to identify fake trilobites - A Tutorial
Dipl. Geol. Jens Koppka, Heiko
Sonntag & Horst Burkard (© 2003)
to English tranlation by Heiko Sonntag and Richie
have as trilobite collectors and preparators visited numerous
fossil shows and carefully observed and studied faked trilobites.
This experience and knowledge acquired over many years affords
us the ability to quickly identify faked specimens, a task
that is likely precluded for laymen who are unfamiliar with
how fake trilobites are fabricated, and therefore unable to
spot the cues of fakery. It is unfortunate that, at this time
in 2003, the trilobite market is inundated with fakes, and
as the skills of those plying the trade are continuously improving,
making it ever harder to distinguish real from fake. Accordingly,
we are compelled to share in a comprehensible way our experiences
in recognizing fake trilobites.
also note that there is no way to have trilobites vetted for
authenticity in commercial venues, such as the internet, especially
e-bay, in shops or at shows, and no actions are taken against
sellers who knowingly sell fake material (i.e., like exclusion
from shows and/or legal action). The environment facilitates
some dealers in taking advantage, to the detriment of those
who are honest. Horst Burkard undertook to investigate the
multiplicity of fake trilobites coming from Morocco by the
ultimate means of dissecting them with a saw. The results
of the destructive investigation were displayed during the
Hamburg Fossil Show in 2003, which allowed the photos in this
article to be taken.
trilobites is not a new invention. Falsifying, supplementing
and restoring fossils is essentially as old as the fossil
trade. The problem is that fossil fakery is profitable, and
as is often the case in the undeveloped world where there
are meager opportunities, it is driven by the existing poverty.
famous 19th century researcher, Barrande, employed what he
called “rock men” to search the areas near Prague
for trilobite specimens. Special finds were concomitantly
rewarded with higher payment, which incentivized some rock
men to deceive their employer by producing falsified trilobites
in order to earn a richer reward. Many of these faked specimens
even found their way into the collections of the great European
museums where they remain on display today as refurbished
curiosities (Budik & Turek, 2003).
popular means to fake trilobites was then simply to fabricate
new specimens from disparate parts, at times resulting not
only in different specimens but even different genera; these
complete trilobites fetched higher prices. Some of these supposedly
“rare species” that were sold to museums and educational
institutions look quite grotesque in light of current knowledge
of the trilobita baud plan. There was, for example, a trilobite
assembled from the cephalon of a Phacops, the pygidium of
an Odontochile, and with a thorax having only four segments.
(SNAJDR, 1992). However, during these times, at least the
parts of the on-off “unique” faked trilobites
were genuine. Nowadays, while using two or more to make one
persists, new falsification techniques using synthetic resins
enables the casting of parts or even entire trilobites.
trilobite cottage industry evolved in the wake sensational
finds of large and bizarre trilobites in the Moroccan desert
near Alnif, Erfoud and Tabourikt over the last three decades.
This occurred in a region where education, electricity, and
running water were mostly unavailable. The Moroccans, some
nomads, found finding and preparing trilobites and other fossils
a viable income source, and for some it became their sole
livelihood. Over the course of years, this cottage industry
evolved to become a critical element of the economy, especially
in areas of severe poverty in the high Atlas Mountains where
many Moroccan trilobites are found.
and Bode (2003) note that there are well-known manufacturers
in Morocco who produce fake trilobites. Fossil dealers, who
buy locally, know these workshops. The manufacturers do not
hide their production methods, and portray their product as
replicas. It is thus easy to surmise that some fossil dealers
and exporters who go to Morocco to buy trilobites are well
aware that those from these sources are not real. Thus, the
fraud occurs through dealers who knowingly purchase these
so-called replicas cheaply, and subsequently and cheaply dump
them on the market. The fabrication of fake trilobites seems
to have begun In the 1980's, and was particularly evident
in the huge and highly sought Paradoxides when the sources
were depleted. Initially, several parts of different Paradoxides
were combined, leading to later falsification of most or all
the trilobites. Ostensibly, the idea to falsifying is not
attributable to the Moroccans, but to American and European
dealers who encouraged the fakery and provided the financial
incentives. These dealers then sold the falsified Paradoxides
as authentic. This process escalated to encompass most species
Morocco species and became so prevalent that fakes may have
outnumbered the authentic specimens for a period of time.
