of the first and biggest problems with fraud in the commercial fossil market
began with trilobites. Fake and heavily fabricated trilobites are
still with us today and one of the (if not THE) largest problem areas of
FAKE FOSSILS. The following dissertation best sums up what to look out
for with fraud and forgery in trilobite fossils. Some of the
experiences and comments are dated but by and large, the majority of the
article still holds true today. As time passes, and the collector
becomes more educated and knowledgeable, certainly new procedures for faking
all fossils will attempt to trump our judgment and experience. The
commercial fossil market requires continual and active monitoring to learn
of new techniques of the "artists".
said, it is important to note that the methods that are needed to locate
trilobite fossils are the most destructive methods used - smashing and
splitting rock. In every case the fossil is broken because you have to
break the rock to find it. Since every fossil will have some damage,
repair and possibly some restoration is almost unavoidable. The
problem is not inherently whether work is done to a trilobite
but whether the dealer is disclosing the work performed or worse yet,
lying about it. There is no excuse though, for a completely fake
trilobite. The sale of such an item implied as genuine, by any fossil
dealer, ought to bring his or her entire reputation into question.
Only the most experienced fossil
dealers who possess necessary test and preparation equipment and who are
EXTENSIVELY EXPERIENCED WITH ALL TECHNIQUES OF FOSSIL RESTORATION AND
FABRICATION should be trusted to know the difference when it comes to fake
fossils of ANY source or type!
Very, very few fossil dealers have any
more knowledge in this than the very customers that rely on them! Do
NOT be afraid to ask your fossil dealer about his or her PERSONAL and
immediate experience in fossil preparation, restoration and fabrication.
If they tell you they do not PERSONALLY possess
MANY YEARS OF EXTENSIVE first-hand experience in artistic techniques and application in fossil
fabrication and restoration, and that they are relying on THEIR sources,
avoid these dealers at all costs!!!
These fossil dealers likely have several specimen
in their inventory that they have no clue as to their true authenticity
regardless of any guarantee or assurances that they will provide you.
- How to identify fake trilobites
Dipl. Geol. Jens
Koppka, Heiko Sonntag & Horst Burkard
additional commentary and
important to note that this article was written in 2003. Much can
change in a year not to mention several. As the "mousetrap gets
better, the mice just get smarter". This article was not completely
comprehensive (nor was it meant to be) when it was written and since that
time, the techniques / skills of faking have GREATLY improved and
prevalence of fakes has increased. Because of the reduction in new
discoveries and the steadily increasing prices of genuine, complete
specimens of fine quality, the potential monetary gain is great when it
comes to "improving" poor quality or incomplete specimens, as well as
completely fabricating the fossil from nothing.
of how times have changed. In just three years since this article was
written, entire specialty workshops have been set up in Morocco to fabricate
specific genres of fossils (and artifacts). Now, the suppliers of
these fakes are like physicians - each one specializes in a type of
trilobite or technique. You have some that only deal in Cambrian
fakes, some in Ordovician fakes, this guy makes complete specimens of
partial ones, this guy supplies the fake spines, that guy is making complete
fakes of free-standing spiny Devonian trilobites. They even package
the fakes in the same way, for instance. You will find complete fakes
of what seem like meticulously prepared spiny trilobites with all the spines
exposed packaged in the same plastic containers that the real specimens come
in. It is ASTONISHING and this is just the trilobites. For all
other fossils and artifacts, the same holds true. And note, this is
NOT just in Morocco.......
vigilant in knowing what you collect and
only deal with
suppliers that are
also fossil preparators who own and operate their own lab
experienced all phases of fossil preparation and conservation. The
"deals" you find from questionable sources will be far negated by the junk
pieces that will invariably, find their way into your collection from these
same suppliers of "deals".
ANY DEALER THAT DOWNPLAYS THE
PREVALENCE OF FAKES IN THE FOSSIL MARKET IS ONLY HELPING TO PERPETUATE THIS
PLAGUE AND IS LIKELY PROFITING FROM THIS FRAUD.
ANY PALEONTOLOGIST WILL CONFIRM WHAT WE SAY HERE AND THAT FRAUD IS AN
EVER-GROWING PROBLEM IN THE COMMERCIAL FOSSIL MARKET.
collectors and preparators visiting many fossil shows and fairs we have had
the chance to obtain some experience with fake trilobites. The
knowledge we have gained over so many years allows us to quickly identify
false material while it may be very difficult for others who are not so
familiar with how fake trilobites are made. Unfortunately the
trilobite market seems to be flooded with false stuff at the moment, the
“quality” of which is getting better continuously, making it even harder
to tell. We therefore, thought it a good idea to make our knowledge
available to others in a way easily understood.
