Evelyn Kustatscher, a paleontologist at the Museum of Nature South Tyrol, in a University College Cork release. “Now, it all makes sense. What was described as carbonized skin is just paint.”

Womp womp, as they say. Long thought to be a fossil that could yield information about the evolution of early reptiles, it turns out what was thought to be preserved soft tissue was actually much more modern. UV imaging of the specimen indicated it was coated with a lacquer or varnish, but the researchers harbored hope that remnants of the animal’s soft tissue lay beneath. Unfortunately, there was just paint. The team believes that the painters of the fossil (whomever they were) did so to make the specimen look more impressive.

That’s right: the fossil is not a complete forgery. The researchers found that the animal’s hindlimbs—the femurs—appear legitimate, though not well preserved. And the team found what appear to be osteoderms, bony skin that makes up scales, in the animal’s back.

“Fossil soft tissues are rare, but when found in a fossil they can reveal important biological information, for instance, the external colouration, internal anatomy and physiology,” said Valentina Rossi, a paleontologist at University College Cork and the team leader, in the release. “The answer to all our questions was right in front of us, we had to study this fossil specimen in detail to reveal its secrets – even those that perhaps we did not want to know.”

Sure, it took 93 years to get an answer to the nature of this suspiciously robust specimen. But the important thing is that the truth prevailed.

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