B. Clues for identifying fake Moroccan
Air bubbles in matrix and exoskeleton are signs of resins.
presence of small holes in either the matrix or the trilobite
exoskeleton is a strong clue that the trilobite is a fake.
These holes, normally less than a half millimeter in diameter,
are artifacts of bubbles bursting during curing of casting
resin. Such bubbles are apparently unavoidable in the harsh
condition of the Moroccan desert. (See Figures 1 and caption)
1: The figure shows a primitive and poor fake phacops trilobite
that was entirely cast from resin and then remounted on actual
limestone matrix. A) Prevalent are tiny holes in the resin
surface of the trilobite exoskeleton are readily visible.
They resulted from air bubbles bursting as the resin cured,
and constitute the unmistakable signature of fakery. B) This
close-up of the pleural spines show the tell-tale holes. C)
This close-up of a faked Dicanurus trilobite shows where both
the trilobite and immediately juxtaposed matrix were cast
together prior to remounting in matrix. In this case the color
is an additional clue since the matrix should be a dark grey
limestone, rather than the unnatural brown seen here.
Cast trilobites often exhibit differences in matrix color
with Moroccan Devonian trilobites, when the matrix adjacent
to the trilobite is light brown while the underside of the
limestone matrix is the correct dark grey, it is indicative
of a cast fake. The natural matrix is uniformly dark grey
from Hamar L’Aghdad, and reddish or light yellow from
Laatchana. Differences in color together with numerous preparation
marks on the surface (to hide tiny holes) indicate that the
trilobite and the immediately adjacent matrix were cast together
and subsequently re-mounted on possibly authentic rock from
an actual fossil site. Particularly in the huge Cambrian trilobites,
matrix color variations could connote the trilobite's assembly
from the parts of different specimens. Close inspection should
reveal thin lines separating colors where parts where different
specimens were glued together. Authentically whole Trilobites
should exhibit homogeneous colors across broad areas, even
where broken matrix may have been glued.
2: This is a completely fake Dicranurus monstrosus trilobite.
The trilobite and adjacent matrix were cast from brown resin
and subsequently mounted on real rock. The fake trilobite
was then painted, and the surrounding matrix gauged to mimic
normal preparation marks. Sawing the specimen provided definitive
proof by revealing a large void beneath the trilobite, as
well as color difference between upper brown resin layer the
real grey rock beneath. The photo was taken by Sonntag and
the trilobite sawed by Horst Burkhard. (Also see these identical
fake Dicanurus trilobites
from the Tucson fossil show - ya think the buyers should have
Cracks through Devonian trilobites are potential indicator
the vertically compressed trilobites from shale that are exposed
by splitting the matrix, Moroccan Devonian trilobites come
from very hard limestone and are usually three dimensional.
Consequently, the Moroccan trilobites are normally found with
fine line cross sections revealed in broken cross sections.
Thus, prior to preparation, two or more pieces need to first
be glued back together (like broken china). One should be
suspicious when there is lack of residual evidence of cracks,
though they could also be absent due fine preparation techniques..
Characteristics of the trilobite exoskeleton as indicators
Devonian trilobites mostly exhibit a black exoskeleton, though
various shades of brown and a bit of greenish tint are far
less commonly seen. Faked trilobites are found in different
colors, often brownish, and often appear unnaturally shiny;
however, air-abrasion cleaning can also cause a shiny surface.
Biting the trilobites with your front teeth will sometimes
serve as a test of trilobite authenticity. Fake trilobites
might feel soft to the bite as a plastic would feel. This
simple and safe test utilizes the sensitive nerves in your
teeth, and would certainly never damage an authentic trilobite
that is markedly harder than fakes made of resin. Only slight
pressure is needed; don’t try and bite into it for obvious
Moroccan trilobites from the Ordovician and Cambrian exhibit
different exoskeleton colors from those of the Devonian. Because
mineral replacement, the preserved exoskeleton normally contains
hydrated iron oxides, resulting in colors that are shades
of ochre, brown or orange, rather than yellow or black.
3: Knowing some characteristics of authentic trilobites can
assist in differentiating fake trilobites by the absence of
the same. A) The Paralejurus trilobite in the left image is
authentic, and exhibits the characteristic crack lines (marked
by arrows) expected in Devonian trilobites from hard limestone.
The upper crack is conspicuous across the cephalon, while
the lower crack is less obvious. B) The top right photo shows
prominent terrace lines on the pygidium of the Paralejurus.
