Fake Fossils

Fake Fossils & Fossil Fraud

Exerpts from an e-mail of a good friend of the museum, Ramblin Ralph, regarding fake fossils and fossil fraud:

. . . Everything [about fossil collecting] changed about a decade ago when fossils could be sold on the Internet. Few of the new-age collectors have ever cracked shale with a rock hammer; mostly they now buy their fossils. Collecting fossils was once synonymous with hunting fossils, but is now synonymous with buying fossils. The last decade has seen the unobtainable fossils become, at once, ubiquitous and cheap. Supply, as is often the case, built demand, increasing supplies and competition, resulting in over supply, and often dramatic bargains. Fossils from every part of the world are now available from well over 100 dedicated websites, and there are thousands of them on e-bay . . .

. . . What frosts my #$%^, however, is that the vast, wild and woolly Internet has no usable information for the fossil buyer to utilize in order to guide their purchases, either by quality or price. This is, in fact, a gross understatement. In fact, information available on the Internet about fake fossils and the pricing of fossils is nothing less than specious, self-serving, dishonesty. Several websites flash neon signs about fake fossils and issue warnings to the public. Experienced collectors will be able to readily dismiss this #$%&, but the neophytes, widows and orphans will likely succumb to it.

. . . The way these sites cleverly blend truth and falsity reminds me of an old saying Mom taught me about sewage and wine:

"If you add a teaspoon of wine to a barrel of sewage, you still have sewage. If you add a teaspoon of sewage to a barrel of wine you now have more sewage."

There’s another old saw she taught me that seems apropos:

"People who live in glass houses should not throw stones"

. . . Not surprisingly, the sites issuing the warnings about fossil fakery and fraud were the very sites having, by my old eyes, the fossils that were both questionable and overpriced.

. . . The truth is that the overwhelming majority of the commercial paleontological material suppliers are honest, hardworking, and dedicated to customer service – they must be to compete and develop a customer base and Fake Trilobitesreputation. Collectibles have always been a magnet for fakery, but the magnetic force is money. Most fossils are of too little value to warrant fakery. . . . Even in Morocco, once a source of huge quantities of “bondo bugs” (i.e., “bondo bugs is a colloquial terminology given to Moroccan trilobites made in part or whole out of automobile body putty) has undergone much change . . Several importers brought modern equipment to Morocco, making legitimate and inexpensive fossils become available, and thereby greatly reducing incentives for fakery. . . .Nonetheless, fake trilobites and other fake fossils continue to appear, but not on the prominent websites. It was disconcerting, however, to see inferences that trilobites obviously prepared in Morocco were prepared in the dealers own lab.

“Caveat Emptor”, by my [Ralph's] review, applies to those living in glass houses, for they are $#%#, at best, and socio-pathological, at worst.

. . . Disinformation also pertained to warnings to avoid fossils from specific parts of the world. For the most part these were conspicuous euphemisms for: "since I don't have these and can't get them, they must be fake, so buy my overpriced trash ". . .

. . . Another confounded area where there is no help in understanding on the Internet is fossil preparation and restoration. A book could be written on the subject, but never has been. The short of it is that one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. Many collectors search out perfect fossils, though the term is rather oxymoronic. Why would anyone want a perfect fossil -- it’s a rock that is millions to hundreds of millions year’s old. It’s a rock, not a freshly minted coin. So, "perfect fossil" is really a synonym for expert preparation and restoration, since there is no such thing as a perfect fossil. Expert preparation and restoration is a real art and is expensive, but the most discerning collectors insist on it. Give me a trilobite with a missing cheek, and I’m happy as happy as a clam, especially if I actually found it. . . . Oh, and by the way, if you want to see fake fossils, go to a natural history museum, because that's where the best fakes are to be found.

While Ralph wanted and we were tempted to include the entire e-mail herein, we instead advised that he take his insights to the blogoshere, a more appropriate venue for consumer advocacy, and where censorship like we’ve imposed is unnecessary. Ralph’s prose alone is worth the search, since we’ve never before seen derogatory adjectives and nouns woven into such a colorful tapestry.

Ralph sends an update that the real story about fake fossils surrounds how creationists make much ado about nothing regarding a few hoaxes that have appeared over the past century and a half. A nice summary of these fake fossils is given at EvoWiki. The stories, some from Talkorigins, make for interesting reading.