We also have
to point out that there is no overseeing authority of control, as far as
trilobite (as we as ALL fossil) sales are concerned on the internet, in
shops or at shows, and no action taken against dealers who knowingly sell
false material (like exclusion from shows and/or legal action). This unwelcome
situation almost encourages certain dealers to take advantage and the honest
dealers are the ones who have to pay for it. Horst Burkard undertook
to investigate many of the false trilobites coming from Morocco, using one
of the most brutal methods available …. he took a saw! The results
of his little massacre were on display during the Hamburg Fossil Show in
2003 and we had a chance to talk to him and take photos. The following text
was originally written in German by Jens Koppka, photos taken by Heiko
Sonntag. Translation by Michael Kipping and final editing by Paleo
trilobites is not a new business. Repairing, restoring, adding to or
plain faking of fossils is almost as old as the fossil trade itself.
The problem being, as with most areas of collecting, that money can be made
and sometimes has to be made due to lack of other options and wide-spread
19th century trilobitologist BARRANDE, employed what he called “rock
men” to search the areas near Prague for trilobite specimens.
Particularly interesting finds resulted in good money and some of those
“rock men” could not help but fail their employer and produce false
trilobites in order to get more money for them. With the beginning of
the trilobite trade at the end of the 19th century, many of these faked
specimens found their way even into the collections of great museums around
Europe where they are on display even today as refreshing curiosities (Budik
& Turek, 2003).
A favored way
to fake trilobites was simply to assemble new specimens from parts,
originating at times not only in different specimens but even in different
genera, and thereby making the “trilobite” complete, resulting in higher
prices when sold. Some of these “rare species”, which had been
sold to museums and educational institutions, look quite grotesque in our
time. There was, for example, a trilobite assembled from the cephalon
of a Phacops, the pygidium being an Odontochile and the
thorax consisting of merely 4 segments. (SNAJDR, 1992). However, at
those times, the faked trilobites at least consisted of real parts.
They were created in a “make-one-out-of-two”-manner but the parts were
real. Fakes of this nature are created unto this very day, but the
availability of resins made it possible to fake entire trilobites by simply
sensational finds of large and bizarre trilobites in the Moroccan desert
near Alnif, Erfoud and Tabourikt over the last three decades, a whole
trilobite industry evolved. This happened in an area where education
was scarce and the availability of electricity and running water restricted.
Native Moroccans and nomads found a welcomed (if not their only) income in
searching for and preparing trilobites. Over the years, trilobites
have become an important economical factor in the poverty-stricken areas of
the High Atlas mountain range where the
trilobites are found.
BURKHARD & BODE (2003), there are well-known manufacturers in Morocco
who produce fake trilobites or rather trilobite models. Fossil dealers
who go to Morocco to buy trilobites are well aware of that and know that
these trilobites are not real. Neither are these models sold to them
as real trilobites but reproductions. The cheating does not start
there, it starts when these reproductions are thrown onto the trilobite
market in masses and sold as the real stuff for little money. Faking
of this nature started in the 1980s due to increasing demand for giant Paradoxides
and lack of the real thing. In the beginning, the old
“make-one-out-of-many” was common, but very soon whole trilobites were
faked. It is verified that it was not the Moroccans who started to
fake trilobites but American as well as European dealers who inspired them
to do so. The American and European dealers then sold the fake
trilobites as the real thing. Meanwhile the faking has reached levels
that include almost any known Moroccan trilobite species and it is possible
that there is more false material floating around at this time than real!
repairing, restoring or faking is not restricted to Morocco. It
applies as well to some of the
trilobites coming from
the St. Petersburg region, although the amount of faking is not comparable
to that in Morocco. The reconstructions are usually restricted to
replacing missing parts of the exoskeleton, fixing broken-off eyes and
spines (every once in a while a whole pygidium may be replaced), waxing and
coloring of the carapace or the mounting of isolated trilobites onto matrix
other than the one it was found in. I experienced this myself when
trying to prepare the hypostome of a Dysplanus from the Lower
Ordovician. The trilobite was completely real but mounted artificially onto
a piece of matrix from the Asery level. Most likely it was done
because a trilobite on a nice piece of matrix sells for a much higher price
than an isolated specimen. From a scientist’s point of view, it
looked as if this species from the Kunda level had still existed in the
younger Asery level, which is not the case.
It has to be said though, that the Russian preparators rarely play dirty.
The trilobites are real but in most cases (Asaphus, Illaenus)
are very quickly extruded from the matrix with high-powered blasters using
very aggressive media so that the exoskeleton gets an unnatural shine.
They look very nice when finished, but have most likely been polished and
waxed and thereby lost surface detail. Looking at more carefully
prepared specimens you will find the characteristic surface details, little
inconsistencies produced by nature but lost in specimens that have been
blasted too aggressively. The more rare spiny trilobites like Hoplolichas,
Boedaspis, Paraceraurus and so on are for the most part
very carefully and skillfully prepared and therefore, very expensive.
trilobites are known even from
I have not had a chance yet to take a look at such material myself but we
have been assured that there are assembled trilobites on the market as well
as complete fakes made of plaster or resin including both positives and
negatives, so watch out!