These lines will normally be missing in faked trilobites or
specimens, or in trilobites prepared too aggressively with
microabration. Notice the tiny pinpoint white spots that appear
in various places, which are places where the microblaster
has burned through the exoskeleton, possibly because the tip
of the prep needle either touched or was too close, notwithstanding
that more careful preparation would have avoided such minor
flaws. c) The lower right photo shows individual eye lenses
of a trilobite of the order Phacopida. They are signs authenticity
eyes are hard to fake. It should be noticed, though, that
eyes are unique to the trilobite
suborder Phacopina that are abundant in the Devonian of
Morocco; many other trilobite
orders (e.g., Lichida,
are also abundant, but lack schizochroal eyes.
Morphological characteristics, surface details and trilobite
eyes afford clues
exoskeletons of real trilobites usually show detailed
structures, inconsistencies and ornamentations (e.g., the
terrace lines of the Paralejurus noted above), various spines,
tubercles, nodes, ridges, and pits. Taking a close look at
the trilobites’ eyes will be helpful as, for example,
Phacopina trilobites should have schizochroal eyes with individual
lenses visible with the naked eye. Faked trilobites usually
lack these characteristic details. It is hard to perfectly
copy the fine details that nature produced. Faked Phacopina
usually have smoothrather than schizochroal
surfaces, because the required casting techniques have so
far not appeared in Morocco.
UV-lights and solvents as tools to identify resin
UV-light may shed light on whether a trilobite is a fake.
Since resinites reflects ultraviolet light differently than
the rock matrix. A real trilobite exoskeleton is mineralized
similar to the matrix, and will reflect light similarly. In
contrast, resins will tend to glow and be in sharp contrast
to the surrounding matrix. A caveat is that some preparation
techniques can polish the exoskeleton, and increase its reflectivity.
Moroccan trilobites, both fake and authentic, have sometimes
been coated with an unidentified black chemical. Applying
a solvent such as Aceton or Bindulin with a paintbrush can
remove such coatings along with the coloration they cause.
Take a paintbrush and confront your trilobite with the solvent
and within seconds the paste will come off, as do other artificial
colorings. Reconstructed areas will appear whitish, but, hopefully
you’ll be lucky and these areas of relatively small
The ultimate destructive determination
after all the above fails, then destruction might be the only
recourse, an ultimate act of defiance. This should be done
with a diamond blade saw, an example of the result of which
is shown in Figure 4 below. Note the void below the trilobite
where it was set in a carved-out piece of matrix. Irrefutably
prrof, with no real loss.
4: This is an entirely fake foot-long Burmeisterella trilobite,
as the cavity underneath attest. It was cast and shiny enamel
paint applied. Photograph taken by Sonntag, specimen owned
and sawed up by Burkhard.
Examples of faked Moroccan trilobites
1. Unnatural trilobite assemblages
assemblages of Moroccan trilobites are frequently seen at
shows and various places on the Internet. We call them falsified
assemblages, and the trilobites contained can be either authentic,
or themselves fakes. The assemblages are usually found on
thin, circular plates. We have even seen them as the faceplate
of clocks, with the trilobites denoting the hour. Trilobite
mortality assemblages do not occur with such symmetry, or
diversity of species, in the fossil record of the Devonian
of Morocco. Several examples of falsified
trilobite assemblages are shown here.
5: This is a completely faked trilobite assemblage, with all
individual trilobites made of resin on an underlying plastic
film and all mounted on real limestone matrix; the castings
are of: Leonaspis, Walliserops, Crotalocephalus, Paralejurus,
and something unidentified on top (left image), and Odontochile,
Psychopyge, Phacops and Scutellum (right image). Photography:
Sonntag, specimens owned and sawed up by Burkhard.
2. The "Burmeisterella " - Faking the apparently
nonexistent trilobite genus
the most impressive fake trilobites coming out of Morocco
are the Burmeisterella (see two versions in Figure 6 below).
The fakery is first betrayed by the simple fact that an authentic,
complete specimen of this impressive species has yet to be
discovered. Burmeisterella are ostensibly Phacopids belonging
to the family
Homalonotidae, and accordingly are close relatives to
trilobites in the family Calymenidae,
of which the parts of very large specimens are dispersed throughout
Morocco. From this, we postulate that parts of cephalons,
pygidia, pleurae, etc. were used to estimate what a complete
Burmeisterella would look like. From this prototype, complete
fakes could be manufactured in mass. According to Mr. Burkhard,
it is common practice for the Moroccans to trade parts of
trilobites in order to get a complete set of parts.
