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Bernt

How To Spot A Fake Fossil

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Bernt

Hello.

As a newbie, I have read a lot about all the fake fossils out there, especially offered on e-bay. However, e-bay is an excellent source for fossils for us that live in an area where the diversity of fossils in nature are scarce. I don’t want to bye the fossils in my dreams on e-bay just to find out that it is faked. My plan is to read all articles I can find on this topic, and hopefully I’ll learn so much that I can tell what is fake and what is real.

I’ve read some threads on this forum lately that indicates that I’m not the only one struggling with this. Therefore I have decided to try to make a “what you should look out for when you’re buying fossils ”-list. I think many collectors, especially beginners, will appreciate such a list, but I need your help. The first step is to make a summary of what kind of fossils that are faked most of the time. My impression is that you should be careful when you consider to by:

- all fossils from China

- trilobites from Morocco

- amber with inclusions (especially vertebrates)

- shrimps and lobsters that look just to perfect

- mammal bones that are dyed to look old

- ammonites that are carved out of lime stone (white color)

- mosasaur teeth with root on matrix

- mosasaur jaw on materix

However, I have yet to discover fake orthoceras, sliced and polished ammonites, silverdollars, clams and plants – probably that they are so common that it’s not worth to make a fake.

Can anyone help me to complete my list of what kind of fossils thate are commonly faked and which are “safer to buy”?

- Bernt -

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Auspex

Trilobites from US locations seem to be fairly safe; not that some might not be misidentified. There is no substitute for a good working familiarity with the type of fossil in question, and/or resources to compare to.

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Terry Dactyll

Bernt.... Good luck with your aquisitions and youve come to the right place for advice... I think your list is pretty much complete and usually if it seems to good to be true, it usually is... anything your considering buying... post a link to ones that are very similar... Im sure someone with an interest in the field will take a look...

''However, I have yet to discover fake orthoceras''....

The very long 'fantastic display' Orthoceras from Morocco are fabricated from many small pieces and ground smooth to create an 'impressive' display fossil... so they are not quite fake seeing they are made up of real fossil bits that are glued together and ground smooth to appear they are all from one...

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bear-dog
:) You left out any fossils with made in China on them. :D

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FossilForKids

I'm also a little iffy about fossils with a "do not remove this tag" tag on them :P

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TOM BUCKLEY

I almost feel that if you didn't find it yourself, then there's a good chance it's fake.

Be especially wary of expensive specimens or "perfect" specimens. Remember, to create a good fake takes time and skill that a con artist won't waste on a fossil he sells for $5.00.

All is not gloom and doom. Buying at a show you can ask yourself before buying that T-rex skull, "Would I trust this guy with the keys to my car?" Also, if the dealer seems very knowledgeable about the fossil, location, and formation, your chance of getting what you pay for are increased. If the dealer owns the quarry, it's a fairly safe bet that the fossils are legitimate.

Just the ramblings of a curmudgeon.

Tom

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xonenine

There are terrific sites out there where they cut the fakes in half and explain all the ways they can be constructed, or stick hot needles in them, alot of interesting reading, mostly covering dinos and trilobites.

My favorite auction listing lately was a meteorite containing shrimp and clams, hehe.

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ohiofossilhunter

watch out for those made in China/japan labels. :laughing on the floor 24: :D

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Frank Menser

You might want to add fish from Lebanon are often 'enhanced' with paint.

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Wrangellian

You might want to add fish from Lebanon are often 'enhanced' with paint.

Ditto for some of the Saccocoma stemless crinoids from Solnhofen Germany.. some are enhanced others not.

