FAKE MAMMAL SKULL FOSSILS
There has been a disturbing occurrence in the fossil business with some fraudulent suppliers offering MODERN skulls of various living mammals such as bear, bobcat, coyote, beaver, raccoon, mink, muskrat and wolf, etc.. as being FOSSILS. These specimens are often passed off as "Bonner Springs" fossils or from "river terrace, gravel or spring Ice Age deposits". These are usually made to look old as if they were found in river banks or springs and appear to look prehistoric. They are sold both loose and in artificially created matrix reconstructed to appear as though the skull is still partially embedded. The skulls are modern specimens available from various sources such as trappers and furrier breeding farms. In some cases, you can even see the knife cuts in the bone surface as the de-fleshing skinner cut off the hide from the skull. One fossil seller that sells these "fossils" has a mink skull with perfect demonstration of these modern skinning knife cuts all over the surface. You can research this with Google to see their prevalence and price of modern skulls of these animals and how easy it is to acquire them in numbers. Here is one source. You can buy a skull here, dye it and place it in a mixture of sand with glue and water. Voila! You are in business! The skulls are treated with dye to darken and give them the appearance of age. These creations are being sold for many, many times what they can be obtained for as the modern specimens that they are. Read on....
Dealers will casually put in the time period PLEISTOCENE - HOLOCENE to keep them legally off the hook but often the sales descriptions or comments by the seller will refer to these modern skulls as "fossils" or "Pleistocene fossils" when all indications of their characteristics prove otherwise. For the prices they are selling for quite frankly, you could buy an old skull from an animal trapper for considerably less. Both will be "Holocene"!
These works of art look impressive but it's simply important to know that THEY ARE NOT FOSSILS, that is, they do NOT come from prehistory dating back to a period exceeding 10,000 years ago, or, a PAST geologic age. They are modern skulls, artificially altered and place in artificial matrix to dupe buyers. Furthermore, these pieces are either forbidden to export or require a CITES permit. If they are shipped outside of the USA and the US Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is alerted by US Customs, the piece will be and should be confiscated!
WHAT IS A FOSSIL?
Merriam Webster's Dictionary defines FOSSIL as "preserved from a past geologic age". Referring to the geologic time scale, we are currently in the HOLOCENE PERIOD. The term FOSSIL or PREHISTORIC pertains to remains from a period EARLIER than the Holocene. The last period considered PREHISTORY or fossil-bearing, is the PLEISTOCENE PERIOD. This ended 10,000 years ago and is the cut-off point for what is and what isn't a true fossil. Any remains of plants or animals AFTER 10,000 years that are found in the Holocene are NOT true fossils and should not be presented as such.
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
1. Irregular staining of dye concentrated on bone regions of greater porosity. Spring deposits produce bone and teeth of evenly distributed light colors.
2. Teeth have modern coloration with no pigment or patina IN the enamel, only ON the enamel.
3. Lower jaws are perfectly matched and original to the skulls indicating these are modern. Fossil skulls are NOT found in river terrace gravel deposits associated with the lower jaws!
4. Perfect preservation and intact nature of the most delicate features such as sinus membranes and thin zygomatic arches. Never are gravel deposit specimens found with zero damage like these. River Terrace gravel deposits are usually large, heavy rock gravel that would damage or crush delicate skulls of mink, raccoon, bobcat, etc..
The evidence is the nature of the color of the dye in the bone and how it took to the bone. Additional evidence is the fact that the teeth did not take to the dye. Bone is porous and can take to dying with a dark pigment, quite well. These faked modern skulls will have more intense areas of the dye on the edges of bone processes and in sutures, in some cases. Anywhere the bone is more porous, the dye will stain that region darker. True fossil skulls are usually evenly colored by thousands of years of exposure. Modern dyed skulls will not take the pigment evenly.
Tooth enamel, however, is very dense and will not easily take the stain of modern dying so these modern dyed skulls will have white or off-white teeth with evidence of dye on the surface, not IN the enamel like a specimen will have of true age. Note, modern living beaver have orange incisors when they are alive so the color of these teeth will always look prehistoric, regardless of age. Over 10,000 year true fossils of white teeth in dark bone also exist in nature but the teeth will always have some mottling, veining or unnatural color highlights (blue, orange, red, yellow, etc..) compared to dingy, present-day animal teeth. Modern teeth from animals can look discolored but the discoloration will look more like plain old "dirty" teeth rather than the beautiful colors some true fossil teeth come in when white is the dominant color. Some of these fake creations have the dye filled in the cracks of the teeth or washed over the enamel but it is not IN the enamel.
River terrace deposits can be rich in fossil bones but these bones are jumbled, scattered, often buried and moved about. Specimens are mixed and shuffled, never in association of the same animal yet, in every case of these fake fossil skulls, the jaws match perfectly to the skulls and are obviously the original jaw to the skull. Finding a skull with the original jaw in association is not reality.
Another aspect that gives these fakes away is their intact nature. Since we know the type of deposit these so-called "fossils" are coming from, we can apply some common sense deductions to determine that some features just don't make sense if they were over 10,000 years or 8,000 years as some claim. Some obvious characteristics that these skulls cannot be old are their mere completeness and degree of intactness which is too good to be true for such age IN THIS KIND OF DEPOSIT, in the numbers of specimens that are found. Gravel bed, river terrace deposits dating to the last Ice Age have been subjected to extreme pressure, movement and disturbances that have no equal after the glaciers receded. While many nice fossils can be found in such deposits that date back to prehistoric periods, the energy exerted on the strata often would damage or destroy the delicate intact skulls of small mammals. Delicate anatomical features would be eroded, broken or otherwise damaged for a true Pleistocene gravel bed or river deposit. The skulls being sold in question, do not show this characteristic damage.
BUT IT'S PARTLY MINERALIZED OR DARK IN COLOR
The fact that a bone becomes mineralized or stained dark is very deceiving when figuring age. In peat bogs or river and spring deposits, a modern day animal can fall into the water and, depending on the chemistry of the sediment and water, its skeleton become mineralized in a matter of just a few hundred years. Dark river waters that are rich in tannins (tea-colored water caused by decaying vegetation) can stain modern bone IN A YEAR to a color that resembles a fossil bone from 5 million years ago! However, the teeth will remain white with the deposits ON the enamel, not color IN the enamel. Of course, if you want to be absolutely sure of the age of a mammal skull that looks too good to be a true fossil, C-14 dating is the least expensive way to determine its age. Consult your local museum or university as they will often perform this test for a fee.
FINALLY, THE OBVIOUS
Sometimes, the obvious is overlooked. Ask yourself some questions. These modern fabrications sell for a mere fraction of what a true intact and complete fossil skull would sell for. In the grand scheme of things, can one really expect to purchase a perfect fossil bobcat skull for a few hundred dollars? Doesn't the sudden presence of a bunch of these pieces on the market seem odd? How can such fragile bone structures like zygomatic arches be perfectly intact on something thousands of years old found in a gravel deposit?
Deal with highly knowledgeable fossil suppliers who run their operation with professionalism and integrity. If a dealer, website, or shop seems to lack an appearance of experience, knowledge, professionalism and success, then walk on. Chances are they have a number of "bad" pieces mixed in their inventory and even if they are honest, probably do not know themselves, what they are really selling. Most important - get written UNCONDITIONAL guarantees of authenticity, age and identification from the dealer on EVERY purchase. Do your homework and know your collecting. Knowledge is power.