6: These are entirely fake Homalonotida Moroccan trilotes.
A) A so-called Spiny Burmeisterella sp.?. The spines are made
using small Orthoceras that are glued to the exoskeleton.
Otherwise, parts of real trilobites have been bonded to actually
trilobite parts in actual limestone matrix. B) A so-called
Smooth Burmeisterella sp., where Cephalon and pygidium are
from real trilobites. Otherwise resin cast section are outlined
in red. Both faked trilobites measure some 25 cm long. We
were fooled by these at first glance.
faking process requires obtaining various parts from real
trilobites, which will be assembled in a proper-sized piece
of actual Devonian limestone. Real parts and cast parts are
assembled within a hollowed area of the matrix. We examined
both a spiny and non-spiny variety. Presuming that a trilobite
resembling the spiny Burmeisterella exists at all, it is not
likely that its spines are well mimicked by the Orthoceras
that are according to Mr. Burkhard, expedient to use due to
massive supply. Previously, spines had been formed with resins
with more difficultly and yielding a less convincing result
(call this expedient desert innovation). The Orthoceras are
glued onto the cephalon, thorax, pleurae and pygidium to yield
a fairly convincing looking trilobite. In the case of Figure
6A, it is mostly comprised of real fossil parts, albeit different
fossils. In contrast, the Figure 6B trilobite is mostly a
balance, both of these trilobites appeared rather impressive
a first sight. We’ve seen others less impressive, such
as the unnatural coloring and distances between as shown in
Figure 7. Even then, it had to be sawed up for a definitive
determination of fakery.
7: These are additional examples of fake Homalonotida trilobites
from Morocco, A: Red strips denote the resin between assembled
pleurae. Apparently, the right side of the pygidium had been
broken off, and thus, the right pleurae were shortened in
order to mimic that the trilobite was still partially buried
inside the matrix. B: This vertical cut through the axis of
the trilobite reveals areas made of resin, the whole thorax,
free cheeks and the anterior border, which are marked in red.
C) : In this sawed up spiny Homalonotid, the spines are small
Orthoceras. Real trilobite parts appear yellowish while the
resin areas appear grey. It was also evident that ground rock
was mixed with plaster and used in some areas.
photographs above taken by Sonntag, most trilobites belong
to and were sawed up by Burkhard.
Fakes of giant Cambrian trilobites
large Paradoxides trilobites from the Cambrian of Morocco
are well-known and in demand. Size and demand lead to incentive
for faking. Fakes now vastly predominates the specimens seen,
and authentic material is very hard to get. The demand is
met by fakes that vary from those made with some real parts,
to entire resin or plaster castings. The nature of the exoskeletons
make fakery somewhat easier than other trilobites, and with
practice, the manufacturers get better in time, as all the
fake trilobites shown in Figure 8 should attest.
8: All the trilobites in the four pictures above are fakes.
A) This Acadoparadoxides briareus (Geyer 1993) is a cast trilobite
painted a yellowish ochre color, and is some 25 cm in length.
It was made with resins in a mold, and the arrows indicate
the location of a crack where the cast and the limestone are
not adequately glued. Also, the circle shows an area where
the worker failed to obtain pleurae symmetry as would exist
in an authentic specimen. Fakes such as this one have been
widely sold throughout the world (Also see Fake
Paradoxides and Cambropallas Trilobites from the 2006
Tucson fossil show). B) The 15 cm long Cambropallas telesto
(Geyer, 1993) trilobite shown here exhibit the same poor adhesion
between cast and limestone in the red circle. Additionally,
the pleural spines are far too long and narrow. C) This is
a poorly faked Cambropallas. With the possible exception of
the lower axial section, it was entirely cast out of resin
or plaster, and the glabellar furrows were carved in a non-realistic
manner. D) This cast Cambropallas has become completely unglued
(from the host cavity). Photos taken by Sonntag, Photographs
A, B, D: are from Burkhard collection.
