Ancient Lizard Fossil of ‘Tridentinosaurus Antiquus’ Discovered in 1931 Turned Out to be Fake, Made of Black Paint [Study]

An ancient lizard fossil from 280 million years ago, discovered during the early 20th century, once rocked the scientific world. The fossil of the prehistoric animal species called Tridentinosaurus antiquus baffled experts for several decades; since it has long been thought that its soft tissues were preserved, appearing as dark surrounded by rocks. However, a new analysis from a study reveals that the fossil is nothing but a “hoax,” as cited by recent reports.

The reptile fossil first discovered in the Italian Alps in 1931 was previously believed to be intact, but the analysis suggests that its prehistoric soft tissue was only black paint. The extinct animal species T. antiquus, to which the purported fossil specimen belongs, is a member of the reptile group known as Protorosauria. Before the specimen was exposed, the apparent animal remains gained popularity, including in books and the media.

Yet, researchers involved in the new study clarify that the fossil is not totally fake since the bones of the hind limbs are genuine, but are poorly preserved. The problem arises when the specimen was “likely forged” to improve its appearance, which would make as though the fossil was preserved to a significant degree. This exposure has been revealed only now since the fossil’s appearance had not been studied in detail before, making it unnoticeable to the naked eye.

Fake Reptile Fossil

Ancient Lizard Fossil of 'Tridentinosaurus Antiquus' Discovered in 1931 Turned Out to be Fake, Made of Black Paint [Study]
(Photo : Photo by David Clode on Unsplash)

The new analysis about the forged ancient lizard fossil of Tridentinosaurus antiquus was published in the journal Paleontology on February 15. The analysis was conducted under a research paper led by paleontologists from Italy and Ireland confirmed the “forged soft tissues” of the oldest fossil reptile, dating back from the early Permian period of the Alps. The scientists declared that the 280-million-year-old reptile fossils is a hoax.

While the specimen is not a complete forgery, the authors of the February 2024 study said that its femurs and hind limb appear to be authentic, as mentioned earlier. It is estimated that the lizard-like creature was around 20 centimeters or 20 inches in length with a long neck. The fossil was first discovered near the town of Pine by Gualtiero Adami, an Italian museum employee and engineer.

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Black Paint on Lizard Fossil

Due to his line of work, Adami turned over the fossil to the local museum in 1931. Later in the same year, a geologist named Giorgio del Piaz announced the scientific community’s discovery of a new genus, called T. antiquus. At that time or after the announcement, it was thought that the black shape of the fossilized remains is carbonized skin or flesh.

According to the paper, it turned out that the said color is black paint that was carved on a piece of stone around a few fossilized bones of the prehistoric animal remains. This means that the specimen could not be  the world’s oldest reptile fossil on record.

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