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tracer

look i don't really favor this approach, and i'll tell you why. fraud is a moving target. sometimes the things faked or altered without disclosure will be the things that are the most easily altered, or most in demand, or cheapest to obtain, or most available to the crook artist, or highest profit, etc. the point is, it's going to change over time, as it has in the past. and this sort of fraud is a much broader issue, encompassing everything from babyfood to medicine to aircraft critical components. so i don't think trying to address your concern about it by using templates or paradigms is the way to go.

so here's what i do. first, i assume that some fraud is so good as to be virtually undetectable. lots of people think they can spot a fake a mile away, and fail to realize they can spot a BAD fake a mile away, but that's not the only kind of fakes there are. my solution has been to not buy any fossils that i have not carefully and closely examined, if i buy any at all. and the ones i have bought have usually been in original matrix that needed more prep. if i were going to buy a bunch of fossils, i would seek out sellers with clear expertise and clear integrity, and attempt over time to develop relationships with them where they understood that their continued financial welfare would be enhanced by dealing squarely with me. i would always have inspection and return privileges, no questions asked. i would always examine the specimens very carefully upon receipt with an optical visor, uv light, and whatever else i deemed necessary to convince myself the specimen was good.

but the most important thing is not to get the hots for stuff too bad before you've upped your level of knowledge on what it should be like and look like. uninformed buyers get taken the most. but if you don't have a good eye for detail, you'd better somehow find some honest dealers who do, or you'll have a collection full of problem pieces.

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Darwin Ahoy

Ditto for some of the Saccocoma stemless crinoids from Solnhofen Germany.. some are enhanced others not.

Also the case with Scaphocrinites crinoids from Morocco.

The worst bit is, a lot of what you can use to tell a fake is a fake you can't do until you have the fossil in-hand. Hot needles, magnifying glass inspections, UV light...

It may be a good idea to ensure the seller has a good return policy, in case the material turns out to be fake.

With most trilobites, look at the eyes (doesn't work on a some, like Asaphus from Morocco). Try to pick up on tiny details that they wouldn't fake. Cracks that go completely through the rock help, as this is how most of the trilobites are located, and then glued together. There was one trilobite I was REALLY wanting, but you could clearly see a circle around the trilobite, where it had been placed into the matrix...this is most obvious when you're looking at the picture of the whole specimen, rather than closeups.

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piranha

There is no substitute for experience Bernt. One really instructive way for you to learn would be to attend a few good fossil shows. There are many regular well attended large shows in Europe that can be recommended. That would definitely be invaluable so you can actually see them up close and have the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the variety of fossil types you listed. When I first started out collecting the fossil shows set the benchmark not only for what was real or fake (yes many fakes are peddled at the shows) but also allow for the up-close evaluation necessary to discern those subtle differences that make one fossil A+ or another a failing grade.

There are many methods for discovering actual outright or partially faked fossils. The ones that come to mind are acetone (solvent), hot needle and UV black light. Remember - for every test the swindlers try their best to parry. One particularly clever ruse is the use of fossil scraps or matrix and glue to avoid detection by UV light or needle. I've also heard there are paints that will avoid scrutiny. There are scores of other fossil frauds to report. Even National Geographic was embarrassingly fooled by a cobbled together proto dino-bird from China. How about Piltdown Man?

That was a whopper! If it has value the scammers will fake it. Experience, knowledge and the great members at TFF are your best allies.

In no time you'll spot the trickery from a mile away! ;)

Edited by piranha

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2ynpigo

I seldom buy fossils from e-bay dealers. It's too difficult to judge quality and look out for fakes.

My advice is to buy from reputable dealers on the internet from their web sites if you can't or don't want to go to mineral/fossil shows.

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John

I'm also a little iffy about fossils with a "do not remove this tag" tag on them :P

Fossil mattresses?

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Wrangellian

I seldom buy fossils from e-bay dealers. It's too difficult to judge quality and look out for fakes.

My advice is to buy from reputable dealers on the internet from their web sites if you can't or don't want to go to mineral/fossil shows.

True, it's hard to tell what you're buying online but some of the ebay sellers are reliable, you can tell if they have good pics and good info with their items and a good feedback rating.. but I guess it's never foolproof as even they can be fooled, but so far I haven't had any problems - of course I have never bought any 'big ticket' items. Just don't buy anything too pricey so you won't have lost too much if it turns out to be a fake.