can one recognize falsifications of the Paradoxides? With
a majority of the falsifications, a casting of a genuine Paradoxide
is inserted into hollowed out, genuine Cambrian matrix from
which the Paradoxides are found. Due to the inadequate adhesion
of glue used to bind the trilobite into the matrix, the castings
often separate from the matrix in the form of a curved tear
along the perimeter of the trilobite (see Figures 8A and 8B
above); it is also possible that the casting completely falls
out (see Figure 8D above). We already described above the
means by which to recognize castings. These include a smooth
appearance (that seems too good to be true) without flaws
expected on a natural exoskeleton. Characteristics expected
on a natural exoskeleton may be absent, such as tubercles
on the Cambropallas exoskeleton of and terrace lines on Paradoxides
free cheeks. The natural color of Cambrian trilobites is very
often mimicked using an ochre (brown-yellowish) paste that
poorly compares to the natural color. Authentic Moroccan Cambrian
trilobites have normally undergone mineral replacement with
hydrated iron oxides (often limonite) that will present with
reddish hues; this belies the authenticity of black or brown
Cambrian trilobites that have been painted to hide restorations
and to create artificially better contrast.
4. Evolution of Moroccan trilobite fakes - from simple casting
to matrix imitation
Moroccan trilobite fakes were carvings out of rock, which
led to oddities owing to a lack of knowledge of authentic
trilobite morphologies (see Figure 9A). In the beginning (and
perhaps still today to fool tourists), not only trilobites,
but scorpions and even snakes, including zig-zag scratches
were carved. I have seen huge Moroccan
ammonite fakes with missing spirals.
repeat, the early Moroccan trilobite fakes were conspicuous
in their morphological inaccuracy and surface characteristics.
The casting outlines were roughly formed and details tooled
before curing of the casting material. Frequently “fantasy
trilobites” resulted with outrageously or ridiculous
anatomical features from cephalon to thorax to pygidium. One
can surmise that the tinkering was done based on the individual’s
memory of what the outcome should look like. Problematically,
other than incorrect characteristics, the cast-matrix interface
was readily distinguishable; this led to a new innovation
of coating the matrix with resin or plaster mixed with ground
matrix with coloration added as needed (See Figure 9B-9D).
The trilobite cast was formed by pouring the casting into
a negative mold. The cured fake is pried from the mold and
then mounted into the coating. Once the matrix sets, the interface
separating the fake trilobite and fake matrix is hidden by
tooling starches and gauges that appear as preparation marks.
The procedure hides holes caused by gas bubbles bursting as
the casting material cures. The final step is painting of
the aggregate creation. The entire faking protocol takes perhaps
two hours (excluding curing time of up to several hours).
This can be compared to some 5 to 20 hours, depending on difficulty,
required for professional preparation of a real trilobite,
or even up to 100 hours for a Spiny trilobite masterpiece.
9: Image A shows a rather primitive fake Phacopid trilobites
(circa 1983), while images B through D shows a much improved
Odontochile (a trilobite coming from the Lower Devonian of
Morocco). What a difference 20 years makes. Generally speaking,
the contemporary fake if morphologically correct, except for
the absence of the requisite Phacopida eye lenses. The more
modern fake was manufactured by casting the trilobite and
placing it in a bed of resin in a cavity within authentic
limestone matrix. The lower right portion of image B shows
an area where the resin layer has chipped off the authentic
limestone layer. Images C and D show the eye lens facets are
completely absent, which alone is testament to the fakery.
Psychopyge trilobites - weird and therefore widely faked
Psychopyge trilobite from the Lower Devonian deposits of Morocco
is highly sought due to its enigmatic cephalonic extension
and high spinosity, and therefore widely faked. Authentic
Psychopyge are extremely spinose with three rows fine spines,
one along the central axis, and a row on either side of the
axis between the pleurae and the also impressive pleural spines.
Perfectly prepared authentic specimens will cost in four figures
(US dollars) owing the prodigious preparation time. In contrast,
fakes can be found for a few hundred dollars (and less, as
the price of them continues to decline). Obviously, caution
is warranted. A few years back, an acquaintance of ours presented
an ostensibly bargain Psychpyge trilobite. After inspection
under magnification, we had to witness his dismay in learning
it was a fake. The Psychopyge’s bizarre morphology renders
it popular, and so fakes have been ubiquitously and prodigiously
available for many years.
Psychopyge shown below in Figure 10 has many of the tell-tale
signs of fakery discussed above, notably the incorrect brown
color, and numerous holes from bubbles bursting in resin.
Unlike well-prepared trilobites having smoothed matrix adjacent
to the trilobite that enhance contrast, the preparation scratches
shown here are very sloppy and unattractive. Creating an artful
and attractive fossil is, generally, not the intent in fakery,
so ugly Moroccan trilobites should raise suspicion of fakery.
