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:
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."
another old saw she taught me that seems apropos:
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 reputation.
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.
Emptor”, by my [Ralph's] review, applies to those living
in glass houses, for they are $#%#, at best, and socio-pathological,
. . .
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.
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.
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.