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jpc

Lots of good advice here...I think going to a few shows in Europe would be a great start. Buy some inexpensive fossils to get you started, and ,more importantly, develop a working relationship with a few dealers who have lots of small cheaper fossils. Theoretically, these will all be real. If a trip to Europe is too mcuh for now, go ahead and start with these same small inexpensive fossils. And build a relationship with an internet dealer or two.

And feel free to ask us.

Add to the list some Wyoming fish that have been enhanced with brown paint. Not quite fake, but not quite honest either. These, like the Chinese shrimps and crayfish tend to have too strong an outline to them.

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siteseer

You could say US trilobites are fairly safe. I would say the common ones are safe. Anything rare, ornate, and complete from anywhere should be closely inspected. I have seen US trilobites on prep tables before and after. While the guy prepping the trilobite might tell the buyer where the restoration is, that buyer might choose to claim ignorance as to any repair/restoration when reselling.

As Piranha noted, if something is valuable, someone is working on perfecting the fake. Any collector of anything really needs to take the time to become his own expert.

Trilobites from US locations seem to be fairly safe; not that some might not be misidentified. There is no substitute for a good working familiarity with the type of fossil in question, and/or resources to compare to.

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Docguinn

I am a newbie, and bought a large Moroccan trilobite from a rock shop. Reexamining it after reading this discussion, it is at least restored (spackle-like swirls on the backside). Not really certain whether it is simply 'enhanced' or completely fake. The trilobite looks like weathered sandstone in a gray matrix. Not much detail on the eyes, and the edges of the trilobite are artificially crisp.

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piranha

I am a newbie, and bought a large Moroccan trilobite from a rock shop. Reexamining it after reading this discussion, it is at least restored (spackle-like swirls on the backside). Not really certain whether it is simply 'enhanced' or completely fake. The trilobite looks like weathered sandstone in a gray matrix. Not much detail on the eyes, and the edges of the trilobite are artificially crisp.

Hi Doc - Can you post a photo of the fossil? We would be happy to help you evaluate what might be wrong with it. When I first started to collect trilobites I can recall a few bugs that had 'pedigree' issuess. I'm sure more than a few of us have had one from Morocco that had been partially reconstructed. I sure wish the forum would have been available back then - might have saved me a little heartache and a lot of cash. :o

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Docguinn

Hi Doc - Can you post a photo of the fossil? We would be happy to help you evaluate what might be wrong with it. When I first started to collect trilobites I can recall a few bugs that had 'pedigree' issuess. I'm sure more than a few of us have had one from Morocco that had been partially reconstructed. I sure wish the forum would have been available back then - might have saved me a little heartache and a lot of cash. :o

Here's a pic.

post-4567-0-60512900-1292188708_thumb.jpg

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Auspex

My take on this one is that it has had some cosmetic work done (both repair and reconstruction), but the work was done to a real fossil. In Morocco, they mine these things with explosives (the matrix is very hard) and then patch them up.

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piranha

Here's a pic.

Cambropallas telesto is one of the most commonly enhanced or reconstructed trilobites from Morocco.

You're suspicion is confirmed unfortunately. These are very prolific as decorative fossils.

Google the genus and you will find many fine examples of unaltered and complete specimens.

I highlighted the most obvious areas 'added' to your trilobite.

post-4301-0-22028300-1292189458_thumb.jpg

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Docguinn

At least it started life as a real fossil. Thanks!

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Dick Walters

I'm new to the forum and found it interesting about fake fossils. I found this interesting that the program "Naked Archeologist" was in the middle East pruchasing ancient items and learned that when you buy a 2ooo or 3000 old relic you can determine if it is real by putting you tongue on it and if it tastes salty it real and if it doesn't it fake. This is a little off topic but interesting never the less. Happy hunting.

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