10: The images show an unattractive, fake Psychopyge elegans
from the from the Devonian of Morocco. In this case, both the
trilobite and the matrix surface are resin casts. A: Note that
the exoskeleton color is an abnormal brown rather than the usual
black, and the surface is riddled with holes that are the consequence
of bubbles bursting in the resin during curing. B: This magnified
view of the cephalon shows that eyes and glabella unrealistic
due to sloppy work. C: The pleurae have been quite obviously
carved from resin, rendering unrealistic sharp points, and,
again evidence of bursting bubbles is conspicuous. D. As in
C, the pygidial spines have been carved and many holes are present
in the exoskeleton and fake matrix layer. (This photo was taken
by Sonntag at a German fossil show).
Dicranurus monstrosus - a frequently faked horned trilobite
Family Odontopleuridae) has one of the most bizarre morphologies
of the trilobites coming from the Lower Devonian of Morocco. Most
notable are the pair of swirling spines resembling horns that
are attached to the occipital ring. The trilobite is both rare
and quite difficult to prepare, at least with crude tools. Both
are reasons that authentic specimens are expensive and frequently
faked. As mentioned above, crude preparation marks are indicative
of crude techniques for which caution is warranted. When the matrix
(or resin in the case of fakes) inside the horns has not been
removed (see Figure 11), and when the matrix is a light brown
color and the exoskeleton a is brown (rather than normal black
being), then suspicion should be heightened that the trilobite
is fake. Fake Dicanurus trilobites, like others discussed here,
are most often made by casting in resin or plaster both the trilobite
and the underneath matrix layer, with both ultimately placed in
a hollowed out, real piece of limestone. discussed the fakes of
Dicranurus mostly consist of both the trilobite and a matrix layer
being cast from resin or plaster and then glued on top of a chunk
of real matrix, the typical "imitated-matrix-fake".
Genuine Dicranurus trilobites normally prepared with free-standing
horns, because the extra effort is warranted by the trilobites
11: The images are of a prototypical Dicranurus monstrosus
some 10 sm in length. The trilobite was fabricated by gluing
brownish resin cast trilobite and underneath layer to a real
limestone base. 1: This frontal view shows distinct and crude
gauges intended to mimic authentic preparation marks; 2: This
shows a close up of the pygidium with prominent holes caused
by bursting gas bubbles as the resin cured; 3: This shows
pleurae with sharp edges from a carving tool. The real spines
should be rounded; 4: This close up of the cephalon shows
the lighter-colored fake resin contained within the left horn
of the trilobite.
7. Acanthopyge trilobite - Advanced Faking!
the Hamburg Fossil Show we discovered a rather good faked
Acanthopyge (see Figure 12), a relatively large Lichid trilobite
from the Devonian of Morocco (the trilobite measured some
10 cm in length, but larger ones can be found). Since complete
Acanthopyge trilobites are rare, we were motivated to undertake
a more rigorous examination. Also, since the dealer had a
second complete specimen, and several obviously fake Psychopyge,
our suspicions’ were quite keen. We inspected with a
magnifier and Heiko took some high-resolution photos. Because
we were convinced it was fake, no purchase was made, but we
later undertook further investigation by blowing up the images
on a laptop in order to render a verdict on how it was manipulated.
The bite test (see above) was done earlier on the cephalon
and pygidium from which it was concluded that at least some
parts of the trilobite were real. But, a rounded and conspicuous
seam betrayed the fact that the trilobites had been mounted
in resin on real limestone, making one wonder why such effort
would be done for an authentic and complete specimen. To enhance
appearance? Probably not.
12: This Acanthopyge trilobite from the Devonian of Morocco
was assembled using genuine parts, and probably disarticulated
parts from several trilobites. A: The arrows show the location
of the seam where the trilobite parts were mounted in the
hollowed matrix, which is especially apparent to the bottom
and right of the image. Additionally, it was apparent that
some pleural and pygidial spines, and both genal spines were
resin casts. Also so that the cephalon was tilted to the left
during assembly and that the lower thorax lacks symmetry.
