Palaeontology: Prehistoric lizard from Trentino is a fake - Triops Galaxy

Palaeontology: Enigmatic prehistoric lizard from Trentino is probably a fake

The animal stands out clearly on the light-coloured stone, and for decades experts regarded this find as something extraordinary. A fossilised reptile from Trentino appeared to be a textbook fossil. But now it turns out that much of what they saw was just black colour.

What was thought to be carbonised skin is simply paint

Experts had long been surprised that no other relatives of this animal had been discovered. After all, the small reptile Tridentinosaurus antiquus was found in 1931 in the Italian Alps near the Stramaiolo formation on the Pinè plateau in Trentino. Although it was only 28 centimetres long, it was considered one of the oldest finds in the Alps with an age of over 270 million years. It was often featured in textbooks, as it served as an important example of the evolution of early reptiles. But who would mistrust textbooks with their supposedly reliable knowledge?

The body contours of Tridentinosaurus antiquus stand out darkly against the surrounding light-coloured rock. Earlier researchers interpreted these as preserved soft parts. They therefore categorised the fossil as a member of the reptile group Protorosauria, long-necked archosaurs that existed from the Upper Permian to the Upper Triassic and whose remains were often found in European fossil deposits. However, initial investigations by Rossi and colleagues using UV photography showed that the entire specimen had been treated with a type of varnish or paint – a process that is still used today to protect delicate fossils.

But even microscopic analyses revealed that the paint did not contain the hoped-for remains of the original skin or soft tissue. Instead, the black colour had simply been painted onto the surface of the rock to improve the appearance of the fossil.

It was undoubtedly an impressive find: the animal’s slender body was clearly recognisable, with the four limbs, head and tail all outlined by a distinct black line. Even the five fingers on one paw were recognisable – almost as if they had been lovingly painted. The palaeontologists had assumed that this black line was the remains of the animal’s soft tissue. Such colouring is rare and made the find particularly valuable.

The researchers therefore examined the colouring closely using state-of-the-art methods such as UV photography and microscopy – and came to a sobering conclusion. Apparently, someone had simply painted the entire black colouring of the fossil onto the stone with black paint. “The extraordinary preservation of Tridentinosaurus has astonished experts for many decades,” says co-author Evelyn Kustatscher. “Now we know why: what was thought to be carbonised skin is simply paint.”

Nevertheless, there is also positive news: The bones of the reptile’s hind legs, especially the thigh bones, are real, albeit poorly preserved. In addition, the examinations have revealed small bony plates, so-called osteoderms, on the animal’s back.

Sladjan Lazic

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Diese Website nutzt Cookies und Google Analytics. Wenn Sie die Website weiter nutzen, gehen wir von Ihrem Einverständnis aus. Klicken Sie hier für Opt-Out