Famed reptile fossil is actually rocks, paint, and random bones

Above is a fantastic fossil of a 280 million-year-old reptile with the scientific name Tridentinosaurus antiquus. The oldest fossil reptile ever discovered in the Alps, the beautifully-preserved animals was unearthed in 1931 and considered a key discovery in research on reptile evolution. Turns out though, it's just black paint on a carved rock with a few random bones thrown in for good measure.

According to the researchers from University College Cork, "The purported fossilised skin had been celebrated in articles and books but never studied in detail. The somewhat strange preservation of the fossil had left many experts uncertain about what group of reptiles this strange lizard-like animal belonged to and more generally its geological history."

"The body outline of this fossil specimen has the same colour of genuine fossilised soft tissues of plants and also animals," said lead study author Dr. Valentina Rossi, postdoctoral researcher in paleobiology at University College Cork in Ireland. "So, without the use of diagnostic techniques, it was impossible to identify the dark colored material properly."

From CNN:

Given the lack of records to accompany the fossil, including a description of what exactly was found in 1931, Rossi and her team can't be entirely sure that the forgery was done on purpose.

"We believe that, since some of the bones are visible, someone tried to expose more of the skeleton, by excavating more or less where someone would expect to find the rest of the animal," Rossi said. "The lack of proper tools for preparing the hard rock did not help and the application of the paint in the end was perhaps a way to embellish the final work. Unfortunately, whether all of this was intentional or not, it did mislead many experts in interpreting this fossil as exceptionally preserved."

(Thanks, Chanté McCormick!)