B: This shows the occipital ring that was made of resin and
likewise the right free cheek C: The ellipse surrounds parts
of the pleurae made of resin, with the arrows marking pleural
segments inserted to assemble the thorax. D: This shows the
left pygidial spine that was made of resin, as well as the
holes in the simulated resin matrix inside the seam. (Images
taken by Sonntag)
closer inspection of our photograph we quickly concluded that
neither the genal spines (and parts of the free cheeks) nor
the eyes (carved from matrix) were genuine. The pleurae were
authentic (at least to a large extent), as were both the cephalon
and pygidium. We then deduced that the trilobite was assembled
from parts of multiple trilobites that were assembled over
time for the re-construction. They used the same tricks as
the Burmeisterella fake discussed above, with perhaps some
further modifications. We surmised that real limestone from
the same strata as the lichid’s parts came became the
base into which the cleaned trilobite parts were set in resin
and glued to the limestone base. Furthermore, real crushed
rock was mixed with the resin, which is readily identified
by the tell-tale holes from bubbles bursting during resin
curing (see Figure 12D). It must have been complex to isolate
the thin pleural segments from matrix, as apparently some
were broken and have to be patched with resin. The first five
pleural segments seemed to be part of the actual thorax, and
maybe were present on the matrix. The border between real
rock and resin is readily apparent around the pygidium than
around the cephalon. We had to admit that much work was expended
for this fakery. The question was: Why? Heiko shared that
he had heard that the locality where the Acanthopyge were
found exhausted, and that half the mountain had been dug away.
All that effort had resulted in but 40 complete Acanthopyge
specimens seem to have been found, 40 specimens, which is
a very small number for the normally rich Moroccan trilobite
beds. This would be consistent to the extra effort of faking
them, given no more were to be found, and demand unfulfilled.
Selenopletis – An Ordovician trilobite that is also
trilobites from Morocco are relatively rarely perhaps because
they found complete and preserved well inside of concretions
(e.g. Flexicalymene and Asaphellus). This lessons the motivation
for falsification since the concretions are readily opened
revealing fine specimens. In contrast, spiny Ordovician trilobites
like Selenopeltis (Pic. 13) that typify Gondwana trilobite
fauna and are also found both in the Czech Republic and Britain
are a different matter. In Morocco, Selenopeltis is normally
found in very hard, fine grained, grey-white sandstones. The
hardness of the rock demands careful and patient preparation
with professional equipment, and it is especially difficult
to prepare all the many spines. Ostensibly, these trilobites
cannot be extracted by splitting the concretion because some
parts will remain with the counterpart (the normal professional
way to prepare such trilobite is with to work down through
the matrix with professional equipment). Burkhard obtained
Selenopeltis trilobite where the fakery was easy to discern.
First, the trilobite’s exoskeleton was brown color,
whereas it should have been black (see Figure 13A). It was
a cast trilobite that was obviously glued such that the cast
was already beginning to separate from it (see Figure 13B).
While the quality of the cast was good, it lacked proper,
particularly on the glabella (see Figure 13E). The length
of the lower pleural spines was also clearly seen to be much
too short compared to authentic specimens. Finally, the faked
exoskeleton id porous unlike a real trilobite which would
be somewhat reflective (i.e., shiny) a mild failed The artisan
also failed to produce the mild shine of a real calcified
exoskeleton and the matrix was also obviously not authentic.
13: This collection of pictures compare real and fake Selenopeltis
sp. Trilobites from the Middle Ordovician (Caradoc) of Morocco.
Figures 13A, 13D, and 13F on the left show a genuine trilobite
from the Burkhard collection, whereas Figures 13B, 13C, and
13E on the right show a faked Selenopeltis trilobite. A: This
real trilobite is some 15 cm in length, embedded in white
quartz sandstone. It appears as if some pleurae were broken
before the trilobite was embedded in the matrix. B: This fake
trilobite was cast from resin and is readily seen to be separating
from the matrix. Further clues to the fakery are markedly
too short pleural spines, and a conspicuous lack of lack of
left-to-right symmetry. C: This close-up of the area of the
pleurae and thorax made of resin has an uneven (i.e., unrealistic)
surface. D: This shows the corresponding area as in Figure
13C of the real trilobite (except is the right side) which
is black and reflective, as should be the case for a real
exoskeleton; the rough spots seen here are due to preservation
flaws rather than fakery flaws. E: This close up of the head
shield of the fake trilobite is a very poor morphological
representation, lacking segmentation features in the glabella
not visible, and unrealisticallt distinct glabellar lobes.
F: In contrast to Figure 13E, the real trilobite authentic
has correct and distinct cephalon features. Both specimens:
Burkhard collection, photos by Sonntag.
Notes on purchasing trilobites
Seek reputable fossil dealers
layman is advised to acquire trilobites from respectable dealers.
There are many such fossil dealers who have earned good business
reputations, who would never knowingly sell falsified material.
Less experienced and, occasionally, even experienced dealers
will themselves be fooled, but would surely make good on those
rare occasions. So, refer to this article with magnifying
glass in hand in order to inspect what you receive. Beware
the blowhards that rant and rave about other’s fossils
being fake and restored, and their’s being real and
pristine; one web site in particular that does this to a ridiculous
degree and is, in fact, a real good place to see additional
fakes, but unfortunately probably snares a lot of naïve
laymen. The reputable dealers do not have to engage in such
behavior. When in doubt, you can contact the German Fossil
Dealer's Association that offers identification/verification
dealers don’t sell at on Christmas markets and other
folk festivals because it is at these minor shows that cheap
fakes are more likely to be abundant. Black sheep dealers
are also found at larger fairs, particularly among Moroccan
fossil dealers. During our visits to the larger shows we found
both reputable Moroccan dealers alongside disreputable dealers
selling junk and fakes. Particular care is warranted when
plates are seen having many trilobites, especially when the
exoskeletons are grey or black rather than black. Be careful
when coming across multiple-specimen-slabs, the shapes of
which appear soft, the exoskeletons rather dark grey or brown.
Be even more cautious still if that Moroccan dealer assures
you in broken German or English of the fossils authenticity,
even rarity, but that he will nonetheless sell it to you inexpensively.
(see Figure 14).
14: This matrix slab measuring some 25 cm (about one foot)
across mounted Ceratarges and Proetus trilobites. The circles
indicate where color is differential to the larger slab. The
lower right arrow shows a brownish layer typical of matrix
falsification. In all likelihood, every trilobite on this
plate is a fake cast from resin. Another possibility is that
some or all of the trilobites are poor or poorly prepared
specimens plated in the matrix. Photo taken by Sonntag.
About Trilobite Restoration
in this article we mentioned trilobite restoration and now
want to expand and clarify. Every fake trilobite shown and
discussed above, if sold as authentic, would constitute fraud.
But, can we draw a line where trilobite restoration ends and
fraud and faking begins? Generally speaking, restoration is
done to: 1) improve appearance, and 2) increase the sales
price, the later being where the fakery concern is greatest.
Our own view is that small mm-size restorations of part of
a spine, eye, or other part or patching pits and scratches
caused by nature or collecting has not crossed the line into
fakery and fraud. Some sophisticated trilobite collectors
demand pristine appearance that simply does not occur in nature,
and they therefore expect restoration to be professionally
done; such professional preparation/restoration in exacting
work requiring skill and experience with expensive equipment.
It is also costly and cost-prohibitive on poor and very common
fossil when done in the Europe and the U.S. Such professional
work thus enhances value, and has not crossed the line into
fakery. We have noticed one web site with abundant claims
that its trilobites have no restoration, are investment quality,
and are very high priced. This will not fool sophisticated
collectors who know that perfectly preserved trilobites are
exceedingly rare, but unfortunately, the layperson could be
easily duped. That most of the trilobites are from Morocco,
from which the vast majority of fake fossils and trilobites
come, warrants triple caution; just walk away. Subsequent
articles will delve more deeply into issues of quality, preparation,
restoration and value, since we’ve barely scratched
the surface of the issues.
3. Quality has its price
at shows, in shops or on the internet, have some skepticism
when purchasing fossils and use a magnifying glass if possible.
The caution will pay off. Pay attention to the dealer and
the entire stock and inventory. If there are a lot of Moroccan
trilobites, be really careful as the vast majority of fake
trilobites come from Morocco. Do your homework, as the internet
allows easy comparative shopping. Prices that are lower than
the norm should be a red flag to you. Prices that are too
high accompanied with bloated claims should also be a red
flag to you. The best material is readily sold and does not
require inflated claims. Quality has its price, but don't
P. & TUREK, V. (2003): Trilobitenland Tschechien. –
Offizieller Katalog der 40. Mineralientage München,
Turmalin und Trilobit: 94-99, 8 unn. Abb.; München.
H. & BODE, R. (2003): Trilobitenland Marokko. Keine
Angst vor Fälschungen. – Offizieller Katalog
der 40. Mineralientage München, Turmalin und Trilobit:
136-144, 22 unn. Abb., München.
M. (1990): Bohemian Trilobites. – 265 S.; Prag